1989 wasn’t exactly a landmark year for horror. I dare you to name one movie from that year that has become a clasc. Sure, there was Intruder, but other than that, there are just a lot of movies that I personally enjoy (Cutting Class, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Halloween 5, Shocker, Return of the Family Man, etc.). Of course, there were a few stinkers in the bunch, like Elm Street 5. So naturally, I wasn’t too enthralled when I sat down to watch this movie, which was made that year (as was Weekend at Bernie’s, coincidentally). Is it good, or trash? Let’s find out.
Moonstalker 1989 Review
The movie opens with a group of young adults partying around a campfire, and two of them sneak off to have some sexy fun-time in their motor home. However, someone picks up an axe lying outde of the motor home and dispatches them. We are then to infer that he goes on to butcher the rest of the partiers. Several years later, a family heads up to a campte in the middle of the woods for their winter vacation. Their father is enthralled with it, while his teenage son and daughter, as well as his wife, aren’t particularly excited. Another motor home shows up, driven by an old man who used to live in the woods. It seems like all of them are getting along at first, as they share dinner around the campfire, but once the old man goes back to his motor home, it turns out he has plans to kill them! You see, he has a crazy son named Bernie, whom he broke out of the institution, and the old man intends to steal the family’s fancy motor home, mainly because he envies their microwave oven! He sends Bernie out with his trusty axe, and he makes short work of the vacationers. However, his father dies of a heart attack before he can take advantage of his new microwave! *Sob*
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We then follow a group of young adults at a wilderness training camp. They’re your usual motley crew of young adults, including the nice guy, the jokester/sex maniac, the virginal girl, and the rest are completely disposable. The camp is run by a military obsessed couple who run the camp with an iron fist! Well, none of them are there very long before they begin getting killed off by Bernie in various gruesome ways! Who will survive this bloody night, and can anyone put a stop to the rampage of…the moon stalker?
The biggest strength Moonstalker has going for it is its vintage feeling. While, by this time, many slashers had moved past the trademarks of the early slashers in an attempt to strike gold with something new, Moonstalker decided to take things back to the bacs by setting itself in the woods during the winter. I love snowbound slasher movies, and this is no exception. Sure, it is VERY cheesy in parts, but it didn’t feel like it was trying to be cheesy, and I admire how the film actually played it rather serious when it had every opportunity to go down goofy street. There is a funny moment in the military couple’s tent during their death scenes, a ridiculous kill involving very hot shower water, Bernie’s father’s obseson with microwaves, and (in perhaps the film’s only burst of creativity) an inventive use of a wooden board to disguise the fact that several campers are dead (you’ll see what I mean when you watch the movie)!
The acting is…ehh. Not the best (by far), but not the worst (by far). I remember thinking the wife in the beginning must have been a friend of the director’s, as well as the guy who plays the son, but other than that it was ealy tolerable. Most of the characters we focus on at the camp (which is about three or four) are likable, and others are very entertaining (the military couple who like to play “ambush” in their tent to the tune of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”). The one complaint I have is the (in the long run) pointless murders of the families. They served no purpose for the rest of the movie, but hey, if you’re gonna load your movie with filler, might as well bump up the body count while you’re at it (the total death count nears twenty, by the way, even if a lot of them are offscreen).
As with most slashers that take place in the woods (and in the snow, to boot!), Moonstalker does come across as being very atmospheric. It may not be very suspenseful (it does get sort of nail-biting in the climax where Bernie chases around our final girl) , but at least it has atmosphere, even if it almost gets ruined by one small thing. I remember watching a 1988 obscurity a while ago called Iced (the movie was great; I highly advise everyone to check it out), and in that movie (which is supposed to be set at an isolated cabin in the snowy mountains), in the background, you can see a car go by that nearly destroys every bit of atmosphere they built up. Same here, as in the background in one scene, you can see not one, but several cars go by on a highway, which really took me out of it.
I also loved Bernie’s look in the beginning. Bernie sported a strait jacket and a white mask (that looked like a moon to boot) that looked really cool and at least somewhat intimidating. However, after the family massacre, he kills someone and dons their attire, so he looks like a cowboy. I’m sorry, but a killer looking like he’s going whip out a lasso and let out a hearty rebel yell at any minute does not frighten me at all. Actually, the actor who played Bernie went on to bigger (but not better) things with General Hospital! Seriously!
That was a bit of a whopper of a review, but Moonstalker is a whopper of a movie. It’s great. Not a slasher fan? Don’t bother with this one. Slasher fan? This as close to a “comfort food” slasher as you’re gonna get. There’s rarely a hint of originality to be found, but it’s never bland because all the comfortable slasher trappings are clear and present. Sure, there are lots of offscreen deaths, but the straightforwardness of the whole affair is what I admire the most. If you’re of the opinion that slashers got way too lly for your tastes after 1985, this is for you, as it harkens back to the gory days of early hack ‘n’ slash adventures, only with more late-eighties fashions. And that’s not a bad thing at all. This was released on an el cheapo DVD release that can supposedly be found in most dollar stores and gas stations, and was recently put on Amazon.com’s new MOD series "Mom N Pop Video Shop." I don’t own any of these, so I can’t say anything about difference in quality, but if you find any edition of this, pick it up. It’ll be the best $1 you've ever spent.
The Verdict: Moonstalker is a cozy, soothing slasher movie that does what you expect it to and that's A-OK. Imagine curling up with your favorite childhood blanket by a warm fire with hot chocolate and listening to Tears for Fears on an 8-Track player, and you have some inkling to what the Moonstalker experience is like.