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Retro Review 1981: Full Moon High

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Thursday, February 24, 2011

Full Moon High (Original Release Date: 27 February 1981?)

I had some difficulty figuring out exactly when this one came out.  The date above was one of the ones I found.  Wikipedia says 7 October, and some other places give other dates.  After a little digging, it looks like 27 February may have been the day the film was printed.  A New York Times article from 30 August mentions it will be coming out soon, so the 7 October release date looks more and more like the right one.  I decided to go ahead and review it early, since I was eager to see it, and since the other movie I wanted to review this Thursday didn’t get to me on time.

1981 was a banner year for wolf movies.  Of the four wolf-themed major releases -- An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, and Wolfen being the other three -- Full Moon High is probably the least well-known.  I wanted to know why. It has some fairly famous people in it, it’s a comedy, and it’s a Larry Cohen picture, so I figured it ought to have some sort of cult following.  It also looks on its surface like it must have been the inspiration for Teen Wolf.  It’s set in the fifties, the werewolf in question is a teen athlete, there’s a school dance during which a “wolf move” catches on, and the makeup looks similar.  These similarities are only superficial, however. After I finished my viewing, I was fairly certain the makers of Teen Wolf had never even seen Full Moon High.  If they had, I'm willing to bet Teen Wolf never would have been made.  (I'm also willing to bet that many people wish that had been the case.)

Full Moon High is a comedy, but it took me a bit to realize it was a comedy in the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker/Mel Brooks vein.  Once it started knocking down the fourth wall, though, I wanted it to put it back up.  There’s a simple reason people are still so warm to the better Mel Brooks and ZAZ movies: those guys did what they did well.  I realize it’s a copout on my part not to get into how they did it well, but I think most of the people here can agree that, despite the similarity of the approaches of movies like Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans to movies like Blazing Saddles and Airplane!, the older movies are successful where the newer ones are not.  It’s probably a matter of these older movies having a more solid foundation.  A hack watches something like Airplane!, says, “I can do that!” and the next thing you know, Alyson Hannigan is breaking our hearts by lending her talents to crap like Date Movie.

Let me back up and say that Full Moon High is not Date Movie bad.  Instead, it’s an occasionally funny series of semi-successful gags with a handful of missed opportunities.  (An example of a missed opportunity: there’s a werewolf on a plane at one point.  This could have been very funny, but proper advantage of it wasn’t taken.)  The ZAZ-like moments are spaced out in such a way that one begins to suspect Cohen is uncomfortable with them.  If that is the case, then why have them there?  The movie is at its best when it’s simply absurd, as is the case in this clip:
 

Most of the time, it doesn’t feel like a real movie.  Instead, it feels like a series of comedy sketch rehearsals.  The setup is unbelievable, and the werewolf lore has been invaded by vampire lore.  Speaking of the setup, here it is: Tony Walker, played by Adam Arkin, is a promising high school quarterback (the high school, by the way, is actually called Full Moon High) who is expected to lead his team to beat the rival school's team for the first time in about half a decade.  His father takes him on an improbable business trip to Romania just before the big game, he is bitten while there (of course he is; the awkward way the trip is set up makes it pretty clear the trip is there for the sole purpose of getting him bitten), he quits school before the game, and the community is ruined as a result.

I mention the invasion of vampire lore.  In this movie’s universe, a werewolf bite doesn’t beget a werewolf.  This isn’t made clear at first.  Tony is mauled by a werewolf that looks much more like a wolf than he will when he begins to transform.  Because of this, I thought maybe his bites, specifically, didn’t have the power to transform people.  His modus operandi is a single bite to the ass cheek of a female.  (Another missed opportunity: this could have been a much bawdier comedy than it was.)  None of these women transforms.  Later on, it is revealed that he actually has to kill the victim for the victim to transform.  After that, the person “will remain young, never aging, doomed to wander the earth until he gets sick of packing and returns home.”  Also, it appears every night in this universe is a full moon, meaning he transforms every night.  Add to this that, more than being vulnerable to silver, he actually has a fear of it, and you end up with a werewolf that’s basically a vampire who grows fur every night.

When I said the community was ruined as a result of his leaving, I meant it becomes an actual wasteland in his absence.  When he returns, it looks more like the Class of Nuke ‘Em High than Full Moon High.  Of course, since he’s a vampire-werewolf, he doesn’t look a day older, allowing him to pose as his own son.  In the twenty years since he left, Full Moon High hasn’t won a single game against Simpson High.  Will he be able to lead them to victory?  If you’re able to make it that far into the movie, my guess is you won’t care one way or another.

Final Word: Recommended? No.  You might enjoy McMahon’s McMahon-y delivery of some pretty silly dialog, and you might enjoy seeing Adam Arkin’s dad, Alan, playing a man who “graduated from the Ridicule and Insult School of Psychiatry.”  Otherwise, you’re likely to be annoyed and/or bored for the rest.  This is a forgotten movie for good reason.

Availability: Netflix Instant.  Otherwise, you’re out of luck.  There’s a torrent out there, but it’s a Spanish dub.

Standout Scene: See YouTube video above.  If at all possible, stop scene before the bullet begins to ricochet.

Hey, I Know That Guy!: You’ll recognize McMahon and the Arkins.  You’ll recognize Pat Morita, though you may be confused by his perfect English.  You’ll also recognize a young, shirtless Bob Saget as he walks toward the camera and says, “Here comes Old Grab Ass, again.”  You might recognize Bill Kirchenbauer as Coach Lubbock from Just the Ten of Us.  You might not recognize Elizabeth Hartmann, but you know her voice: she was Mrs. Brisby in The Secret of NIMH.  Larry Cohen, the director, used to do stuff like Q, The Stuff, and It’s Alive.  Nowadays, he does stuff like Phone Booth and Cellular.

Nostalgia Score: 3/10.  Seeing a younger McMahon brings me back to the eighties more than anything else in the movie does.

Movie Score: 47/100

 

More Retro Reviews from 1981:

Inseminoid
Hanger 18
Scanners
The Incredible Shrinking Woman
Pacific Banana
Fort Apache, The BronxPacific Banana
Eyewitness

 

Review Score: 47 / 100

Mal Shot First
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Posted: 8 years 40 weeks ago

Why does Tony's father insist on narrating everything he does in that clip?

The Swollen Goi...
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Posted: 8 years 40 weeks ago

I guess Larry Cohen just liked to hear Ed McMahon talk.

Jakester
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Posted: 8 years 40 weeks ago

Man, I wanted The Howling, or Wolfen!

Richard Gozinya, Harold Snatch and Wilbur Jizz. Together we are the law firm Gozinya, Snatch and Jizz.
The Swollen Goi...
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Posted: 8 years 40 weeks ago

You'll probably still get them.  They were released later in the year.  It would be a shame not to review all the wolf movies.