Monday, March 16, 2015

Moonstalker (1989)

... aka: Camper Stamper
... aka: Luna ensangrentada (Bloody Moon)
... aka: Moon Stalker

Directed by:
Michael O'Rourke

Moonstalker was one of my first great disappointments renting horror videos as a kid. Having already seen all of the Halloween, Friday the 13th and Elm Street films prior, with their polished production values, familiar actors and ample bloodshed, I guess I wasn't ready for such a low-budget film back then. Why was everything so dark and impossible to see? Who are these people? Where was the gore? What the hell is this, anyway? So now we're gonna try this once again as an adult with a better quality print and see how it all goes...

After a bunch of campers are slaughtered (off-screen) by an unseen assailant, a redneck drags his wife and two bored teenage children to the same campground in the middle of winter when no one else is around. A poor, grungy-looking old-timer named Ben Bromley (Tom Hamil), who prefers to be called “Pop,” shows up and sets up camp near them. They join him around his campfire later on, where he obsessively talks about his son Bernie and all the good times they had before Bernie “took sick” and had to be taken to a state hospital. Little do the family know, but Pop has already busted his son (Blake Gibbons) out of the nuthouse and is keeping him chained up in his camper. Jealous that the family have a microwave oven and color TV in their RV, Ben then decides to release Bernie from his straight jacket, hands him an axe and tells him to get to work slaughtering the family so they can snatch their appliances. Bernie kills the parents and son (all off-screen), but the daughter Tracy (Kelly Mullis) escapes and runs off in the snow. Pop sends Bernie after her but gets so worked up over all the commotion he keels over from a heart attack. Now Bernie's all alone to do as he pleases and he pleases to slaughter everyone he comes into contact with.

Luckily for Bernie and his blood lust, even though they're “50 miles from the nearest town,” a “Wilderness Counselor's Camp” is taking place nearby. He intercepts a guy heading there, murders him, steals his clothes and truck and then hunts down Tracy. (Note: If a psycho is pursuing you in a vehicle and you're on foot, please feel free to step off the road lest you actually want to be run over). Bernie then returns to a cabin that was his childhood home to get some tools and sneaks around the survival camp, which consists of four or five tents pitched in the snow, picking off victims as he goes. At the camp we meet owner Regis (John Marzilli), a short-tempered macho asshole who runs the place like a military boot camp yet is the submissive half in a BDSM relationship he's got going on with his assistant Marcie (Ingrid Vold). There's also nice guy wildlife instructor Ron (Joe Balogh) and geeky and sex-obsessed counselor Bobby (Alex Wexler). Among the seven hoping to survive long enough to get their “Wilderness Counselor's Certificate” are Jill Foors as the tough, pretty Debbie, Ann McFadden as Vicky and SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE co-star Pamela Ross as Sophie.

Around a campfire we learn the sad story about Bernie and his family and why they're all so screwed up. Back in 1975, the state decided they wanted to build a road and resort area and the Bromley family's cabin was in their way. After issuing an unsuccessful written warning for them to vacate, cops showed up, a gunfight ensued, mom was killed and dad was hauled off to prison. Little Bernie ran into the woods, lost his mind and was later hauled off to an institution after biting off someone's finger. So now, apparently, having people invading his home turf is just a little too much for him to handle. After being warned by a cop there's a murderer on the loose who's just slaughtered an entire family nearby, the campers do the usual boneheaded things like sticking around when they clearly shouldn't and wandering off by themselves when they're clearly morons for doing so and each die when their time comes. Yes, you've seen this all before...

Annoyingly, the murder spree that ensues is extremely lame despite a high body count. Though necks are slashed, a couple having sex are skewered with a pitchfork, a face is scalded with boiling hot water and people have their heads, arms and legs chopped off at various points, nearly all of it takes place off-screen and what is shown is nearly as impossible to enjoy because you can barely make any of it out. While scenes are adequately lit so you can at least tell what's happening, things are still too dark and murky for any details to shine through. That may be just as well since what little we do see is pretty amateurish (ketchup squirts, rubber limbs, etc.) but, still, the absence of inventive kills and blood / gore is unforgivable for such a routinely-plotted slasher.

However, there's one positive that came as a completely unexpected surprise to me and that's the no-name cast. The primary actors in this one were just good enough to partially offset how dumb and overly familiar most of the rest of the movie is. Thanks to some decent dialogue, the characters here end up being less cardboard and far more likable than in most similar films. It's not quite enough to overcome the numerous other issues, but it still makes the movie go down a little bit easier than it otherwise would have. Filmed near Carson City, Nevada, the snowy setting is also somewhat unusual for a campground slasher. Director O'Rourke had made the ridiculously bad DEADLY LOVE (1987) and scripted the awful HELLGATE (1989), so at least this is somewhat of an improvement.

The American VHS debut came on the Complete Entertainment label and it has since found its way right into a bargain bin near you on a 99 cent future coaster that utilizes a cut version of the film missing some footage (including a blink-and-you'll-miss-it topless shot). In Sweden, however, this received a special edition DVD release in 2005 from Skrik Horror Video. It contains not only an uncut (though full screen) version of the film but also a behind-the-scenes featurette plus a commentary track from actress Mullis, producer Sally Smith, cinematographer Michael Goi and production manager John Strysik.


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