Schlocktoberfest #3: Full Moon High
I really like Larry Cohen’s films. Most are pretty trashy, but some transcend their exploitation-level budgets and concepts and become minor classics. It’s Alive! is a great grindhouse version of Rosemary’s Baby meets Thalidomide, and the excellent Black Caesar is one of the best of the blaxploitation genre- before American Gangster it was still one of the more realistic portrayals of how black gangsters wrested control of Harlem from the Mafia. Larry also made The Stuff and Q, which I will be reviewing this month- two minor classics I’ve missed so far. Full Moon High is the first comedy I’ve seen from Cohen, and unfortunately, comedy is a lot harder than horror.
It stars Adam Arkin (Alan’s son, and Ted from “Life”) as Tony, the star quarterback of Full Moon High. Everyone hopes he can break the curse against their big rival, especially the campy Coach, played with creepy panache by Kenneth Mars. He’s a little too eager to slap his players on the ass, and when Tony drops the soap in the showers, you’re damn sure he won’t bend over to pick it up.
Tony has other problems. He’s got a crazy fan girl obsessed with him, and his Dad idolizes Joe McCarthy, fancies himself a spy, and has a bomb shelter in the basement. This is the ’50s, after all. His Dad takes him to Romania on a “spy mission” which mostly involves Ed McMahon sleeping around with Iron Curtain whores. Tony runs into a woman who claims to read palms- since books are banned- and when she reads his, she merely says “Oh shit!” and leaves. For fans of The Wolf Man, the spoofs are few and far between, but some of them are pretty funny. For example, after he’s bitten, he’s followed around by a person playing the violin music from the original film.
On the way home, Tony is of course attacked by a wolf. He begs for it to take an arm or a toe instead of his throat, but alas, he is cursed to live forever and stalk the night feasting on human flesh. On the plane ride home. hijackers takeover the plane and blindfold everybody, so Tony can save the day by chomping on some butt. You might think that’s me being humorous, but when he gets home a rash of “nippings” occur… see, Tony’s a good guy and can’t bring himself to kill, so he just takes a nibble here and there… usually on a cute girl’s ass.
“I’m more of a nosher,” he eventually confesses to an understanding gal. The nebbish turned werewolf gag is cute, but quickly wears thin. His paranoid father sees him transform, and holes himself up in the shelter, only to be killed by a ricochet. In remorse, Tony flees town for the open road, steals a bus, and wanders the country for 20 years. We see newspaper headlines, and portraits of the President change on the school wall to denote the passage of time. Cohen has some fun with this. When Nixon is put up, someone throws a rock at it, and Jimmy Carter’s photo won’t stay on the wall. And Shirley Chisolm is put up instead of Reagan.
When Tony finally returns home, he hasn’t aged so no one recognizes him; his stalker-girl is now married and has an effeminate son played by Jim J. Bullock (Monroe from “Too Close for Comfort”), but once the “nippings” resume, her husband and the cops try to hunt him down. Another gag is how the ’70s-era school is covered in graffiti, with kids fighting in the hallways and blowing pot smoke in the teacher’s face in the bathrooms. I kept thinking Tony was going to clean up the school, but we’re not subjected to any such corny crap. It’s all about the gags, thin as they are.
Tony finally goes over the edge when a wacky broad ties him to her bed and starts whipping him, and he transforms while tied up. She is filming it, so eventually his secret comes out. He turns himself in, and the foremost authority on Insult Psychiatry, Dr. Brand (played by Alan Arkin, probably as a favor to his son) is brought in to pick his brain. Dad’s comic chops are much more honed, but he can’t save this turkey. He steals every scene he’s in, such as when he’s screaming at a suicidal guy on a ledge until he fights with a cop and they both plummet. He mocks Tony in his cell for “devolving instead of evolving,” and wants to skin him as a fur coat for his wife.
They have a struggle and the guard shoots the cameraman, but instead of ending the movie or going completely wacky and break the fourth wall further, they make Tony escape and finally break his school’s football curse. The film really starts to drag here, and you can tell Larry is just filling time. Alan Arkin is always fun to watch, so it’s not excruciating, but this really should have been a 75 minute film like the original Wolf Man. It’s been on cable, so if you’re a die-hard fan of Alan Arkin, or The Wolf Man or Larry Cohen’s trashy works, give it a watch.