Full Moon High (1981)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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President Wolfman (2012)

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This is our first review from Wild Eye Releasing. They’re a distribution group which takes chances on weird and wonderful low-budget cinema – so check out their catalogue at http://www.wildeyereleasing.com/ and treat yourself to something.

Redubbed films are some of my favourites – starting with “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?”, but there’s “Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters” too, plus most of “Hercules Returns” and “Kung Pow: Enter The Fist” (along with a million comedy sketches using the same premise). Basically, some cheeky chappies will get the rights to an old film where the copyright’s lapsed and record all new dialogue, completely altering the plot, which they’ll try and fit to the beats of the movie, will have the voices commenting on how cheesy it all is, and so on.

Stag Films have gone one step further, though, by using multiple sources, so while most of the movie is the 1973 classic “The Werewolf of Washington”, starring Dean Stockwell (where he plays a reporter, not the President), there’s a ton of other stuff in there- public information film, adverts, a whole stew of weird and wonderful bits of found footage stitched together to tell the story of President Wolfman getting bitten and turning into a werewolf, while trying to fight off a bill in Congress to sell America to China.

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Fortunately, these guys don’t just coast on their gimmick. It’s a hilarious film, with real care taken on it too – except when they need a scene set in a hospital, and use a guy whose sole similarity to Dean Stockwell is he’s white, but then that’s part of the joke as well. My favourite bits were scenes where they’d managed to find the same actress in two different but related scenes – so you’ll have a woman in a supermarket car park screaming at the sight of her own corpse in a shopping trolley; or a nurse checking on herself in bed. Or I’ve been fooled, one of the two.

Kudos to them for taking so much care with this. I loved the CGIed “President Wolfman” campaign badges, and the footage they used for the the Chinese President. They got some great voice talent, too, with people like “That Guy” comic actor Marc Evan Jackson as the President…ah heck, I can’t find a single thing to criticise about this! They even make the story make sense from beginning to end! Plus, as an environmentalist, I appreciate this film’s “green” credentials, as they didn’t film anything, thus no waste of our precious natural resources. Stag Films, from their site, seem like really cool, passionate people too.

“President Wolfman” is the third Kickstartered film we’ve reviewed, and it’s by far the best. It’s the sort of bizarre idea most places wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, so kudos to the funders and kudos to Wild Eye for releasing it. The DVD is also packed with extra features – a commentary from the filmmakers and a load of short films they’d done too. There’s also an “outtakes” reel which I think qualifies for strangest special feature I’ve ever seen.

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Rating: thumbs up

Project: Metalbeast (1995)

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What to make of a film that can’t even be bothered to change its own credits when the title is altered? After deciding that “MetalBeast” just wasn’t cutting the mustard, the producers then presented us with “Project: Metalbeast” – perhaps (although I admit this is unlikely) due to the same year’s “Project Shadowchaser 3”, also starring Musetta Vander?

You don’t want to hear me speculate on 20-year-old naming decisions, though! What you do want, I hope, is a slightly sarcastic recap of the film, so here goes. It’s 1974, and thanks to a text info-dump…tell you what, rather than me describe it to you, here it is, and it’s a pretty cool idea for a film:

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Although his partner gets his throat ripped out quickly, Butler (who looks like the most stereotypically “army” guy ever) makes short work of the werewolf and we’re on our way back to the US. He’s bummed out that they can’t start testing it on live soldiers right away, and thinks the scientists are taking too long so injects himself with the last remaining blood. He starts turning into a werewolf too, so his boss, Barry Bostwick (who’s been covered by the ISCFC here and here) puts him in suspended animation until science has caught up with him, or something.

So we skip forward to 1994, where Bostwick is now in charge of all sorts of government science funding, and one of his projects is to create synthetic skin for cancer patients. He combines this with something to do with metal (I may not have been paying attention during his long silly speech) and boom, we’ve got skin which is sort of made out of metal. And guess which long-frozen cadaver Bostwick gives them to test the skin out on?

CAROLINE AWARD! We have an award for films which feature male, but no female, nudity, because the scales are tipped ridiculously far in the other direction. I am pleased to confirm that with its lingering full-frontal shot of Butler, “Project: Metalbeast” wins the Caroline Award.

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The two main scientists in the present are Kim Delaney and Musetta Vander, both top 90s ladies. Luckily, this movie got Delaney minutes before she signed on for “NYPD Blue” for most of the next decade, and Bostwick just before “Spin City”, so it looks a bit higher-class in retrospect. Anyway, they start laying the new skin on their cadaver, until wouldn’t you know it, it appears he wasn’t quite as dead as they thought.

