LARRY COHEN WEEK: Full Moon High (1981)

Four years before Teen Wolf (and 24 years after I Was a Teenage Werewolf), Larry Cohen wrote, produced and directed Full Moon High, a comedic take on what it’d be like to be a werewolf in high school. Ironically, it came out in the same year as An American Werewolf in London, covering some of the same ground, but from a very different perspective.

The tie to Michael Landon’s werewolf turn is that the opening of this film is in the 1950’s. There, Tony Walker (Adam Arkin, Halloween H2O) is a high school football player whose dad, Colonel William Walker (Ed McMahon!), is in the CIA. He takes his son with him to Romania for a secret mission where he’ll shove some microfilm up his own ass. Yes, if you ever wanted to see Johnny Carson’s sidekick yell things like, “Did you get laid?” and act like he’s being butt plugged, then this is the film for you!

Tony gets his palm read by a gypsy while his dad is having sex with a prostitute — yes, this is a comedy — and finds out that he’ll be an eternal doomed to wander the earth. Soon, he will return home to find his destiny and he shouldn’t make any plans during the full moon. On his way back to the hotel, Tony is killed by a werewolf and returns from the dead the next morning.

On their way back to the U.S., Cuban terrorists hijack their plane, but Tony transforms into a werewolf and takes them out. However, Tony’s curse keeps him too distracted to play football, so he misses the big game and costs his school the championship. He also starts to hide from his girlfriend Jane (Roz Kelly, New Year’s Evil) as he’s worried that he will kill her. His dad is convinced that Tony is a neighbor’s dog until he catches him transforming and tries to shoot his son. The bullet ricochets and kills the Colonel and Tony skips town after the funeral.

The film descends into pathos here — not the last time it’ll happen — as Tony wanders the earth for twenty-five years before returning home. It’s just in time, as Tony’s football team hasn’t scored a touchdown since he left town.

His old girlfriend, Jane, is married to his old friend Flynn and still calls out his name during sex. She figures out that Tony Jr., as he calls himself as he returns to town, is really Tony. And she’s fine with having sex with a werewolf. There’s also Ricky (Joanne Nail, The Visitor), a high school girl who falls for him. Oh yeah — and Tony also goes full werewolf and kills his principal before turning himself in. His court-appointed shrink, Dr. Brand (Adam Arkin’s dad, Alan) really wants to conduct experiments on Tony, but acts like he’s trying to help him.

There are plenty of character actors and strange personalities in this strangely cast film. In addition to Ed McMahon, there’s also Laurene Landon (Maniac Cop…All the MarblesThe Stuff), Sanford and Son‘s Demond Wilson, 1980’s sitcom and Hollywood Squares star Jim J. Bullock, Bob Saget in an early role as a sportscaster and Pat Morita (The Karate Kid) as a silversmith.

Cohen said of the film, “It has some interesting ideas about how life in America has changed sexually and politically since the early sixties. All of Arkin’s friends have changed but he hasn’t. And whereas he changes into a werewolf all of the time, his friends change into middle-aged people while he is gone, with different values and different ideas. They change as much as he does, actually.”

Where most of Larry Cohen’s films succeed in spite of their high concept and low budget, Full Moon High was a bit of a struggle for me. That said, Alan Arkin is great in this and elevates every scene he’s in.

Shout! Factory is finally releasing this film on blu-ray. It’s been available in grey market form for awhile, but it’s getting their full treatment and comes out on April 10th, complete with plenty of extras.

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