In between directing some of the oddest, most memorable movies of the 1970s and 1980s (God Told Me To, the It’s Alive trilogy, Q; The Winged Serpent, The Stuff, A Return to Salem’s Lot, The Ambulance), Larry Cohen bookended the 80s with two goofy comedies based on classic creatures of the night: the werewolf and the witch. So here’s a quick appreciation (of the depreciation) of both films…
FULL MOON HIGH (1981)
There are a few ways to sum up what you can expect from Full Moon High if you’ve never seen it.
For starters, the humor is reflective of the late 70s/early 80s National Lampoon/Airplane!/Love at First Bite era from which it comes. Meaning, it will always be funniest to adolescents of the early 80s. Yes, it’s that dated.
Second, it uses the Fantasy Island/Love Boat approach to casting, so popular in that era. Therefore, you’ll see the likes of Ed McMahon, Pinky Tuscadero and Arnold from Happy Days, Monroe from Too Close for Comfort, and Lamont from Sanford & Son.
And finally, it’s astounding how blatantly Teen Wolf with Michael J. Fox ripped this off a few years later.
The film begins in the 1950s—the gay panic era (that never ended).
Adam Arkin (Halloween H2O – apparently some lost alternate universe sequel to the 1978 original…) plays a teen who goes to Transylvania with his dad and gets bit by a werewolf.
After coming home, he has a…um…falling out with his dad, runs away from home for about 25 years, and returns in the days of roller disco.
He pretends to be the son of himself and returns to school (the lore here is that werewolves don’t age), reconnects with his high school flame, and gets into many of the same predicaments as Michael J. Fox.
Difference is this movie ends on the football field instead of the basketball court.
WICKED STEPMOTHER (1989)
With Wicked Stepmother, Cohen leaves the 80s the way he entered it; he makes a film on par with others of the era. So this one is locked in time as highly entertaining to pre-adolescent kids of the late 80s/early 90s who couldn’t get enough of movies like My Stepmother is an Alien, Stepmonster, and High Spirits in between arguing over whether Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog was the better video game.
The cast includes the likes of Mr. Cunningham from Happy Days, Max from Hart to Hart, Sledge Hammer from Sledge Hammer!, Bull from Night Court, and Betty from Punky Brewster. Plus…
Bette Davis. Hailed as her last film role, Wicked Stepmother features her as a deliciously wicked woman who enters a family’s life and home when she marries the grandfather of the house.
Her dastardly ways of driving them crazy would have made the movie fun all the way through if it weren’t for the fact that soon after her arrival, she is written out of the movie. Legend has it she basically walked off the set. Perhaps it’s because of the clever little cameo by Joan Crawford…
Anyway, her daughter comes to visit…and replaces her. That’s because she and her daughter are one and the same person! Bette is out, and for the remainder of the film, it’s the wicked stepsister, played by Barbara Carrera (Embryo, Island of Dr. Moreau 1977).
The wife figures out something supernatural must be up, hires a detective to watch the witch, dabbles in the occult, and eventually plays the witch at her own game.
Really, this is only going to give giggles to kids for the most part. Although, when the wife tries to pull a Dorothy and melt the wicked stepsister with a bucket of water, it tickled my faggy bone.
At least we get good old witchery, including a black cat, an occult shop visit, and some witch face reveal.
And most importantly, a cheesy spell casting final battle in a 1980s magical aura glow.