Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Full Moon High (1981)

I’ve been a fan of Larry Cohen for many years. I can’t say for certain which of his movies was the first to catch my attention. It might have been Q: The Winger Serpent (1982). I somehow convinced my Dad to take me to it (as I couldn’t get in without an adult). This must have been no small feat after he took me to Friday the 13th: Part III (1982) and declared it to to the worst movie he ever saw. Even more surprising than the fact that he took me to see Q: The Winger Serpent, is the fact that he enjoyed it. This must say something about Larry Cohen’s ability to tell a story – even if the idea seems completely ludicrous on the surface. 


Incidentally, I also wanted to see I, The Jury (1982) really badly (as I was an avid reader of Mickey Spillane novels), which was written by Larry Cohen – and supposed to be directed by Larry Cohen – and came out at exactly the same time as Q. I’m not sure if I, The Jury was rated R (and thereby off limits to me), or if my Dad’s patience had simply reached its limits, but I didn’t see I, The Jury until it came out on Beta.

But getting back to ludicrous ideas, Full Moon High (1981) came out the year before Q, and was, in fact, the movie Larry Cohen made right before Q and I, The Jury. But I had never heard of it! And if there was one thing I was acutely aware of, it’s what movies were playing at my local theatres and (later) were available at my local video stores. Ever since I saw Star Wars (1978) in the theatre, I would check the entertainment section of the newspaper every day to see what movies were playing (and probably to make sure that Star Wars was still there, as I went to see it several times). That’s how I would have known about Q and I, The Jury – but I don’t recall ever seeing an add for Full Moon High.

Maybe the ad was there, but it just didn’t catch my attention. Or maybe the movie came and went so fast I never got a chance to see it. Or maybe it never played my home town at all. Even stranger, is the fact that I don’t recall ever seeing the box for Full Moon High  at any of the video stores I frequented. I would always peruse the Horror Section, longingly looking at all of the titles I could rent, but to the best of my recollection, Full Moon High was not one of them.

It seems odd to me that even when Teen Wolf (1985) became a huge hit, copies of Full Moon High did not appear on the shelves of my favourite stores. By that time, I had rented and enjoyed Larry Cohen’s next film, Perfect Strangers (1984)  – not even realizing that it was by the same guy who made Q and wrote I, The Jury.


In any case, I did not know that Full Moon High existed until may years later, when I could look up Larry Cohen’s complete filmography on the internet. I did not see it until last Friday Night At The Home Drive-In, when I watched the brand new Blu-ray that I purchased after Larry Cohen left us less than a year ago. It had been on my watch list since I became aware of it, but I knew that it’s reputation was not stellar (4.7 on the imdb, a lukewarm review in Rue Morgue magazine). It was not likely to be a lost classic on par with It’s Alive (1974) or God Told Me To (1976), but still, I needed to see it. Being a collector, I needed to own it. And if there’s one thing I knew I could rely on to entertain me, it’s a commentary track by Larry Cohen. Even if the movie is not so great, the commentary would undoubtedly make it worthwhile.

And thanks to that commentary, I now know that the reason Larry Cohen made Full Moon High (1981), was that people had told him that he should make a comedy. His sets were always such a fun place to be, everyone was always laughing and having a great time. Larry’s an entertaining and funny guy. It only stood to reason that he could make a funny movie. 

I think it’s fair to say that the results were mixed. Full Moon High has a great comic cast, and it is very funny in places (Alan Arkin’s last act turn as an unsympathetic psychiatrist is priceless!). Overall, I would describe it as a likeable movie. I can honestly say that I enjoyed it. But it pales in comparison to other horror comedies like Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974) which would have most likely been an influence. It’s closer to the good natured, silly tone of Teen Wolf (1985), and one has to wonder if Full Moon High was the inspiration for that movie. Considering how elusive it was to me, I’m not sure if the makers of Teen Wolf would have been any more likely to have seen Full Moon High prior to making their film. But just like the legend of Ted V. Mikels’ The Doll Squad (1973) being the inspiration for Charlie’s Angels (1976-81), it’s an intriguing thought.

