Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Track of the Moon Beast (1976), Or Stalk Like A Dinosaur

Special Guest Post by Jose Cruz of Mephisto's Castle!

Fellow MMMMad movie lovers and maniacs in general, it is with great pleasure and honor that I, El Jose, write this rabid review for you today. Being a devout member of the Church of Cheesy Cinema, I was eager in sending a message inked in the perspiration of 100 Italian prostitutes to see if the honorable Vicar and Duke would lend me an ear… and any other necessary organs that I might need. And when the message returned (though the pony it was sent with had mysteriously disappeared upon arriving at the gilded gates of the Vicarage) with a gracious consent, I leaped forth from my filthy grotto, chittering like an Appalachian love slave in heated excitement.

“So what,” you impatiently ask in between savory chomps of your roasted dragon thigh, “did you decide to offer us for today, you sniveling knave?”

Why, none other than one of the many hidden treasures on the glorious 50 Chilling Classics Set put out by the fine folks at Mill Creek. And having a deep and affectionate love for lycanthropes, I was immediately drawn to the freaky-sounding flick Track of the Moon Beast. But, dear reader, I was quick to find out that we weren’t dealing with the usual furry-faced fiends that serve as the wolfish, flesh-chomping mascots of Daninsky U, but a poor soul who instead turns into a leathery lizard-creature upon the night of the full moon in order to get his cold-blooded groove on.

Intrigued? So was I! So take the perfumed, gloved hand I offer to you now and journey with me into the slithery shenanigans of this kooky drive-in monsterama… 

Our film opens up with a dumpy-looking fellow fiddling around in an observatory which is quickly followed up with a news report concerning a flaming meteorite that is on a crash course with Earth’s moon. Nothing to worry about, we are assured. After all, the meteorite appears to be a crumpled-up page from the script that some foolhardy crew hand set on fire and is twirling around on a string in the grand tradition of Ed Wood. As the blazing spitball meteorite comes ever closer, a group of elder Native Americans are getting’ jiggy with it in the middle of the New Mexican desert, waving large baby rattles as an imminent warning of the meteor’s approach.

 It's coming right fer us!

The next day, good-looking-in-a-70s-sense Paul Carlson (Chase Cordell) speeds into the arid desert on his motorbike and dismounts in order to do some archaeological digging. Making sure to take his shirt off in order to show off his impressive pecs and expose himself to the sun’s merciless rays, Paul gets a great find in the form of a bone approximately two inches under the sand, only to be spooked by a bloodcurdling scream that echoes off the mountains. Looking around, he spies a giant metal mask peering down at him that apparently grew its own pair of legs and mounted itself on a ledge.

Turns out it’s the work of college couple Budd and Janet (dammit!) and Paul’s good friend Professor Johnny Longbow (the charismatic Gregorio Sala) who decided to play a prank on the muscley anthropologist. Paul also meets leggy photojournalist Kathy Nolan (Leigh Drake) who makes her attraction to Paul IMMEDIATELY known. Like, before they’re introduced.

 The spirit of Chief Walla-Walla-Bing-Bang presides over all.

Paul is eager to reciprocate the obvious flirtation, telling the shutterbug he knows of some great photo spots but that they’re a little off the beaten track. So without taking the time to consider the possibility that Paul is a sweet-faced homicidal maniac that wants to knit a sweater from her succulent ass cheeks, Kathy happily hops onto his moped and drives off to possible death in the name of an easy lay.

While having lunch, Janet is frightened by a scampering lizard, which prompts Johnny to go full-on Native American and illustrate the episode using an ancient folktale involving the Coyote and the Lizard and their argument on what form Man should take.* That night Paul and Kathy stand atop a windy hill in which Kathy has surprisingly not been buried in, the blonde vixen rubbing the chiseled stud’s hairy chest while he waxes romantic. And right in the middle of his poetic soliloquy, the dazzling meteorite shower descends from the heavens and knocks the lovers to the ground with its blinding intensity.

*Mankind retains Lizard's five-fingered hands but get to keep Coyote's mortality. Fair trade, right?

