There are plenty of horror films to feature action movie beats and no shortage of crime films with horror elements, but despite being less abundant in overall entries, the cops-and-monsters creature-feature is a worthy sub-genre unto itself. While many such films focus on a cop in pursuit of a perpetrator who turns out to be monstrous (e.g., 1992’s SPLIT SECOND), there are also films where cops and monsters are one-in-the-same. Nearly two decades after 1975’s WOLF GUY and more than two decades before 2014’s WOLFCOP, Mario Van Peebles joined forces with WAXWORK director Anthony Hickox for the bites, barks, and bullets of 1993’s FULL ECLIPSE.
Max Dire (Mario Van Peebles) is an ace cop for the Los Angeles Police Department. He has the respect of his peers and the trust of leadership because of his sharp instincts and excellence on the job, but his years of occupational stress and trauma are contributing to his crumbling marriage with wife, Anna (Victoria Rowell). His finds some consolation in his friendship with partner on the force, Jimmy (Tony Denison), who confides in Max that he plans to get engaged to his long-time girlfriend, retire from active duty, and finally settle down. Crime has different plans, however.
During a night drive, the pair is pulled into a hazardous hostage situation at a local nightclub; Max guns down the perps and saves countless lives, but Jimmy is shot several times. Later, at the hospital, he’s in critical condition and expected to die. Max blames himself for the incident, but Jimmy returns to duty in a matter of days feeling better than ever and he jumps right back into the action with reckless abandon (as Max tells a colleague, Jimmy “[went] into the hospital and comes out acting like Dirty Harry on crack.”) Confused by his partner’s rapid recovery and still troubled by the shooting, Max receives an unexpected helping hand from Adam Garou (Bruce Payne), a lieutenant on the force who runs an off-hours group counseling program for cops and also oversees that same group – calling themselves “The Pack” – as they operate in the shadows and carry out unofficial assaults against the city’s criminal underworld while under the influence of a strange serum that gives them enhanced physical abilities.
To that end, Garou wants to bring Max into the fray for the group’s moonlight missions, but Max is resistant, and Garou’s charms alone won’t seal the deal. To help grease the wheels, group member Casey Spencer (Patsy Kensit) gets closer to Max and shares her tragic history to highlight how Garou’s help and joining the unit have changed her life for the better. Will Max become a card-carrying member of the Pack and enjoy all of its perks, including a tight bodysuit, sharp fangs, and insatiable blood-lust? Or will the additional labor hours add more fuel to his ongoing burnout and lead to an early retirement (or worse)?
A joint venture between HBO Pictures, Tapestry Films, and Citadel Entertainment, FULL ECLIPSE would premiere on HBO on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1993. My household had made the jump from HBO to Showtime by this point in time, so I have no idea whether this film was a major event or not, but I can only imagine the joy of sitting around the television with my family members with a full plate of leftovers to watch a werewolf-action movie, before the mood in the room shifted to the collective horror associated with watching a werewolf sex scene as a family. In hindsight, we’re fortunate that my parents’ choice in premium cable packages saved us all from that unique embarrassment.
As mentioned, this is also one of several horror-crime films that directly melds monsters with cops. There have been plenty of bloodsuckers working a beat between 1990’s VAMPIRE COP, the equally obscure MIDNIGHT KISS from 1993, and the reasonably popular 90s television series, FOREVER KNIGHT. As far as werewolves go, this one landed chronologically in between 1975’s WOLF GUY (featuring Sonny Chiba and an appalling lack of werewolves) and 2014’s Canadian full-werewolf horror-comedy WOLFCOP, and this entry’s approach to the folklore is somewhat unique. In the story, it’s handled as a short-term performance enhancer – let’s call it “werewolf-mode” – used by the cops to fight some ambiguous criminal element; Hickox’s film does drop some hints that putting violent, traumatized cops on experimental drugs to make them act even more bloodthirsty is indeed monstrous, but the film’s comic-book style presentation rarely pauses long enough for anyone to ponder it in any meaningful way.
With the exception of a few select scenes, the werewolf design is scaled down – think contact lenses, knuckle-claws, enlarged brow ridges, growling faces, and gnashing fangs – and there are just a few scenes of real horror. Only occasionally do we get a whiff of werewolf transformation: the aforementioned sex scene and a climactic battle on the top of a shipping container are among them. Instead, it’s the action scenes that do most of the heavy lifting to keep the audience’s attention. The setup in the first 20 minutes is done at a breakneck pace. The inciting incident of the night club shooting is presented in a style suggestive of your favorite Hong Kong heroic bloodshed films (or at the very least, a reasonable American facsimile of one) that incorporates prolific squibs, neon lighting, and use of slow-motion. After a few story beats, we’re thrown into a breathless chase sequence that follows a random drive-by shooting where Jimmy chases down gang members by leaping over fences like Spider-Man, catching up (on foot) to a speeding tandem motorcycle, and crashing the vehicle directly into a brick wall in a burst of flames before walking away mostly unharmed.
As fun and downright daffy as the action gets at its high-points, Hickox leverages them as bookends to a more story and dialogue-driven middle portion of the film that does sag at times. If the film has a standout flaw, the pacing of its action and story beats might be it. That said, Mario Van Peebles delivers some great and timely lines throughout the film and his portrayal of a cop burned-out on violence, loss, and grief is largely sympathetic; as Garou, Bruce Payne is the perfect foil as a charismatic and enigmatic leader, even if his character’s back-story seems like a collection of dart-throws at a big board of traits to help explain away some shoe-horned plot points (e.g., massive penthouse, biochemistry background, etc.) None is more egregious than his full name of “Adam Garou” – his French surname translates to “werewolf” in English – perhaps revealing an absurdly on-the-nose wink (“A Damn Werewolf”) from the screenwriters.
While it’s not the wildest werewolf movie on the block, FULL ECLIPSE has just enough teeth and snarl between its action design, lead performances, and over-the-top moments to earn a quality spot on your action-horror watch-list.