FTP: Full Moon High (1981)

APRIL 17, 2019


Like any good horror fan, I was sad to hear the news that Larry Cohen had passed away a few weeks back. Not because we would be denied more films, as he seemed to have retired from filmmaking anyway (his sole directorial effort in the past 20+ years was his Masters of Horror episode, thirteen years ago), but because he was such a fun storyteller for Q&As and commentary tracks, and it's sad knowing he won't be able to contribute one again. Luckily he was still in good spirits and health when he sat down (with King Cohen director Steve Mitchell) to talk about Full Moon High, and it's one of his better tracks - his memory is vague on a few things (naturally; I mean, it's been 35+ years) but he's got plenty of fun anecdotes and "from the trenches" tales of indie filmmaking, making the track just as entertaining as the film.

Or perhaps more so? It's not a BAD movie, but for a comedy it's oddly low on big laughs until the last twenty minutes, when Alan Arkin shows up as the world's worst psychiatrist. Until then, it's got a sort of breezy charm that keeps it watchable, but overall it lives up to the standards set by the other early 80s glut of spoofy horror movies (Class Reunion, Student Bodies, Saturday the 14th, etc), i.e. you're better off rewatching Young Frankenstein than tracking them down. Unless, of course, you're a particular fan of their individual filmmakers or stars and are seeing them out of curiosity - indeed, the only reason I bothered with this was because I hadn't seen it yet and wanted to listen to Cohen tell some stories to celebrate his life (and also because it's been in the pile for well over a year now so it made a good candidate for this column).

The weirdest thing about the movie is that it's a PG-rated sex comedy. Adam Arkin plays a high school football star who is bitten when traveling with his horndog father (Ed McMahon!) and becomes a wolf with a penchant for biting victims on their butt. He also becomes a conquest of sorts for a few of the local women, including Happy Days' Roz Kelly, so we are treated to more sex scenes than I've ever seen in a PG movie (hell, it technically has more sex than Basic Instinct). Add in the coach (who seems to have designs on his players as opposed to the cheerleaders) and some other supporting characters' own inhibitions, and you have a super horny movie that is also hamstrung by its rating, which makes it feel neutered, never getting as outrageous as it often feels like it should be.

One thing that does work is the time jump; as an immortal, Arkin's character leaves town and does his thing elsewhere for 20 year or so before coming back, posing as his own son and re-enrolling at school. Some of his friends (including Kelly and the coach, played by Kenneth mars) are still around and aged up, and his school has gone to total shit over the years, so Cohen does a pretty good job at establishing the two time periods despite his usual low budget and some iffy actors. One of my favorite gags was during this passage of time montage, which was partially explained by replacing the photo of the current President: Eisenhower to Kennedy, Kennedy to Johnson, etc. After just swapping the photos for a bit, Cohen tosses in some gags: Nixon's photo is angrily shattered first before being replaced, and Ford's is placed but not actually hung, letting it instantly drop to the floor - heh.

That and a few other inspired gags are spread out between what for me was just a lot of mild smiling. If this was a straight up horror comedy, that might not be such a big deal - as long as the horror element was working, the dud jokes wouldn't hurt all that much. But this is a full on comedy with a werewolf in it, much closer to Teen Wolf than American Werewolf in London, so the jokes need to land more often than they do, even when taking into account that some of the humor is no longer in vogue. I suspect it has a number of fans who saw it for the first time in the early 80s, but seeing it for the first time now, sans nostalgia? It doesn't quite hit the mark. Still, Cohen ropes in some of his regulars, and Alan Arkin's performance is right in line with the stuff Michael Moriarty was doing in his best collaborations with the filmmaker, so it still at least satisfies on that level. Cohen's made worse movies, certainly, so as a tribute viewing I guess it turned out OK. But I'll miss him more than I'll miss this disc when I trade it in, for sure.

What say you?


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