Full Moon High (1981) is not Larry Cohen’s best film. Not even close. But it’s still a fun example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema, and I suspect it will get even better the next time I screen it on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Doll Squad (1973)

I first read about filmmaker Ted V. Mikels in a book called Incredibly Strange Films, published by RE/Search in 1986. I was writing a major paper for a film studies class and had chosen to do a semiotic analysis of Women In Prison films. A fellow student told me that there was a chapter on those movies in Incredibly Strange Films, so I went out and bought a copy at one of the better bookstores in town. There wasn’t a ton of information on Women In Prison films, but the book was fascinating and I read it from cover to cover. It made me want to see the films talked about in the various chapters, and the work of Ted V. Mikels was no exception.

A couple of years later, I found a VHS tape in a bargain bin with a cheesy ’80’s photograph on the cover. The title of the movie was Wildcats and the copyright year was 1989. A closer examination of the box revealed the name Ted V. Mikels in the credits. I did not recall a movie called Wildcats talked about in Incredibly Strange Films. And the photos on the back of the box looked more like the early ’70s than the late ’80s. I wondered if this was an older movie repackaged to look like it was brand new (sort of like the giallos that had been repackaged to look like ’80s slasher films). In any case, this was a Ted V. Mikels movie, and whether I had read about it in Incredibly Strange Films or not, I was going to buy it.

I suppose it will come as no shock when I say that Wildcats (1989) turned out to be The Doll Squad (1973). I was thrilled to own a copy (and finally get to see) one of Ted V. Mikels’ most iconic films – and it did not disappoint me!

Legend has it that The Doll Squad was the inspiration for the hit TV show (and one of my childhood favourites) Charlie’s Angels (1976-81). I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a fascinating possibility. The Doll Squad is more of a James Bond-ish espionage story. The Doll Squad, it seems, works for the government whenever their supercomputer recommends them for a job. The only odd part is that the leader of the squad, Sabrina Kincaid (played by Francine York), seems to recruit members for the mission after getting the assignment. So, they’re not a regular team? Maybe they’re a team with many members and they have to select the right ones for each mission, depending on their individual skills? I must admit that I’m not clear on that part.

A couple of potential team members (SPOILER ALERT) get killed before the mission has even begun, so maybe The Doll Squad is a team that goes through members as fast as Spinal Tap goes through drummers. Who knows? Oddly enough, Charlie’s Angels went through a few team members during their five year run. However, none of them, to the best of my recollection, died.

The Doll Squad (1973) is the epitome of #NotQuiteClassicCinema. I recently upgraded my bargain bin VHS tape to the excellent Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome – which includes a second Ted V. Mikels film called Mission Killfast (1991)  – and you can bet I’ll be checking that one out on a future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

Friday night at the home drive-in: Pieces (1982)

When I was 13, a friend convinced me to sign up for Tae Kwon Do lessons. The school he attended was about a half hour bus ride from where we lived. There were closer places, but my friend had an overprotective mother who didn’t want him to go downtown. I’m not sure what she thought would happen if he did, but it most likely involved crime, violence, and/or drugs. So, we were stuck taking two different buses into a suburban area that was far away from our own neighbourhood.

On Saturday afternoons, when the weather was nice, we would sometimes walk home. It probably took us a good two hours – longer if we decided to pop into any stores or restaurants along the way. This was back in the early days of the home video boom, when it seemed like there was a Mom and Pop Video store on every block, and when we came across one we’d never seen before we would often go in.

On one of those occasions, we found ourselves standing in front of a horror section, perusing the titles, when a nearby adult man began to speak to us. I’m not sure how old he actually was, but at the time he seemed really old to us – like in his 30s. We were surprised that anyone that old could be interested in horror films, but he was clearly browsing through the section just like us.

“If you’re looking for a good chainsaw massacre,” he said, perhaps reacting to the box of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) that was in front of us, “You’ve got to take a look at this!” He picked up a movie called Pieces (1982) and handed it to us. “It’s nothing like Texas Chainsaw,” he explained. “You can see everything in this one! It all takes place in broad daylight!”

