Case of the Full Moon Murders (1973)

The First SeX-Rated Whodunit!

Poster image from Case of the Full Moon Murders (rereleased as Case of the Smiling Stiffs)

Stunning redhead Emma (Shelia Stuart) should have no problem keeping a man, but apparently she does. Acccording to her roommate Caroline (Cathy Walker), it’s because she only goes down on them once a month. Curiously, Emma’s acts of fellatio always line up with the full moon, and the men always die afterwards. She is some sort of vampire variation, but her choice of ingestible bodily fluid isn’t blood. Two bumbling cops, Joe and Frank (Fred J. Lincoln and Ron Millkie) investigate the deaths plaguing the city—seemingly healthy men found dead from severe dehydration, with rictus grins and giant erections.

This is a sex-crime-comedy-horror hybrid that ultimately falls flat on almost all accounts. The sex is very softcore and uninteresting, the humor is incessant and almost incessantly juvenile, and it barely qualifies as horror (aside from there being a vampire) or crime (aside from there being cops). It’s as if someone took a movie that could have been charmingly in bad taste and excised all of the elements that one might conceivably want to see. All that’s left behind are some genitals and a few mildly amusing antics—but certainly not enough of either to entertain throughout the admittedly brief running time.

Emma doesn’t wear a black cape or sprout fangs or any of that, but she does occasionally transform into a ridiculous rubber bat, just so that we won’t forget what her true nature is. Cops Joe and Frank do their best DRAGNET impressions throughout the film, and are quick to show that they’re not afraid to get their hands—among other things—dirty in the pursuit of justice. The only other character of merit in the cast is newspaper reporter Silverman (Harry Reems) who is ostensibly writing about the murders, but seems to be doing little more than having sex with countless women. You can always tell where Silverman has chosen to bury his lede (so to speak), because he is such a skilled lover that the women thereafter cannot uncurl their toes.

The only reason this film even rates a mention here is because of the cast and crew. This is surely one of the movies that many of them wish would remain buried, but this is the Internet age. Almost nothing stays buried.

Sean S. Cunningham was fresh off of producing writer-director Wes Craven’s sleazy 1972 thriller LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. The duo had pitched a number of projects around Hollywood, but nobody was buying. Instead, they decided to split up and try their luck apart from each other. In time, they would both create the franchises that they will forever be remembered by: Cunningham’s FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) and Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984). But between LAST HOUSE and FRIDAY, Cunningham worked on a few less-successful films—including this one.

Rictus grin of death from 1973's Case of the Full Moon Murders

Information is really rather scarce due to a combination of lack of interest, and Cunningham all but disowning the film. It was reportedly Brud Talbot’s idea to film a sex comedy in Miami, and the two of them share both a director and producer credit. Somewhere along the way, funding fell through and Cunningham was forced to complete the project on his own. Perhaps he called in a few favors, because he brought in a number of people from LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT to round out the cast and crew.

Among them: Jim Hubbard and Gary Liebman, who worked sound on both films; film editor Steve Miner, who would go on to direct the first two sequels to FRIDAY THE 13TH; and adult film star/director Fred J. Lincoln, who went from portraying Weasel the rapist in LAST HOUSE to detective Joe here—and was quick to capitalize on his association with Cunningham, as evidenced by his work on XXX films FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NUDE BEGINNING (1987), FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2: THE NEXT GENERATION (1989), and THE LAST WHORE HOUSE ON THE LEFT (2005). Lincoln harbored a grudge against Cunningham for years, as he supposedly promised to executive produce some projects for Lincoln, but never followed through. His “parodies” of Cunningham’s films were likely meant as a slap to the face.

Fred J. Lincoln wasn’t the only porn actor to appear in the film. The legendary Harry Reems (most famous as Dr. Young in 1972’s DEEP THROAT) plays Silverman. Lincoln may have been responsible for bringing Reems on board, as the two of them had appeared together in 1971’s THE ALTAR OF LUST.

Dragnet cops from 1973's Case of the Full Moon Murders

Only one other cast member went onto anything resembling a mainstream acting career: Ron Millkie, who portrayed officer Frank here, and went on to play Officer Dorf in FRIDAY THE 13TH. Most of the others never went on to perform again.

CASE OF THE FULL MOON MURDERS (aka CASE OF THE SMILING STIFFS) was released to little acclaim—except in Australia, where it inexplicably became something of a hit. It was rereleased in America at a later date, with additional hardcore footage—it’s unclear if this was newly shot footage, or footage that was shot at the time of production and simply not included—but even that didn’t help it find an audience. Furthermore, whatever hardcore footage did exist is now lost, and I’m not sure it would have improved things anyway. Cunningham put the movie behind him, slightly embarrassed by the whole ordeal, and moved onto greener pastures.

It should be noted that Cunningham’s former partner Wes Craven ventured into the adult film world as well, directing the X-rated incest-laden drama THE FIREWORKS WOMAN from 1975. Craven had the good sense to work under a pseudonym (Abe Snake), but as I said before, this is the Internet age.

Almost nothing stays buried.

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