Paul gets a scratch on his head, and Kathy tends to the wound with a handkerchief while the lummox picks up a fragment of the miraculously cool “moon rock” for a keepsake. Kathy aloofly tosses the hankie aside (she don’t give a fuck for no Crying Indian) and takes Paul’s suggestion to go to his house for medicinal needs as an invitation to jump his bones. Heading off, they miss the lizard that has crawled on to the now ominously-glowing hankie as a sign of terrible things to come…

 "Well if you must know, that telescope there should give you a good estimation..."

At Paul’s home, the hunk lets it slip during the pre-sexcapades that he lives with his mom (it’s okay—she’s away on vacation) and his bedroom comes fully equipped with adorable childhood photographs, a telescope, and a freakin’ Komodo dragon in a cage named Ty! You would think the implication that she may be horribly raped and have her remains fed to the vicious reptile would be scaring her, but Kathy admits to Paul—whom she has only met that very same day—that “It’s us I’m really frightened about.” Seeing a way to approach their growing relationship in an adult manner, they make out.

Ty watching all the while.

 Giggity!

The next afternoon finds Paul in the university museum checking out moon rock samples similar to his souvenir from the previous night and Kathy attempting to take snapshots of his rock-hard ass. But the camera’s flash sets off a cartoon sound effect in Paul’s head that leaves him dizzier than an iguana dipped in tequila. Later Paul, Kathy, and Johnny go to a local show for some entertainment put on by the pastiest guy in New Mexico and his band of fellow hippies.

 "This IS my farmer's tan!"

Feeling a little woozy, Paul is taken from the AMAZINGLY PACKED HOUSE back to his place to west his wittle head. After being tucked in by Kathy and awaking from a fitful slumber, Paul paces across his room, illuminated by the full moon’s beams. Clutching the moon rock to his chest, Paul looks wearily up at the caged Ty and then…

We cut to a random drunk old man trying to get into his house and showing us the seat of his wrinkled, probably-filled-with-unchanged-diapers pants for a good 10 seconds. Old Guy’s overweight, chain-smoking wife ain’t having none of his inebriated hijinks and sees fit to keep him locked outside. The poor drunk finds out that a little hair of the dog gains him a tooth from the lizard when some shambling, unseen creature stalks up on him and goes in for a nibble. Alarmed by a scream and the puddle of blood that is now oozing under her front door, Roseanne suffers a heart attack when she sees her hubby’s corpse set up on the stoop James Cagney-style.

 "I regret nothing!"

The following afternoon Police Captain McCabe (Patrick Wright) calls in Johnny to have him weigh in his opinion on the deaths. Seeing the shredded remains of the victim, Johnny guesses it’s the work of a mountain lion, but the Scooby Doo-esque handprint that the beast left behind after it tripped over the garden hose confirms that we’re in Roger Corman territory now. Kathy wakes Paul up back at the house, and the two are startled to discover that Ty has seemingly escaped from his cage! At the university, Johnny says it’s possible that a footprint found at the crime scene could have been made by a Komodo dragon. But the print had to have been made by an upright creature, and McCabe speculates that they could be dealing with a T-rex.

Yeah. That second one is more plausible.

 Out of options, the gang decided to consult with the reanimated remains of Abraham Lincoln.

To get their mind off things, Paul, Kathy, and Johnny head out into the desert and see two children participating in a game of archery. Paul and Johnny decide to play William Tell with ears of corn standing in for apples, but Paul has another one of his spells. Given a glass of warm milk and a kiss from Mommy Kathy, Paul awakens yet again during the night by the moon’s haunting light.

We then cut to a group of three campers in the woods, playing cards and jovially chatting as a fire crackles. But the revelry is disturbed when the Moon Beast rudely interrupts their game of Old Maid, their asses severely chewed out and WHOLE ARMS RIPPED FROM SOCKETS in a hideous display of scaly slaughter. This was a wonderfully executed (heh), high-energy scene, and couldn’t help but remind me of the bum massacre from An American Werewolf in London. And we didn’t even get full-on dismemberment in THAT movie.

Paul wakes up from Nappy Time the next morning and, after being chided by Kathy for being a baby (yuh think?), he’s taken to the hospital to get his head examined. The X-rays come up showing something abnormal in Paul’s skull (barring severe independence, that is) and plans are made to operate. It seems that the buckaroo didn’t walk away from that meteorite shower as unscathed as he first thought, as a small piece from the moon rock has lodged itself into his brain meats. Just WHY exactly that forces Paul to metamorphose into a six-foot-tall gecko when the bad moon comes arising is left completely unexplained, but if we were cinematic prudes we wouldn’t be here in the first place, would we?

