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.


Killer Workout (1987)

... aka: Aerobicide
... aka: Aerobi-Cide
... aka: Aerobic Killer

Directed by:
David A. Prior

People were wearing legwarmers, leotards, headbands and spandex... out in public! Olivia Newton John's 1981 hit “Physical” became one of the top songs of the entire decade. People were watching Bodies in Motion, ordering their Suzanne Somers-endorsed Thigh Masters and buying nearly everything Denise Austin, Jake Steinfeld and Richard Simmons were selling. There were exercise videos from such celebrities as Debbie Reynolds, Cher, Traci Lords, Linnea Quigley, Marie Osmond, Sally Struthers and, of course, the undisputed queen of the movement, Jane Fonda, who sold in excess of 17 million copies of her various workouts. All these were just some of the symptoms of the big fitness / aerobics craze that swept through America in the 80s. Of course now it's about the polar opposite and we seem just fine being told that we're fat, lazy and eat too much McDonalds, but back then if you weren't running around in a leotard and tights (ladies) or short shorts up to your armpits and mesh muscle shirts (guys) and Jazzercising your free time away, you were an undesirable social leper who shouldn't even bother leaving your own home. I guess it was only a matter of time before someone combined all of that nonsense with the big 80s slasher craze. I'm kind of glad they did cause this movie is a cheese-filled laugh riot. Actually, there's almost too much glorious 80s cheese in this one... even for me!

Up-and-coming model Valerie, whose face is never shown, lands a gig that will see her flying to Paris and gracing the cover of Cosmopolitan. On her agent's suggestion, she then immediately runs off to a salon to begin work on her tan. After getting inside the bed, it short circuits, catches on fire and she's fried. Years later, a series of mysterious and brutal murders (mostly committed with a giant safety pin!) start plaguing at a California health club called Rhonda's Work-Out. First up for slaughter is - shocker! - the gym's only black member, Rachael (Teresa Truesdale), who gets stabbed to death in the shower and then stuffed inside a locker after her work-out. Hard-nosed, obnoxious detective Lt. Morgan (David James Campbell, SCARECROWS) soon shows up to investigate matters and begins questioning both the staff and the gym regulars.

Among the chief suspects is the conservatively-attired club co-owner Rhonda Johnson (Marcia Karr), who's decidedly not a very nice young lady. OK, well actually she's an extremely unpleasant, bitter, jealous, hate-filled, constantly-scowling bitch who stands around glaring at everyone and gives her airhead aerobics instructor Jaimy (Teresa Van der Woude) an especially hard time. Rhonda is constantly stressing about her business failing and becomes even more wigged out when numerous freshly-slain corpses turn up all over the place and her clientele starts dwindling. Jaimy proves to be something of a weirdo herself. When she drops her purse, more condoms fall out than cosmetics, and she's caught sneaking into the men's locker room to fondle a jock strap. Rhonda constantly rides Jaimy for her tardiness but also for simply doing her job: “Just teach the class and stop showing off your tits and tight little ass!” Rhonda could have told the director the exact same thing as this movie seemingly exists to show off the tits and asses of a bunch of toned, big-haired 80s babes. I suspect most viewers won't have an issue with that.

Another of the chief suspects is pushy gym rat Jimmy Hallick (Fritz Matthews), who spends more time ogling and propositioning the ladies than he does actually working out. And then there's Diane Matthews (Laurel Mock), owner of the locker the first corpse was stuffed into, who's something of a loner who's jealous of the other ladies for scoring more than she does. Much to Rhonda's displeasure, the hunky Chuck Dawson (Ted Prior) shows up there to work. She didn't hire him, but the other guy who co-owns the club did and now she's stuck with him so she makes him clean the toilets. Chuck turns out to be an undercover cop that the other detective investigating the murders apparently knows nothing about. Not sure how exactly that scenario worked out, but whatever. Though Chuck's presence there may be in question, he's no dummy and takes time out from looking into the killings to score with Debbie (Dianne Copeland) aka the chick with biggest rack at the health club. Before they get down to business, Debbie informs him that Jimmy “likes to tie girls up and do weird things.” So many suspects, so little time...

This is a truly awful movie. The acting is terrible, the dialogue is terrible, the editing is terrible, the plot is dumb as hell, the overpowering score frequently drowns out the dialogue and the identity of the killer is utterly predictable, and yet, I loved every second of this trash! Things move right along from one hilarious scene to the next following a winning three step formula. Step 1: Show one to three people being viciously murdered. Step 2: Follow that with a scene where the corpse is put in a body bag and carried away as our detective hero stands around sulking. Step 3: Finally, throw in a brilliantly-photographed aerobics dance routine lasting several minutes. (Note: By brilliantly-photographed, I mean the cameraman focuses on bouncing breasts, thrusting and grinding crotches and, of course, “tight little asses” in skin-hugging thong workout attire nearly the entire time). And repeat. At certain points, the makers seems in on the joke. After hauling the twelfth or so corpse away, a paramedic casually turns to the detective and says “See you tomorrow, lieutenant!"

Another scene worth mentioning involves a a trio of disgruntled customers who decide to vandalize Rhonda's studio with spray paint before they're all killed off. Along with “Aerobicide,” they also spray “Death Spa” on the building. The same year this film was released, production was underway on another aerobics / health club horror called DEATH SPA. Coincidence? Probably not, but despite having less gore and less nudity, this is actually way more fun to watch than the dreary Spa.

Solidifying the 80s charm are a a ton of upbeat pop / rock / disco / dance songs on the soundtrack, all done by female vocalists, with cornball lyrics like “Love is a four-letter word when we do it like we do” and “She's a knock out... Let her rock out... Scream and shout!” and, of course, “Hey baby, I got the apple... red and juicy, waaaarm annnnnnd sweet.” There's even an Aerobicide theme song (“Aerobi-ciiiiide. Workin' out until you diiiie. Aerobi-ciiiide. It's the perfect body you're trying to fiiiiind.”) Most of these are so bad they may cause your ears to bleed, but I genuinely loved a few of the songs, including “Woman on Fire” by Jill Colucci (who'd become best known for singing the America's Funniest Home Videos theme song "The Funny Things You Do") and “Only You Tonight” by Donna De Lory (who worked as a backing vocalist for numerous famous singers, including a two-decade-long stint backing Madonna on her various tours).

Not long after making this, his third film, director Prior became well-known as a direct-to-video action movie specialist. His primary interest in that genre as opposed to horror is obvious throughout this one. There's a policeman pursuit scene that lasts an eternity and three poorly choreographed fights between the two musclebound leads. Prior's brother Ted, who began his show biz career as a nude model in Playgirl Magazine, is featured in most of these action scenes and, along with Matthews, also gets credits for stunts, set design and special effects. The brothers Prior would go on to make many other films, usually shot in and around Mobile, Alabama, and continue on to make them to this day. The only other recognizable cast members are Joel Hoffman (SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II, Pumpkinhead) as Brad the weightlifter, and Kelly Ann Sabatasso, who became a tabloid fixture in the early 90s when it was rumored she was dating Donald Trump, as one of the featured aerobics dancers.

Originally filmed as Aerobi-cide (a title retained for some foreign releases), this was distributed on VHS here in America by Academy under the title Killer Workout. There's no official DVD release as of yet but someone out there needs to throw together a 2 disc release containing the movie and the soundtrack album so I can buy it.

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