Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dirty Hairy

When it comes to taking a bite out of crime, McGruff the Crime Dog has nothing on the elite squad of super-powered were-cops serving nightly notice to the scum of Los Angeles in Full Eclipse (1993).

Made for HBO, Full Eclipse came and went with zero fanfare but it's a happily trashy comic book come to life. Directed by Anthony Hickox, who enjoyed quite a run in the late '80s and early '90s - well, "quite a run" if, like me, you're fond of the likes of Waxwork (1988), Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989), Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), and Warlock: The Armageddon (1993) - Full Eclipse is as rip-roaring a werewolf extravaganza as an HBO budget will allow. Sometimes the lack of funds show (as when obvious opportunities for more stunt-heavy moments are passed by - a standoff between were-cops and gangsters simply fades to black before their battle erupts, for example) but in staging Full Eclipse's action scenes and transformation FX, Hickox shows his experience in the indie trenches by stretching whatever bucks he had to work with as far as they'll go.

Mario Van Peebles (Posse) stars as Max Dire, a cop who's buddy and partner Jimmy Sheldon (Anthony Denison) is planning to retire early from the force and marry his finance. Jimmy must've never seen a cop movie before or else he'd know that by opening his mouth about his future, he just ended it. Sure enough, the next call Max and Jimmy respond to - a hostage situation at a nightclub - ends with Jimmy being ventilated by a scumbag with an automatic weapon. Jimmy is lying in the hospital next to death when a mysterious figure in a policeman's uniform injects an unknown drug into his IV. Soon, he's out of the hospital and ready to hit the streets again. Not only does Jimmy show no signs of his injuries, he's become - in the words of a stunned Max - "Dirty Harry on crack!"

Jimmy's return to the force comes with a great chase scene attached to it as he leaves Max looking on gape-mouthed as pursues some perps on foot in a way that is strictly beyond human capabilities. Jimmy's plans to retire from the force and get married are quickly iced and Max has no idea what to make of the drastic changes in his friend. Soon after becoming a supercop, though, Jimmy makes a permanent change by taking out his revolver and blowing himself away in front of Max and a full bar of his buddies. Whatever new abilities he found himself in possession of, Jimmy clearly didn't care for the price tag attached to them.

A confused Max, reeling from Jimmy's suicide, is taken under the wing of Adam Garou (Bruce Payne, who had just recently been Wesley Snipes' foe in 1992's Passenger 57 and who eventually took over the role of the Warlock from Julian Sands), a hot-shit, high-ranking police officer with a reputation for getting results. Garou (the word 'loup-garou' being french for werewolf) is cocky and persuasive and he intends for Max to join his inner circle of cops who handle all the heavy shit. Among Garou's crew are Patsy Kensit (Lethal Weapon 2) as Casey and Hickox regular Paula Marshall (Hellraiser III) as Liza. Max is skeptical about what Garou is selling, especially when he sees Garou's squad collectively shooting up with some drug prior to kicking ass.

Max's 'just-say-no' attitude relaxes once a bullet to the gut leaves him the choice of either dying on the spot or taking Garou's miracle drug. Once he takes it and is instantly healed, Max knows why his old partner put a silver bullet in his brain - he'd become a werewolf. But what Jimmy, for whatever idiot reason, saw as a curse, Garou and his pack sees as an improvement - especially when it comes to doing a cop's work. Before you can say New Wolfman Jack City, Max is tackling his work with a zeal that makes other were-cops look like they're out to win a ribbon at a dog show.

Problem is, Max keeps asking questions and that doesn't sit well with Garou. If you think that Full Eclipse will come down these two werewolves (or Alpha Dogs) opening can after can of whup-ass on each other, then you're pretty much on the money. If there isn't quite as much full scale action as some might like, I think it just comes down to Hickox not having the dough to afford it. But he does what he can and Hickox readily embraces the comic book flavor of the story. When he has his were-cops pop their claws out of the back of their hands, like Wolverine (the dialogue references The X-Men at one point - before it became fashionable to include those sort of shout-outs to the geek community), it ought to be accompanied by an onscreen 'Snikt!'

Most werewolf movies are tragic tales but Full Eclipse shelves that in favor of action. Why a movie this high concept was made-for-cable instead of being a big budget production is mystifying to me. Maybe the story was regarded as being too goofy to pass for a 'real' movie, I don't know (I bet it wouldn't be such a hard sell to studios today) but I'll take it's junky charms over almost any modern werewolf movie outside of The Howling and An American Werewolf in London. The mythology it invents is questionable (Werewolves become stronger during a full eclipse? I'd think it be the opposite but hey, whatever.) but that kind of stuff is easy to take in stride.

Finally, I think that it's worth noting that this chintzy, made-for-cable were-cop movie is the rare (maybe the only?) film of the early '90s to have anything to say - in the aftermath of the infamous Rodney King beating and trial - about cops literally running wild in LA. Any social comment found in Full Eclipse may be incidental but given star Mario Van Peebles' family history, maybe it would've been appropriate to paraphrase the opening text of his father Melvin's debut film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), in service of Full Eclipse:

"This film is dedicated to all the brothers and sisters who have had enough of the Wolf Man."


Anonymous said...

I have a special place in my heart for this one. Conceptually, so cool. I was also sooooooo in love with Patsy Kensit back in the day. What the heck happened to her?

Jeff Allard said...

Looking at her IMDB page, it looks like Kensit works mostly in TV now. While I agree that she was truly stunning, it's Paula Marshall that I really had a crush on back then. I think that's the main reason I like Hickox's run of horror films, in fact - just because he cast Marshall in so many of them!

Matt-suzaka said...

While the title sounds vaguely familiar, I have never heard of this one and gosh darn it, I already love it! Thanks for talking about this one, Jeff, I will have to try and get my hands on it sometime soon!

Jeff Allard said...

Matt, you'll definitely dig this - check it out when you have a chance!

Amanda By Night said...

This looks pretty good. I'm putting it on the list!

Jeff Allard said...

Cool! As long as you know going in that it's going to be goofy, it's a fun movie.