 "Ma always said there were rocks in my head, BUT THIS IS RIDICULOUS!"

Meanwhile the murder investigation continues as Johnny presents McCabe with a slideshow detailing a Native American legend about a tribesman who was struck by a beam of light and thus turned into a “demon-lizard-monster.” That’s right, folks. This isn’t some prissy, tampon-wearing lizard-monster. This is a DEMON-lizard-monster, so you know this is some heavy dinosaur shit we’re dealing with here.

At any rate, this demon-lizard-wrestler-thunder god-monster caused much havoc before it spontaneously combusted for no other reason than it simply couldn’t handle its own awesomeness. Sensing that Paul has taken the monster mantle, Longbow persuades McCabe to go along with locking Paul into his hospital room that night to see what happens. Ridiculous hunches prevail though, as all those in attendance watch as Paul’s tan features become exceedingly dryer and more rubbery.

The expert doctors are called in and they are quick to diagnose that the moon rock particles in Paul’s body are spreading in his system at such a rate that they will eventually cause him to burst open faster than a piñata at a diabetic birthday party. Paul’s not a sit-down-and-explode kind of guy (at least not in this sense), and he’s intent on doing… something… before he can make like a geisha and blow. There’s the requisite dramatic scene between the two lovers, Kathy weeping "Oh, Paul. Why did this have to happen to you?" and Paul cleverly answering “It did happen. That’s all I know” in between squirmy, grinding kisses of awkwardness. Just before leaving, Paul finally resolves: “I wanna die looking like a man, not a monster…

 "... just not in this fucking gown."

Disguised as a doctor, Paul snatches a motorbike from the parking lot and purchases a gun from Colonel Sanders at a local ammunition shop, planning to kill himself atop the windy hill he loves so much. Kathy heads there after him, Longbow and the police quick on her tail. Finding Paul, she tries to talk him out of his suicide mission before he blows to smithereens and/or is gunned down by the coppers. Things are looking bad, especially with the sun going down in a matter of SECONDS and Paul beginning to walk a little too much like a dinosaur.

 "Is there something on my face?"

Kat screams bloody murder, which somehow convinces the Moon Beast NOT to eat her, and a couple of cops try taking shots at the beast before he washes his claws in their sweet, bacony blood. Johnny is here to save the day, as he’s devised to sharpen a piece of the moon rock into an arrowhead and wreak sweet Tonto action onto Paul’s leathery hindquarters. Kathy tries driving off but is cornered by the beastie. Johnny is quick on the feet and faster on the draw though as he sends the lunar arrow straight into the creature’s beating heart! The particle reaction sped up in its body, the Moon Beast disintegrates into ashes in a flurry of psychedelic lights. Completely spent and craving some good burritos, our heroes walk off down the dark road.

Parishioners, it would be haughty of me indeed to claim that Track of the Moon Beast is a monumental achievement of genre cinema and that you all must make haste in sacrificing baby newts at its epic altar of grandness (as cool as that might be). What the movie IS, though, is a fun little drive-in feature that is kind enough to throw some rubber-suited monster action our way and a pint of sticky blood to wash it down. And that, friends and loved ones, is something to stand up and cheer for.

 Dancin' In The Street

Performances overall are adequate, but the script never demands too much on the actor’s part. Chase Cordell as the Lawrence Talbot-stand in though is sadly devoid of any real tragic qualities about him, despite the major suckage of his situation. Cordell’s performance never really pulls you in and has you rooting for his doomed protagonist, which is the ultimate goal of any lycanthrope worth their silver.

He still isn’t horrible, though, and Cordell is at least able to pull off his shirt some worthwhile dramatic moments. Sala as Johnny Longbow is the picture of charm and suavity as the world-wise American Indian, and his presence just screams bad ass at times. The rest of the cast fill in their telegraphed roles with the aplomb of dedicated TV actors, so there’s that too.

The film seems like it could have easily been an episode from Kolchak: The Night Stalker as it has all the foamy creatures and MAD monster mythology that made that series so great. And while there are undoubtedly allusions to many a werewolf feature, this movie has a surprising reference to the Val Lewton chiller The Leopard Man (1943).

