• Full Moon High

    Released by: Shout! Factory/Scream
    Release date: April 10, 2018
    Directed by: Larry Cohen
    Cast: 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, Pat Morita
    Year: 1981
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    The Movie:

    The 1980s saw a spate of body transformation horror films, beginning with The Howling in 1980 and climaxing with David Cronenberg’s The Fly in 1986. One of the most successful of these was John Landis’s now-classic An American Werewolf in London, about two young men hiking across Great Britain who are assaulted by a werewolf; one is killed while the other is bitten and cursed to carry on mayhem and bloodshed under the monthly cycle of the full moon. It would be easy to see Full Moon High as a spoof of its more famous cousin, but in fact it takes it impetus from I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), which played in regular rotation on syndicated television throughout the 1970s and was instantly recognizable to most Americans. (This is borne out by the film’s tagline, which read, “He’s today’s teenage werewolf… only the rules have changed.”) That it came during a spate of such pictures has more to do with societal interests and trends than it does planned action on the part of its writer, producer, and director, Larry Cohen, whose first outright comedy it was.

    Tony (Adam Arkin) is a popular but unassuming high school football player. His coach (Kenneth Mars) has the hots for him and his fellow players, as does Jane (Roz Kelly), who stalks him relentlessly despite the fact that a fellow football player (Bill Kirchenbauer) is in love with her. One day, Tony’s dad (Ed McMahon) announces that he’s traveling to Romania, and Tony convinces him to take him along. Once there, Tony is kicked out of their room so that his father can have dalliances with local prostitutes, and one night while eating at a restaurant alone, Tony has his fortune told. The fortune teller sees a pentagram on Tony’s palm and forewarns a never-ending life for him, though he’ll travel abroad for many years before finally returning home. Later that same night, Tony is attacked and bitten by a werewolf. He and his father return home, and on the plane ride Tony goes all wolfish and inadvertently thwarts a hijacking. Back in the states, he begins a succession of attacks, but after his father dies, he decides to travel abroad just as predicted. Twenty years later, he realizes that he never played in his football team’s state championship, so he returns home, resumes life as a high school student (pretending to be his own son), and begins life anew.

    According to Phil Hardy’s The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Horror, Cohen claimed that the movie was more than just a comedy. “It has some interesting ideas about how life in America has changed sexually and politically since the early sixties,” he said. “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.” While it can be said that these things are true, social commentary takes a backseat to Zucker Brother-style hijinks, many of which are actually funny. There’s some mildly dirty humor, much of it poking fun at gays—though in a way intended to educate audiences at the time—and some minor rear nudity. The problem is that the PG rating put too strong a limit on what Cohen could achieve, even at a time when the rating had become more lax than ever (and right before the advent of the PG-13 rating).

    Adam Arkin (son of Alan) has good comedic timing, and his career has flourished in the years since this film was made, albeit on television. Roz Kelly’s career was much shorter-lived, ending not long after this film was released, though she was quite successful in her day and may be most famous for being Fonzie’s girlfriend on Happy Days. Most R!S!P! readers, however, will know her for her work in Curse of the Black Widow (1977), New Year’s Evil (1980), and, of course, Full Moon High.

    The film was ripped off a few years later with Michael J. Fox’s sleeper hit Teen Wolf (1985).


    Shout! Factory’s Scream label drops Full Moon High onto Blu-ray with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p, in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Given the length of the film (approximately 94 minutes) and the relative lack of extras, the single BD25 is more than capable of handling the picture information delivered to it. The image looks nice and filmic, if a tad bit soft in places, with some minor dirt and debris here and there that shores up that filmic look. Detail is moderate. There’s no official DVD presentation to compare it to, but it’s difficult imagining such a presentation looking better than the film does here. Delineation most often occurs in outdoor shots with heavy foliage or in facial closeups. Nighttime scenes lose a little detail, depending on the lighting used for various camera setups, but this has everything to do with the way the film was originally shot and nothing to do with the current transfer. Colors are fairly rich, with no apparent fade in the original materials, while grain is mild but pleasingly foundational.

    Shout has opted for DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 for the film’s primary soundtrack. Unfortunately, the sound presentation is less praiseworthy than the video presentation, thanks to a music score that often overpowers dialogue, making it difficult to hear; the more you turn up the sound to hear the dialogue, the louder the music gets, making for a sometimes-uncomfortable experience. Thankfully, there are times when the dialogue is not accompanied by loud scoring, and at these times, the aural experience is much more pleasing. It should be noted that there are some mild, age-related defects associated with the sound, including background hiss. Shout has provided English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired (or, in this case, for people who have difficulty hearing the spoken word because of the prioritization issues).

    Rounding out the tracks is an audio commentary by Larry Cohen himself. The commentary is moderated by King Cohen director Steve Mitchell, who keeps the ball rolling by asking insightful and leading questions to draw the most pertinent information out of Cohen. The two begin by discussing why Cohen chose to direct a comedy rather than his standard horror. Cohen also discusses the actors, the shooting locations, how he got Alan Arkin to act in the film, the film’s history of moving from company to company before finally finding distribution, the part that was originally intended for Rob Reiner, some of the crew, and so much more. He relates humorous anecdotes and how improvisation added to the film’s comedic tone. When the two aren’t talking, the film’s soundtrack is raised to fill the silence.

    The only other extra is the original theatrical trailer, which runs just shy of three minutes and is presented in standard definition.

    The Final Word:

    Full Moon High is a surprisingly funny take on I Was a Teenage Werewolf, with Adam Arkin turning in a charming performance as an unlikely lycanthrope still stuck in his teenage years while his friends have moved on with their lives. The video presentation, while not perfect, still looks good, with decent detail, nice color, mild grain, and a pleasingly filmic look. The sound isn’t as solid and will require many viewers to turn on the subtitles if they want to know what’s being said. The feature-length commentary from Cohen is very good and will give you some perspective on the film and the period in which it was shot. All in all, not a bad package for a film that was given a minor release in theaters and hadn’t been seen since the heyday of VHS.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. cmeffa's Avatar
      cmeffa -
      Cohen's films are always great. It is a shame people don't notice that this film did this concept before the mainstream Teen Wolf film. Thanks for the review.
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Thanks for reading it, cmeffa!
    1. cmeffa's Avatar
      cmeffa -
      Quote Originally Posted by C.D. Workman View Post
      Thanks for reading it, cmeffa!
      You're welcome. I really liked the part where you mentioned that Teen Wolf ripped this off. Some people wouldn't dare say that. I've had some people get pretty upset, when I would mention this. Saying that about a film like Teen Wolf is almost blasphemy to some people.