Full Moon High Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Written and directed by Larry Cohen
1981, 93 minutes, Rated PG
Blu-ray released on April 10th, 2018
Adam Arkin as Tony
Roz Kelly as Jane
Ed McMahon as Dad
Kenneth Mars as Coach Cleveland
Alan Arkin as Dr. Brand
Bill Kirchenbauer as Flynn
Joanne Nail as Ricky
Elizabeth Hartman as Miss Montgomery
Tony Walker is a senior at Full Moon High where he is the star quarterback and all-around popular guy. His girlfriend Jane is head-over-heels for him and things are looking pretty good as the big game approaches. His life takes a sudden downturn when his CIA spook father drags him on a mission to Romania as part of his cover. While there, Tony is attacked by a werewolf and cursed to live forever as a creature of the night. Upon returning to the States, things take a silly turn as a series of werewolf “nippings” strike the local community. Tony is not a murderer but instead quenches his cursed cravings by biting girls on the ass. He ultimately runs away from his problems and walks the earth, never aging a day for over twenty years before returning to the life he once knew. Posing as the son he never had, he returns to high school and finds himself surrounded by some of his old friends who are now adults suffering mid-life crises. Tony hatches a plan to expose himself to the community and beat the curse forever. Will it work? Only time will tell, but he has to get through high school first!
Legendary writer/ director Larry Cohen, master of horror and exploitation cinema with titles including the It’s Alive trilogy, Q: The Winged Serpent, The Stuff, Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem among many others, stretches his wings into the comedy genre with Full Moon High (1981), a goofy but uneven pun-filled love letter to the classic monster movies of the 1950s. Full Moon High updates and pays homage to I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) and pre-dates the similarly-themed Teen Wolf (1985) by four years. Shot in 1979, the movie sat on the shelf for two years due to distribution financial woes before being released during the resurgence of interest in werewolf pictures including An American Werewolf in London, The Howling and Wolfen (all 1981). During that two year hiatus, Cohen’s picture became a bit of an odd duck; sure werewolves were popular, but comedy had shifted tone in the wake of films like Airplane! (1980).
The film starts off strong with a string of one-liners and silly situations that move like a bullet from one scene to the next. Once bitten, things take a break from the fun and the middle act slogs along as Tony comes to terms with being a werewolf. Cohen steps away from the fast-paced jokes of the opening act to study how social norms have shifted from the 1960s to the ‘80s. Tony learns of regret and the importance of responsibility to family and friends. There is an overly dramatic dynamic between rebellious kids and their conservative parents that later evolves into the dreadful realization that these same kids slowly turn into their parents as they approach middle age and become far more cautious. The movie returns to comedic form with the introduction of Dr. Brand, an aggressive insult therapist who shames his patients into submission. He is by far the highlight of the picture and arrives just in time to bring things back to comic life.
Adam Arkin (Lake Placid) stars as Tony, our hapless hero incapable of change – except physically. Arkin is really good in the role and plays the material straight with a deadpan delivery of some pretty clever wordplay. He carries the picture even through its less-than-hilarious moments and remains likeable at all times. Lending support is Roz Kelly (New Year’s Evil) as the tireless, love-struck Jane. Her energy is amazing and she really shines in all of her scenes. Kenneth Mars (Young Frankenstein) is funny albeit stereotypically so as Coach Cleveland, the material is dated but Mars keeps it fresh. The always welcome Alan Arkin (Wait Until Dark) is the real gem here as the abrasive Dr. Brand, and is clearly having fun with the part. Look for early turns from TV staples Ed McMahon (The Tonight Show), Pat Morita (Happy Days), Demond Wilson (Sanford & Son), Bob Saget (Full House) and Jim J. Bullock (Hollywood Squares) in supporting roles.
Full Moon High is really hit-or-miss with its tonal shifts, but Larry Cohen’s screenplay recovers nicely once he gets out of the way of the jokes. The film is more successful than not and I am glad to see it finally receiving a proper release. Cohen is known for his work in exploitation fare, but it is nice to see how he handles comedy. He has a lot to say, which is an occasional problem, but you are never left feeling that he was holding anything back as a storyteller. Some useless trivia for genre fans: the movie was lensed by famed cinematographer Daniel Pearl (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and the horror elements of the picture, such as they are, benefit from his presence. As a Larry Cohen fan, I can easily recommend a dozen titles for you to check out, but until this new Blu-ray edition, Full Moon High was never very high on my list. Now I am more inclined to encourage you to give it a spin with a group of friends in search of a goofy albeit nearly forgotten flick.
Video and Audio:
The movie makes its debut on Blu-ray with a surprisingly sharp transfer. The 1.85:1 aspect ratio is opened up slightly to the now-standard 1.78:1 and is filled with fine detail. Colors are vibrant and there is a lot more detail found here than on previous standard definition releases.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 track gets the job done with a well-balanced mix that keeps dialogue levels clean and free from distortion. Music cues are also clear and never intrusive.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
The audio commentary from Larry Cohen is a welcome treat that fans are certain to enjoy. Not only the fans of this picture, but also those of the filmmaker’s lengthy career will find a lot to like in this discussion. Cohen commentaries have always been fun and insightful and this one is no different.
The original theatrical trailer is also included.
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