Not only does that movie also take place in the New Mexican desert, but it deals with an escaped animal (in that case the titular feline) that the countryside believes to be the culprit behind a series of recent murders, mirroring Ty the Dragon’s break-out from this flick. However, writers Charles Sinclair and Bill Finger (the very same one who developed the original conception of Batman with Bob Kane!) do absolutely nothing with that plotline. Perhaps they wanted to leave room open for the summer blockbuster sequel, Commando Komodo?

On the whole, I can give Track of the Moon Beast a solid 2 thumbs. Fans of popcorn creature features will surely get a kick out of this one, and it comes equipped with a few MAD moments to keep the smiles coming. Definitely apply some lotion after watching it though.

And take that last statement how you will.

More images from Track of the Moon Beast (1976): 
Mind the Rattlers


Amaize-ing Precision


Even A Man Who Is Hard In Pec


"Daddy's home."


"Cool ghost stories. But could we turn the lights on now please?"


Fried Chicken and Firearms: A Colonel's Story


"Are you fucking kidding me?"
 "I'm the gawd-damn INDIAN, man!"


6 comments:

Richard of DM said...

Ohhhhhh, now you've done it. Not only did this film come out in my birth year, it also haunted my childhood when it played on TV one fateful Saturday afternoon. Excellent review! Thanks for the nostalgia. Another viewing of this film is long overdue for me.

The Duke of DVD said...

Oh my El Jose, you've certainly done the Vicar and I proud! A fantastic review, and now I must go watch this cinematic torpedo for myself.

Huzzah!

The Vicar of VHS said...

Wonderful job, Jose! Keep up this kind of stellar reviewing, and one day you just might be promoted to Lackey of Laserdisc, or Knave of Knetflix!

(Or should that be Queen of Qwixter? So confusing...)

I watched TotMB on my first trip through the monumental Chilling Classics set, and found it as you said a fun little drive-in doozy with some Mad Monsterism and a lot of energy. I missed the references to THE LEOPARD MAN the first time through (mainly b/c I hadn't bought my Val Lewton box set at that time!), but you're right, they're definitely there. A nice little nod to the giants on whose pecs they are bouncing!

Money quote: "this demon-lizard-wrestler-thunder god-monster caused much havoc before it spontaneously combusted for no other reason than it simply couldn’t handle its own awesomeness." Sounds like a cameo role tailor-made for the Mighty Mighty Molina! Too bad he didn't add the DLWTGM to his stable of monstrosity! ;)

An in closing, sorry about the pony. The Duke was visiting when your message arrived, and well, you know His Pulchritude simply cannot resist a seductive set of withers! If it's any consolation, the beast never knew what hit it.

Thanks again, Jose! And everyone go now to Mephisto's Castle for more of Mr. Cruz's great reviews!

Jose said...

Thanks for allowing me to come aboard, guys! This was a ton of fun to do, and maybe, just maybe, I can work as an indentured servant long enough to usurp my previous master's most coveted title of Baron von Betamax! Heh heh heh...

But then again Queen of Qwixter might be a good fit too. I do know how to cook a mean souffle...

I hope that you have fun with this one, Duke, and I hope that Richard's fond childhood traumatic memories come back in full force. ;)

How awesome would it have been to see Daninsky go toe-to-toe with the Moon Beast? It would've been a regular Fur VS. Scales Full Moon Rumble for the ages!

I can't believe I left this out of the review, but there's yet ANOTHER LEOPARD MAN reference in this movie. The manner in which the drunk old dude dies is the EXACT same way that a pretty young thang from LEOPARD MAN kicks the tumbleweed. Check it out HERE!

Thanks again for allowing me to a little MAAAD, honorable Duke and Vicar. If you'd ever like for me to stop by again, you know where to knock. =D

Thomas T. Simmons said...

One of my favorites. The old VHS cover art is classic too. Many a sucker that one reeled in.
http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5301/5756407300_2049503937.jpg

It can also be found on a triple bill DVD with William Malone's CREATURE and the TV movie SNOWBEAST.
http://www.amazon.com/Classic-Creature-Movies-Track-Snowbeast/dp/tags-on-product/B00005QW4Z

davidfullam said...

Oh for the good old days of low budget, regional, "hey everybody, let's put on a show," movies. I miss those times.

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