Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.
Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or
improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if
you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can
be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.
College student Jenny (Laurie Walters) lets herself be talked into a nice
little picnic out in the country surrounding her native San Francisco by a guy
she has just met on campus. It seems that a combination of bad jokes, a Groucho
Marx nose and beard and a painful Inspector Clouseau imitation are the direct
way into this girl's heart. I think I'm gonna put that into my book of sure ways
to charm the ladies.
When he's not joking, John (Joe Spano) introduces himself as a junior
reporter for a local newspaper.
After their picnic, Jenny and John end up at an old, abandoned looking health
resort (where the audience has already witnessed a woman being axed by a very
backwoodsy looking gentleman in the teaser sequence). Some walking through
perfectly moody abandoned buildings ensues, until the young people meet an old
woman (Edny MacAfee) who lives in the place. At first, this Mrs Abercrombie is a
little grumpy, but it doesn't take long until she falls into the typical nice
old lady routine, tea and everything you'd expect included. Jenny very suddenly
begins to feel woozy, and so decides to stay behind while Mrs Abercrombie gives
John an official tour of the place. The young woman uses this opportunity to get
a little nosy, and at once finds a nice set of drugs and syringes in a drawer.
Jenny doesn't seem to think much about it, though, and so just decides to take
another little stroll through the spa herself. The young woman sees and hears
quite peculiar and disturbing things on her way around, but - surprisingly -
nothing truly terrible happens to her. She's just left with a less than pleasant
impression of the ruined spa, and probably promises herself never to return
Her aversion to the place notwithstanding, John manages to talk Jenny into
visiting it a second time a few weeks later. This decision turns out to be a
mistake that will put Jenny into an ideal position to learn things about the
local black magic cannibal cult and the unpleasant history of the spa she never
dared to ask.
Warlock Moon is another one of these strange and beautiful
independent, regional US horror productions of the 70s and 80s I love so much.
As is so often the case with films like this, Warlock Moon's director,
writer, editor and producer Bill Herbert only made this single film and then
never was heard from again (yeah, I know, the commentary track on the DVD would
probably enlighten me regarding Herbert's further career, but where's the
mystery in that?). But really, what need for making more movies could there have
been after Herbert had made a perfect specimen like this one?
Herbert's movie isn't one of those local productions that look like they were
made by blind and deaf men barely knowing in which direction to point their
cameras, not to speak of things like properly lighting a scene. Although
Herbert's direction shows a certain lack of experience and the rawness that
comes from making a film on the very cheap, a lot of the film works quite
beautifully. The director has an especially good eye for the long scenes of
Jenny walking through the impressive abandoned buildings most of the film takes
place in, using what is one of the perfect locations for a film like this with
relish. The ruin's of the health resort are possibly the film's main attraction,
and certainly its star, imbuing Warlock Moon with the striking instant
eeriness of actual places that can be found so often in the independent US
horror films of its era.
Warlock Moon is also a true film of its era. Seen from a distance,
its plot doesn't make much sense, and the plan of its occult cannibal conspiracy
does even less so. However, the plot is of course just an excuse to show scenes
of Spano, MacAfee and her assistants being creepy and of Jenny losing herself
(quite like this viewer) in the atmosphere of the abandoned houses. In its 70s
stubbornness (or perhaps just the confusion that seems to have infected much of
the pop culture of its time), Warlock Moon does not seem to believe in
clear explanations for anything that happens in it. The audience is allowed to
learn that evil is afoot here, and understand that Jenny's role is going to be
very unpleasant, but the film prefers to leave many of the questions a viewer
will ask unanswered. We never learn what makes Jenny a special case affording
special rituals, for example. Why is she a stand-in for the bride whose killing
seems to have been the original sin of the cannibal cult? The connection between
the spa's sordid history and the things happening there now is also kept
ambiguous (is it the same cult as decades ago, or a new one making use of a
place already filled with occult meaning?), as are Jenny's meetings with what
might be a ghost or just a hallucination caused by drugged tea and frightful
stories. While I'm talking about the ghost - why does the ghost at first seem to
want to help Jenny, yet later drives her into the direction of her doom? Like
Jenny, we are only allowed hints, portents, and suggestions. The truth stays
occluded even for the people bound to die for it.
Of course, the film's wallowing in mood, sense of place and ambiguity has
drawbacks other than the unclearness (and problematic believability, but what
horror film is believable on its surface?) of its plot. For much of the film,
there might be just too little happening on screen for many people's tastes, and
what is happening is surely not happening fast. There are also scenes of John
acting incredibly peculiar, in fact quite exactly like the sort of guy any woman
with a brain would avoid instead of date, yet in their skewed way, even these
moments just add to Warlock Moon's attraction (again mirroring Jenny's
experience, which might of course be pure chance).
As I said, much of the film is given to scenes of Jenny walking through
empty, half-ruined buildings with a puzzled look on her face, and while I can't
help but love the movie for these scenes, I can imagine others feeling kind of
bored by them. It's a little sad that I can imagine such empty lives, but I
If there is a sub-genre of the horror movie about people walking through
deserted and desolate places (and I'd argue there is), Warlock Moon is
one of its prime examples.