MOON STALKER certainly wasn't the new HALLOWEEN (although judging by the identikit music the director was clearly hoping it would be), and it's unlikely it won any prizes, but this late 80s entry in the slasher stakes is a pretty enjoyable romp all things considered.
Certainly, few – if any – slasher flicks were shot in Nevada. Fewer still were probably shot in the middle of winter – but, for some reason, the people behind MOON STALKER thought this was a good idea. The film opens with a barely legible prologue, when someone with an axe watches teenagers dancing around a campfire (complete with possibly the most forced stage laughter ever recorded), before hacking up (off screen) a pair of horny campers (is there any other kind?) as they retire to their camper van for a spot of hide the sausage.
Next we are introduced to a family camping out in the snowy wastes as part of their vacation. Boasting performances so broad that they verge on – and perhaps purposely tip over into – parody, they are led by the jovial father who ignores his kids' pleas to go someone warm, such as LA. He nixes that idea as the place is “... full of winos!” This illicits eye-rolling from the spectacularly bratty daughter (who could give Holly in TROLL 2 a run for her money) and her decidedly camp brother. Their mother bizarrely looks like a latter day Toyah, and takes to watching soap operas on their portable TV with a duvet on her head.
At least they are enjoying their solitude, but this is broken when another camper van turns up. At first, the father tries to discourage the old-timer, Ben (Tom Hamil). However, he is so convivial that they end up sharing cake around his camp fire; where he tells them about his son Bernie (Blake Gibbons) – who has trouble with his nerves. All the while he sharpens his axe. The family leave him to it, and Ben goes into his camper van where his son is actually chained up in a strait-jacket and mask. Ben tells his son all about the family's 'riches' – and he especially covets their microwave oven! He also tells them that they could enjoy them if Bernie does what he does best – chop things up. Ben lets him get to work on the family, but sadly dies of a heart attack before he can enjoy a Pop tart in that glorious microwave oven. Karma's a bitch, eh?
Anyway, with Pops off the scene, there's nothing to stop Bernie going off to find other campers to chop up into itty-bitty pieces. Luckily for him, a training camp for wilderness counselors has set up not too far away, and, after killing some unfortunate jock on his way there and adopting his clothes, Bernie goes to camp under the light of the silvery full moon…
As I said, MOON STALKER is not going to win any prizes for originality – or for anything else for that matter. In real-life terms it's a bad movie through-and-through. However, it has fun recycling the cliches of the camp slasher (most specifically FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981) and MADMAN (1982)). This goes as far as having one character having a bunched up hairdo disarmingly similar to Muffy the pooch in the former film! The bulk of it takes place at the wilderness camp, where a group of horny new conscripts don't let the weather put them off fornication – and it does look freezing. In fact, every single character at the camp (bar the killer) couples up for some some sleeping bag samba before invariably feeling the sharp end of Bernie's axe. Singling themselves out from the others are hunky head counselor Ron (Joe Balogh) and newbie Debbie (Jill Foors), but even they succumb to the aphrodisiac effects of sub-zero temperatures when, somewhat bizarrely, a fall into barely one inch of water means shedding clothes in front of a roaring fire (with Ron modeling some fetching tighty-whities).
Ron's friend Bobby (Alex Wexler) is the cookie-cutter joker character who tries it on with all the girls. Around the ubiquitous campfire, Bobby recounts the tale of Bernie – who, according to Bobby, was a kindly child who used to chop wood and feed the deer like he was in a Disney movie, or something – and who was driven insane when his mother died during a struggle to build a new road through the family's property. Now all he does is protect the woods from newcomers – and chop them up instead. The wilderness counselors are spooked, but even the news from the local police that the family nearby has been dismembered doesn't put them off from removing chunky knitwear for a little love off-piste.
What sets MOON STALKER apart from many late 1980s slasher movies is that it is shot on film rather than video (16mm to be precise). I'd be hard-pressed to say that the film looks polished exactly, but it looks more akin to the early 1980s slashers that it is aping than it does to the majority of STV slashers cluttering up the shelves at the time it was shot. Isolated snowbound vistas make a great backdrop to slasher flicks. Sadly, the filmmakers don't make the best use of the frigid location, with very few wide-shots to show off the landscape and give the film a sense of scale and isolation.
The majority of MOON STALKER plays it admirably straight (well, as straight as it can given the array of eye-melting 80s knitwear on display), but it's hardly free from cheese. From the endearingly awful am-dram family at the beginning to Regis (John Marzilli) and Marcie (Ingrid Vold - who is a dead ringer for Linnea Quigley and dresses in a combat bikini), who run the camp like Hitler and Eva Braun. Then there's the impressive contraption the killer rigs – of dead campers tied to a moving plank of wood in front of the campfire – to fool both the police and the film's Final Girl into believing people are still alive at the camp. The film also has an impressively high bodycount (racking up 18 frozen corpses), but looses points for most of them being off screen (which was probably due to the evidently meagre budget).
Perhaps most eye-catching of all is the killer's disguise: the strait-jacket and bizarre hood. Strangely, it's only utilised for the first ten minutes of screen-time when the killer makes an entrance. After that he switches to a stetson and dark glasses, which is neither particularly cheesy nor scary. Despite having no dialogue at all, Blake Gibbons – who plays Bernie – probably had the most successful post-film career of those that appeared in the film.
Details are murky as to what fate befell MOON STALKER. It's promoted as being from American Cinema Marketing, but I've never seen any evidence that it got a cinema release – although a limited regional release is possible (and it was one of three movies offered for sale as “low-budget theatricals” in 1990 by its production company). It also got a very limited release on video in the States before falling into obscurity – before a Swedish company put it out on DVD in 2005 (complete with special features).
It might not be the most accomplished slasher flick, but – if you can find it – MOON STALKER is one of the 1980s last hoorays for shot-on-film popcorn thrills, and is enough goofy fun for a winter's evening. Just beware the full moon - and all that chunky knitwear.
female:7 / male:11
1) Female axed to death (off screen)
2) Male axed to death (off screen)
3) Male killed (method unseen)
4) Male killed (method unseen)
5) Female killed (method unseen)
6) Male drops dead of heart attack
7) Male throttled with chains
8) Female run over with car
9) Male killed with shears
10) Female killed (method unseen)
11) Female has legs chopped off with axe
12) Male has arms cut off with axe
13) Female burned in shower
14) Male whacked in chest with axe
15) Male whacked in the head with axe
16) Male hit in the back with axe
17) Female whacked in the neck with machete
18) Male shot