[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 9 – [Happy 40th Birthday!] Full Moon High (1981)

Director: Larry Cohen
Cast: Adam Arkin, Roz Kelly, Ed McMahon, Elizabeth Hartman, Bill Kirchenbauer, Joanne Nail, Demond Wilson, Louis Nye, JM Bullock, James Dixon, Kenneth Mars
Screenplay: Larry Cohen
93 mins. Rated PG.

Up until seeing Full Moon High, my only experience with a Larry Cohen (God Told Me To, It’s Alive) film is watching Q: The Winged Serpent a few years back. I own a number of his films but just haven’t gotten time, but I’ve been told by great many colleagues that he’s got that Grindhouse flavor but he’s cleverer than he’s given credit for. Well, if you’ve seen Full Moon High, you can perhaps imagine my shock when the film turned out to be a cheesy satirical comedy about werewolves. Then, the question must be asked: how does Larry Cohen deal with parody?

High school student Tony (Adam Arkin, A Serious Man, Pig), while on a trip to Transylvania with his father, is bitten by a werewolf. With his new affliction, Tony cannot age, and he is forced to disappear when the curse becomes too much to deal with, only to return decades later to fix his high school status.

Full Moon High appeared near the beginning of a long line of werewolf movies. The 80s were oversaturated with werewolves, with 3 Howling films, 2 Teen Wolf films, Wolfen, The Company of Wolves, and of course An American Werewolf in London. The latter of these films featured the makeup effects of Rick Baker. His protégé, Steve Neill, did the effects for Full Moon High. With all that werewolf mania, Full Moon High actually kind of stands out from the crowd, or at least it should have. This movie is delightful and I’m surprised it isn’t discussed more, even among Cohen’s works. Far from flawless, I found the satirical edge of Cohen’s writing and the likable Adam Arkin leading the cast, Full Moon High mostly worked for me.

That being said, this is a movie that, very early on, makes it clear what you are about to see, and it presents its tone very capably, almost like an episode of Saturday Night Live dedicated to making werewolf jokes for 90 minutes, and that comparison is apt because, like SNL, this movie has some bits that are uproarious and others that are…not so much.

Still, there are enough funny bits scattered through the movie that really work, and there are some surprises for fans of classic comedy as well. Is that Bob Saget playing two different roles? Yes. Is that 3 Arkins in the movie (Adam, father Alan, and brother Anthony)? Yes. We even get a healthy dose of Kenneth Mars (Young Frankenstein, The Producers) as both the coach and principal of the school, and he gets some very Mel Brooks-inspired scenes throughout.

Full Moon High is quite a funny little comedy that has sadly been buried by time. I had to do some heavy searching for a copy only to come across an embarrassingly low quality version on Paramount+. This is a style of comedy very akin to Mel Brooks and Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker, and it that’s your thing, I think you’ll get a kick out of this one…if you can find it.

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent, click here.

One thought on “[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 9 – [Happy 40th Birthday!] Full Moon High (1981)

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