I think it’s fair to say that we were intrigued by this information. We had rented The Texas Chainsaw Massacre about a year before and been disappointed to discover that the image was incredibly dark. So dark, we used to joke, that all we could see during the second half of the movie was a black screen. We could hear screams and sound effects, but we couldn’t see what was going on. Years later I finally saw a good print of the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it blew my mind. But when I was 12, I just didn’t get it.

So, the news that you could see EVERYTHING in Pieces was definitely exciting. Of course, we didn’t know if we could trust this old man. Perhaps he was a lying huckster who was trying to drum up rental business for this video store. But he seemed legitimately excited as he talked about it – and his assessment of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre matched our own experience of it.

Incidentally, the old man also recommended a movie called Don’t Go In The Woods (1981) for the same reasons. “It takes place in broad daylight!” he repeated with a gleam in his eye. But that is subject for another Friday…

By the time this ancient horror fan walked away with an armful of tapes, my friend and I were convinced that we needed to see Pieces, but we couldn’t do anything about it. Neither of us had a membership to this video store. And in those days, you generally needed an adult with a credit card and other valid i.d. to get one. All we could do was put the box down and hope to find Pieces in one of the stores that we frequented in our own neighbourhood. Alas, it did not happen for some time.

When I eventually saw the movie, it did not disappoint me. It was shocking, and sleazy, and unlike anything I had ever seen before. And it DID take place in broad daylight, and you COULD see an extreme amount of gore. That creepy old video store man had not lied to us. Looking back on that first viewing of Pieces, I think I found it downright disturbing. Something about the stark, gritty sleaziness of it. I guess it creeped me out.

Years later, as an adult, when all those Mom and Pop video stores were being driven out of business by the corporate giants, I found a copy of Pieces for sale and bought it. Ironically, it was a censored print that did not have all of the extreme gore. But the funny thing is, I still loved the movie. But perhaps for slightly different reasons. I could appreciate the campy humour of the film in a way that my 13 year old self could not. Details like the killer wearing back gloves while woking on a jigsaw puzzle at home – alone (!) – tickled my funny bone. I guess he was protecting his identity from us (as if we could have recognized his fingers).

I could describe many scenes and moments that I think are absolutely #Certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema gold, but this is already the longest blog post I’ve ever written and I’m not a big fan of spoilers. Suffice it to say that I find this movie a delight from beginning to end.

I’ll finish by saying that I recently bought the super deluxe Blu-ray from Grindhouse Releasing and it is some of the best money I’ve ever spent. Finally, I can watch the uncut version of the movie again. Perhaps even more uncut than the version I saw back in the ’80s. This three disc set contains two different uncut versions: the unrated U.S. theatrical cut and the original director’s cut. I’ve only seen one so far, but am looking forward to the next.

It also includes the original soundtrack on cd (!), and you know I’m going to be listening to that for many years to come…

Pieces (1982) is a #CertifiedAngusKohm personal favourite, and a masterpiece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema – if you’ve never seen it, take this creepy old horror fan’s word for it, it’s unbelievable!

Friday night at the home drive-in: The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971)

While working on this blog post, I kept being warned that I was running an old version of PHP (?) and that I needed to update it. When I looked into how to do this, I was advised that I should make sure that everything (my themes, my plugins, etc.) were all updated so they were less likely to break down when I upgrade the PHP. So, I went ahead and updated all of the things that claimed to need an update.

The administrative dashboard of my blog disappeared. As one person put it, I was left staring at a “white screen of death.” Something had clearly gone wrong, but I couldn’t do anything about it because I couldn’t access my dashboard.

To make a long story short, I had to remove all of my plugins (from the safe distance of the root folders on my hosting site) to get my dashboard back. I was able to restore most of the plugins, but some of them had to be trashed as they would no longer play nicely with my blog. You may notice that my share buttons look a little different now.

So, I was finally able to get back to the business at hand, which was to continue writing this week’s Friday night at the home drive-on post. But when I opened it up, things looked very different. I had started the post a few days ago, but now I couldn’t see the embedded tweet at the top of the screen. All it was showing me was the link to the tweet. I tried looking in Preview mode but it still only showed me the link.

