This film is like if the Zucker brothers’…gardener, and Woody Allen…’s dentist, decided to make a movie together. It’s relentlessly packed with jokes, to the extent that 93 minutes feels like 193 (not entirely in a bad way). And it’s part of what was a surprisingly werewolf-packed early 80s – from “The Howling” to “American Werewolf in London” to “The Company of Wolves” to “Teen Wolf”, among others.
The early 80s were a different time, in some ways. Well, in racist and homophobic ways. Beginning with a literal “drop the soap” gag in front of their aggressively camp gym teacher, we meet Tony (Adam Arkin), the star of the football team and all-around good egg. His Dad (Ed McMahon, very well known in the US as chat show legend Johnny Carson’s sidekick for decades) is in the CIA and takes Tony to Romania for some particularly weak reason, and while he’s exploring the countryside (after being booted out of the hotel by Dad, who wants to have sex with a couple of prostitutes) he gets attacked by a wolf. Tony then transforms on the flight home and, apart from one night near the end, appears to turn into a wolf every single night, puzzlingly ignoring the one rule werewolves have – especially given the title!
He also becomes immortal, which is again just a reason to have him head off and terrorise America for twenty years (after accidentally causing the death of his father). He doesn’t kill anyone, just bites them (usually in the ass), and for some reason doesn’t turn anyone else into a werewolf while doing so. Anyway, in the “present day”, he comes back to town and re-enrolls in high school, attempting to end the football curse by winning the big game, become mortal again and so on. His friends (well, his one friend, and his girlfriend) have aged, and writer-producer-director Larry Cohen has said this was an attempt to make a wider point about changing social mores in America, and how his old classmates have changed more than him. This is, of course, bollocks. The previously peaceful and clean school, which had very few non-white people in it back in the late 50s, becomes filthy and lawless by the early 80s, and I’m sure it’s a complete coincidence that the school’s population is now mostly black.
All this is just a poor framework to hang hundreds and hundreds of gags on. From the newspaper with the wonderfully underplayed headline “Werewolf Annoys Community” to the way they show the passage of time, it’s stuffed. There’s an odd bit of fourth-wall breaking in there too, when Alan Arkin (Adam’s dad, playing his psychiatrist in the best performance in the movie) accidentally shoots one of the camera people. Bob Saget, future sitcom superstar and smutty standup comedian, has his first movie role as a news reporter and gets some good lines in too.
It’s difficult / pointless to recap this sort of comedy. “Some jokes happened, and then some more jokes”. So let’s return to my first sentence – the Zucker brothers stuff we’ve covered, but what about Woody Allen? Well, Arkin behaves very much like Allen would if he’d ever made a film during his early funny period about becoming a werewolf, and the clash of styles works surprisingly well.
Woody Allen would certainly have improved on the editing and other technical shortcomings that “Full Moon High” suffers from, though. Someone decided that while most scenes in movies have a beginning, middle and end, this one should only have middles, so characters leap about in time and space, come to very sudden realisations, and so on. It’s so weirdly noticeable that even the members of my regular Monday night bad film club who tend not to be as bothered as I am by technical stuff were complaining about it. Plus, there’s a ton of ADRed dialogue in here, as if someone saw this and thought it needed even more jokes? This is an extremely rare example of a movie that could have less in it and work more. There’s also the sad news of Elizabeth Hartman, who has a very oddly inserted part as a sort of love interest for Tony. This was her last movie, and after battling depression for years, committed suicide a few years later.
Add on a complete mess of an ending and you’ve got yourself a movie. Larry Cohen is an interesting fella, having made “It’s Alive!” and its sequels, wrote one of my favourite 80s thrillers “Best Seller”, and had a hand in the creation of “Maniac Cop”. He’s also beloved of Blaxploitation fans, making “Black Caesar” and “Hell Up In Harlem” and giving regular roles to people like Fred Williamson, which indicates the weird racist tone of the modern school scenes were unintentional.
I think I’m going to have to call this one a failure, but a really interesting one. Be prepared to be checking your watch from the halfway point onwards, make sure you’ve got a decent group of people with you, and there’s still plenty to enjoy.
Rating: thumbs in the middle