Full Moon High (1981)


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.

Ein Werwolf bei§t sich durch

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



Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998)


When you’re 7 films deep in a series, and know the bad guy is only dying if they stop making money, your mind has a tendency to wander. Just what was Michael doing for the last 20 years? Did he a have a job? That mask looks remarkably fresh considering every Halloween mask I ever bought fell to pieces after a day. Did he buy a stock of blue overalls?

Despite it being only 3 years since the last instalment, it feels like a heck of a lot more. “Scream” and “Scream 2” had been released in the meantime, and despite H20 pretty much ignoring their skewering of horror film rules – yes, someone dies after saying “I’ll be right back”, and the teenagers who have sex are goners – it feels a couple of decades more modern than “The Curse Of Michael Myers”. Also, the teen film was big business again, so this movie has a virtual A-list cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe in her first role, Michelle Williams and Josh Hartnett.

“Halloween H20” also follows the tradition of horror franchises which ignore previous movies in the series. In this universe, Halloween 4, 5 and 6 never happened, and Laurie Strode never had a daughter. She faked her own death in order to get away from Michael, then rather implausibly managed to get a job as the headmistress of an exclusive private school in California, having a son in the process who by 1998 is Josh Hartnett. Did they not do a background check? Michael, after…I don’t know, being a roadie for a metal band for 20 years?…decides that his sister is alive and pops back to Illinois to murder Dr. Loomis’ nurse on the off chance she has some information about Laurie. Joseph Gordon Levitt, as a local skateboard kid, doesn’t even make it as far as the opening credits.

Let’s get all the sad Pleasence information out of the way. He died in 1995, so his sole involvement in this is as a photograph and a map, showing all the different places he went looking for Michael – they do reuse one of his speeches from the first movie, but for reasons unknown get another actor to speak the lines. Given the last time we saw Michael in this universe was when the two of them got blown up at the end of part 2, and the camera lingered over his burning corpse while the credits played, both he and Loomis recovered remarkably well.

Halloween H20 Kenny

So, private school, most of the students and faculty are off on a camping trip, leaving four sexy teens, Curtis, her boyfriend Adam Arkin the guidance counsellor, and LL Cool J the security guard. He’s my favourite character, with his quirk being he’s a wannabe erotic fiction writer, spending most of his onscreen time reading his stories out to his wife. Ten years later and he could have been the next EL James! Michael makes his way from Illinois to California remarkably quickly (he’d need to drive the speed limit the entire way and never stop if he wanted to make it in under two days), uses some stealth-ninja powers to get into the school, and we’re on for some carnage.

This is by a comfortable distance the best of the series since the first one (although I do love how bonkers part 4 is). The cast is great, it’s had plenty of money spent on it and Jamie Lee Curtis is still the ultimate Final Girl, even if she’s no longer a girl. The fact it’s slickly made does tend to hide some of the problems it has, though. Michael doesn’t kill anyone between the opening credits and almost an hour into the movie, and that section – while not terrible – is a heck of a lot of setup for not a lot of payoff (the bodycount is at Halloween 1 levels). It feels like they were almost going to go a different way before bringing Michael back again, and I’d lay money on Adam Arkin being the killer in an early draft of the script, because Curtis mistakes him for Michael three times in the course of the movie – once I’ll buy as a red herring, but three times and you’re in different territory.

There’s plenty of that “people being dumb to ensure Michael has someone to kill” stuff going on, but that’s par for the course for slasher movies. It would have been nice to have someone ponder why he’s effectively indestructible, but the film just ignores all that stuff and expects you to know who everyone is and what they can do. Not a terrible idea, I suppose. The music is generic thriller-music, all soaring strings, and the only showing for the classic Halloween theme is as the credits roll – if you’re going to do a Halloween, have some decent music please.


It shows its post-Scream creation by being thick with references to other horror films – before the opening credits, there are little nods to “Friday The 13th” and “Hellraiser”; producer Kevin Williamson had a hand in “Scream”; and director Steve Miner is a horror stalwart, getting his start on the original “Last House On The Left” and directing a few of the Friday 13th sequels. Janet Leigh, as the school secretary, drives the exact same make and model of car, with the same number plate, she was driving in “Psycho”.

All in all, it’s well done and fun to watch. Not perfect, but you’ll have a good time with it.

Rating: thumbs up