I should also mention that when I first opened the editor I was welcomed to “blocks”. It seemed like a whole new way of constructing a blog post. Every paragraph is inside it’s own “block”. The link to my tweet is also inside a block. Maybe this is the problem? Or maybe there’s something else going on. Hopefully I will be able to resolve it. But just in case things looks wind up looking a little wonky, now you’ll know why.

The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971) is an entertaining giallo that I have never seen before. But as I said in a previous post, I’ve made it a mission to seek out and watch giallos ever since first discovering them in the haunted castle of an old video store of my youth. This one was made by Sergio Martino, the prolific Italian director of such cinematic delights as  All the Colors of the Dark (1972), Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), & Torso (1972) – boy that was a good year for Sergio, wasn’t it? Later, he made the revered spaghetti western A Man Called Blade (1977) and the sleazy jungle adventure Slave of the Cannibal God (1978). Let’s face it, the man has an oeuvre to admire.

Is The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail his best movie? Probably not. But it’s a good, solid giallo that keeps you guessing and has a fair amount of sleazy eye candy on display. Interestingly, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is an earlier film (1971) than the other ones I mentioned. Perhaps Martino was merely ramping up to do his some of his best work the very next year. Or perhaps he’d already done it with The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971). Maybe the next time I watch The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, I will declare it to be my personal favourite, and the best of the bunch. You never know with #NotQuiteClassicCinema – some of it creeps up on you like a giant carpet monster from outer space. You don’t realize how great it is until it’s rolled right over you – several times. 

P.S. — I had to use a screenshot of my tweet at the top of this post. Still can’t get the embedding to work. I guess that’s progress…

Friday night at the home drive-in: Tarantula (1955)

I’m almost certain that I first saw this movie on Not Quite Classic Theatre back in the 1980s. For those who don’t know, Not Quite Classic Theatre was the late night movie show that really solidified my love of old monster movies (and other B-horror films). I wrote about it a while back, to explain my use of the #NotQuiteClassicCinema hashtag.

I don’t specifically remember Tarantula (1955) being on that show, but it is so exactly the kind of movie that I saw week after week, that I feel it must have been. I do remember a couple of other specific titles which were aired (Monster on the Campus (1958) & The Monolith Monsters (1957)). They were produced and released by the same company as Tarantula (Universal Pictures). I suspect that Universal sold a package of films to Not Quite Classic Theatre, and it makes perfect sense that Tarantula would have been part of it.

In any case, I first saw Tarantula on late night TV many, many years ago. Watching it at the home drive-in last Friday was a wonderful blast from the past. It took me right back to my younger days, when giant spiders and other bugs were totally new to me. It’s movies like this that made me want to make movies (or at least be a writer). Unfortunately, I fell into a deep, dark hole of theatre and playwriting which took me about as far away from giant monsters as a writer can get.

I remember a good friend of mine, who I perceived as a very successful playwright, once giving me this piece of advice: “Write want you want.” I took it to mean that he had fallen into his own deep, dark hole where he was constantly being asked to write things that he was uniquely qualified to write, but did not excite him. He must have felt trapped; unable to turn down the paycheques. I did not have that problem back than. No one was paying me to write stuff, and it seemed like a pretty good problem to have….

…but now I find myself looking back on 20 years spent writing things that I did not care about.

Okay, that’s not quite true. I found a way to care about everything I worked on, and I wanted them all to be the best work I could do. However, they were always somebody else’s idea; somebody else’s dream project. In most cases I was paid for my work (often not enough, mind you), and that is a good feeling (and helps to pay the bills). Unfortunately, many of the projects I worked on never saw the light of day. But even if they had, they would have been somebody else’s babies, not mine. In retrospect, I have to wonder if my time would have been better spent writing B-movies like Tarantula. No one would have been paying me, but I certainly would have had more fun with them.  And when they were done, they would have been all mine, to do with as I pleased.

“Write what you want.” I should have paid more heed to those words. At least I can revisit movies like Tarantula and be transported back to a time in my life before I had made those mistakes. Is it possible to go back for real, and become the person you were always supposed to be? I’m not sure. But I am sure that Tarantula (1955) is a masterpiece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema and I will be using it to travel through time again in the not too distant future…