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  Full Moon High An American Werewolf In America
Year: 1981
Director: Larry Cohen
Stars: Adam Arkin, Roz Kelly, Ed McMahon, Joanne Nail, Bill Kirchenbauer, Elizabeth Hartman, Louis Nye, Demond Wilson, Jim J. Bullock, James Dixon, Kenneth Mars, Alan Arkin, Tom Aldredge, Pat Morita, Janet Villella, Laurene Landon, Julius Harris
Genre: Horror, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Tony Walker (Adam Arkin) is in his last year of high school and a keen football player, no wonder as he is probably the team's star player. But his father, the Colonel (Ed McMahon), is often sent away on missions by the government, and this weekend, seeing as how Tony's mother left many years ago, he will have to accompany his dad on a trip to Romania on official business. Tony is none too enthusiastic, mostly worried about missing the big game, but he goes anyway, and while wandering the streets as his father entertains a couple of local "nurses", he hears a snarling and snuffling which alarms him. Not as much as it does when the noise is followed by a ravening beast bearing down...

Larry Cohen had a sense of humour, you just had to watch his horror movies to see that element of subversion was never too far away, but also an amused awareness of how much of his output might come across, even if it was not intended as comedy. This made Full Moon High more unusual in his career as while it was a horror flick nominally, it was more focused on making the audience laugh, though "focus" was not really the correct word to use here as he was all over the place in picking his targets. Not helping was the fact the film disappeared after a bare minimum of a release, only briefly reappearing to surprise unwitting viewers of late night television and never on DVD.

It's a little easier to track down now, but there are plenty who would say it was not really worth it, a Cohen misfire that showed up his limitations, mostly thanks to low budget and undisciplined writing. Nevertheless, Full Moon High does have a cult of fans who are happy to laugh at its silly, and often downright odd, jokes, and in truth it is best not to set it alongside the nineteen-eighties werewolf genre where the advances in special effects were able to create transformations and makeup like never before owing to the wizards behind the scenes letting their imaginations run riot in latex and stage blood. Cohen had no access to any of that: transformations were cheaper than Lon Chaney Jr's.

What made up for it, if you were on his wavelength, was a number of pretty decent laughs; the writer-director-producer was evidently trying out his satirical leanings which again, were all over the other films he helmed, only here they were the point. According to Cohen, his film was about how much his country had changed since the early sixties, twenty years that had rendered the culture unrecognisable to what it had been back when the Tony character was first bitten by the werewolf. The conceit was that while the curse allowed him to stay the same age, preserved immortally, everyone else he grew up with are now middle-aged and full of all sorts of neuroses they would never have dreamt of entertaining when they were kids. All very well, but that reading did not quite deliver.

For a start, Tony came across as a child of 1980 even in the sixties, and the jokes were unmistakably of that era as well, digs at subjects a twenty-first century audience may rack their brains or do a spot of internet research to understand why they were supposed to be funny. Despite that, for a dumb comedy it did show smarts, and the outright goofy material was so daft that you couldn't help but giggle, assuming you were in the mood; not exactly Cohen's Airplane! but apparently the bar he was aiming for. Extended celebrity cameos abounded, with coach Kenneth Mars who likes to join his students in the showers, Adam's dad Alan Arkin as a psychiatrist who uses "shame" to deal with people's problems, insulting them with ludicrous insensitivity, and the tragic Elizabeth Hartman supplying comic skill as a mousy teacher who turns sexually adventurous (but nothing racy). Joanne Nail, too, as Tony's girlfriend was able to conjure a talent for comedy that really should have been capitalised on - she more or less retired shortly after, our loss. So as with many a Cohen effort, actor fanciers had more than enough reason to watch. Music by Gary William Friedman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Larry Cohen  (1938 - )

Talented American writer/director who often combines exploitation subject matter with philosophical/social concepts. Began working in TV in the 1960s, where he created popular sci-fi series The Invaders, before directing his first film, Bone (aka Dial Rat), in 1972. A pair of blaxploitation thrillers - Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem - followed, while 1974's horror favourite It's Alive! was a commercial hit that led to two sequels.

God Told Me To and Special Effects were dark, satirical thrillers, while Q: The Winged Serpent and The Stuff were witty modern monster movies. Cohen directed Bette Davis in her last film, Wicked Stepmother, and reunited Blaxploitation stars Pam Grier, Fred Williamson and Richard Roundtree for Original Gangstas in 1996. Cohen has also had considerable success as a scriptwriter, turning in deft screenplays for the Maniac Cop films and mainstream pictures like Best Seller, Sidney Lumet's Guilty As Sin and most recently Joel Schumacher's Phone Booth.

 
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