Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Moonstalker (1989)

Your typical US horror film core family is on vacation in their mobile home, not enjoying themselves on some godforsaken empty camping ground in the snowiest part of Nevada. To Dad, nothing says getting close to your family as much as freezing with his loved ones while they hate him for his choice of vacation site. That’s not going to be a problem for them for long, though. A nice, poor, if somewhat eccentric and probably smelly old coot who likes to be called Pop (Tom Hamil) comes to the same camping ground with his much less modern trailer.

One is right neighbourly to one another. Alas, Dad verbally showing off  their new-fangled MICROWAVE OVEN(!!!!) and a cooler full of food to Pop turns out to be a very bad idea. For Pop has a secret stashed away in his trailer: he has his totally crazy, camper-hating son Bernie (Blake Gibbons), wearing a straightjacket and what we will later learn is a “special hood”, chained up there, but because he really, really wants that microwave, Pop lets Bernie loose, gives him his trusty old axe, and looks forward to a bit of foraging once Bernie’s through with the family.

Because four victims really aren’t enough for a decent slasher of this period, there’s also a wilderness counsellor camp (where young people learn how to counsel the wilderness when it becomes depressed, one supposes) in the neighbourhood, obvious final girl and all.

Moonstalker is quite obviously a very traditional little slasher movie, regionally produced and shot in Nevada, with actors in the smaller roles whose acting skills suggest they are friends and family of the filmmakers; not that the rest of the cast is full of brilliant thespians, but there’s a difference between their serviceable and goofy performances and those of the guy playing the deputy who looks and sounds like a kid playing dress-up. That’s not really a complaint, mind you: there’s something pleasant and personable about Moonstalker that you wouldn’t really get otherwise, a kind of home-grown charm that actually makes me a bit jealous of the people on screen so much fun do they seem to have.

The film is also goofy as heck in many other aspects, so goofy indeed, even rather important characters in the plot are broadly played stereotypes that seem to have escaped from the amateur version of a teen comedy without the film ever parsing as a horror comedy. And let’s not even talk about the business about the microwave oven (take that, Microwave Massacre), the reason for the killer’s particular hatred of campers, and so on, and so forth. That’s all good, too, of course, for this silly approach helps Moonstalker avoid the typical problem of slashers of this budget and period: utter boredom in the scenes where nobody is killed caused by an inability to come up with anything fun besides the murders. Now, there’s actually a good amount of killings in this one – some of the murders are cleverly staged, some really silly – which at first lack a bit in blood; that however will get better in time. Moonstalker’s true awesomeness however lies in scenes like a long, long, badly (but in a likeable way) campfire origin tale, the use of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries as a signal for hot sexy times, and other moments of the film just goofing off that are more entertaining to watch than they have any right to be. Admittedly, suspense and focus are absent yet what the film lacks in these respects, it makes up for with charm.

From time to time, director Michael O’Rourke finds an atmospheric shot, lights scene moodily, or manages to make a killing suspenseful; on the goofier side, the film features what just might be the most bizarre use of corpses (with a jaunty tune no less) I’ve seen in a slasher movie. What exactly it is, I just can’t bring myself to spoil here – some things, everyone needs to see for herself.

Which, all in all, adds up to a movie I enjoyed quite a bit more than what I’ve come to expect from late 80s slashers.

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