Now, right about here is where the problems start. The film has “Metalbeast” in its title, and even with zero spoilers just from the box you know Kane Hodder is playing the beast, so waiting around until 1:07 of an 1:25 film to show us the fully metal beast for the first time might reasonably be said to be leaving it a little too long. Or, as my notes less prosaically put it, “crack on lads” – when you’ve got a werewolf with metal skin, get some damn use out of it! When Kim Delaney starts running pretty quickly, a few minutes after pulling a giant metal rod out of her foot, I was a little annoyed too.

The ending is fun though. Despite this film aiming for some sort of record for the most use of people running down corridors in history, and numerous examples of people splitting up specifically so it’s easier for the beast to pick them off one by one, there’s people blowing up, clever resourceful female characters and a surprisingly decent MetalBeast outfit. Ultimately, popping a film like this on the telly and you really ought to know what to expect, too – “well, “Project: Metalbeast” didn’t have enough ruminating on the human condition for me, so I give it a thumbs down”.

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So, despite a really slow middle section, a superb bit of villainy from Bostwick and two great performances from Vander and Delaney get this film over the top. I think you’ll probably enjoy it, but it’s a definite if you’re a corridor fetishist.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Curse Of The Wolf (2006)

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We here at the ISCFC love Len Kabasinski. He’s a former nationally-ranked martial artist who’s moved into filmmaking, and his very low budget films have, despite their flaws, become favourites with us. We’ve already reviewed “Swamp Zombies” and now it’s time for this, his second film.

Dakota is a werewolf with a problem – the problem being she doesn’t really want to be a werewolf any more. She tries to escape her pack, but they are oddly determined to keep her around – eventually, though, she makes her escape, and starts a new life for herself working at a vet’s office. There, she has friends and access to the heavy-duty animal tranquiliser which allows her to control her transformations, and all seems well for 6 months…until the act of protecting her friend from some goth rapists sets a chain of events in motion that brings her old pack back into her life.

So far, so good, but it’s at this moment things go a little odd. While trying to escape the pack she runs into a nightclub, where the owner of the place and his assistants / bouncers take a shine to her, and then get involved in the fight between her and the other werewolves. Their motivation is a little unclear, although I admit I’m a bit sleep-deprived and probably missed that part – I discover from reading that they’re drug dealers, and they’re annoyed with the werewolves for killing one of their couriers. That this doesn’t come through on the screen is hopefully reflected by the tone of this paragraph! Once again, Kabasinski’s love of pro wrestling shows in his casting choices, with not only Brian “Blue Meanie” Heffron returning as the comic relief werewolf, but Lanny Poffo playing the nightclub owner.

Lanny Poffo! Old school wrestling fans will remember him as The Genius, who read bad poetry from a scroll every week; and even older-school wrestling fans will remember him as Leapin’ Lanny Poffo. He’s the brother of the vastly more famous Randy Savage, and up to this film had never acted before (and only did it afterwards once, in another Kabasinski film).

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It appears the technical side of Len Kabasinski has regressed since “Swamp Zombies”, if anything. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume there were some severe problems during filming, with sound recording (some of the dialogue is absolutely impossible to understand), some terrible day-for-night scenes (time restraints?) and a really properly dreadful cast. Pretty much top-to-bottom, they’re wooden and completely unbelievable – honourable exceptions being Darian Caine (as Ivy) and Len himself. I appreciate good actors cost, but I just think he got really unlucky with the people who he was able to get for this one – every now and again, you’ll luck onto someone like Monica Picirillo (from “Swamp Zombies”) but most of the time you’ll get a whole bunch of people who look like they don’t want to be there. The occasionally ropey gore effects are hidden by the fact that most scenes only use natural light, meaning every indoor scene is murky as hell.

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as “Swamp Zombies”, that’s for sure. It’s confusing, the sound and picture are poor, and the acting is amateurish at best. But it’s not all bad – Kabasinski is a student of martial arts and action cinema and is able to shoot his fights clearly, so you can see everything that’s going on, and he choreographs them well too. His love for making films is clearly apparent too, and I’d still take one of his over one of Michael Bay’s, any day.

I’ll see you all for his next film, “Fist Of The Vampire”, okay?

Rating: thumbs down (sorry)

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