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.


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!"


Monday, September 19, 2011

News and Notes from the Vicarage

Greetings, friends and former lovers! As I'm sure you've noticed, things continue to move slowly around the Vicarage and Duchy these days, for which I can only say I'm very sorry. It's not for lack of desire, I can tell you--but this cloud of malaise is proving difficult to disperse, the Joybaloo increasingly elusive.

BUT--if you can judge a Vicar by the quality of his friends, then I'm a rich clergyman indeed. In a couple days' time in this very spot, tune in for a guest post by Parishioner Par Excellance Jose Cruz, who is taking time out from his stellar work at Mephisto's Castle to contribute a review to Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies.

Another good friend of the site, the brilliant and devious Dr. Vulnavia Morbius of the consistently excellent Krell Labs, is doing her best to smack the Vicar out of his laziness by throwing down the leather gauntlet of the 7th Annual October Horror Movie Challenge--participants agree to watch and write about 31 movies in the 31 days of October, more than half of which have to be new to the watcher. It's a hefty challenge, and a big commitment, but what the hell--I'm in! More info can be found at the Challenge's Facebook page, where you can also sign up yourself. Thirty-one straight days of Madness with the Vicar...GET READY!

I also have a couple of brief DVD reviews I hope to get done by the end of the week. And that should be enough for you, ya heathens! Now go! I have to meditate to prepare myself for my latest ascent from the grave.



Monday, September 5, 2011

Wizards of the Demon Sword (1991), Or Is That A Demon Dagger In Your Pocket?

Dearest friends, it is I, the Duke of DVD, returned once again from a long sabbatical, a sojourn that sent me to the farthest corners of the world, in order to return to you, my dear readers, the cinematic offal that you so crave! I've crept silently through darkened hallways, stepping over the moldering carcasses of sacrificed druids, their faces frozen in rictuses of pain. I've endured the 301 Flayings of the Man-Child of Lower Cambodia. I've burrowed with stunted dwarves, delving deeper and deeper, unearthing nameless entities best left buried.

Yes, friends, I've blown entire stacks of Coke Rewards(tm), launched Russian rockets from Chinese platforms, drove a Kia, and subjugated an entire realm to the east of Moldavia, in order to bring you what you most desire. "But Duke!" you interject, spraying your befouled environs with blue cheese fragments and bone meal. "Surely you took some time for yourself!?" Yes, I did, and thank you for your concern, friend. I spent a liberal amount of time soaking in the hot springs of Calhoun Holler outside Possumrape, Kentucky, followed by a month-long trip into Indo-China to visit a hedge-wizard with a knack for curing gonorrhea (for a friend, I assure thee!).

Despite these side ventures, I never lost sight of what my reading public wants: Troma movies. That is why, today, I return to you at the turn of the tide, when you thought all hope was lost, as you were just about to dump your last bottle of Ativan into a half-empty bottle of grandma's cough medicine. Fear not, for I am with thee! Gaze upon what I've brought you, and despair!

As most of you know, I worship at the altar of Troma, but even I must admit when I've bitten off more than I can chew safely, and in this case, folks, I have. Today's rotten pile comes to us in the form of Wizards of the Demon Sword, which is basically a Conan-meets-Princess-Bride movie of epic suckage. I scarcely know where to begin, so let's just do the obvious and start from the beginning, shall we?

This title sponsored by Mordor and the letter "Z".
The movie opens with the unspoiled, clad-in-white Melina (Heidi Paine), who is running through a desert landscape from a group of road agents, whose lack of weapon skills is only matched by their penchant for wearing all-leather. She tricks them for a while, pretending to have leapt off a 5' cliff, which apparently they thought of as too steep for a human to survive. But after a bit one of them gets clever and uses a horse to pursue her, finally capturing her with a net. One of the other ruffians, who appears to be in charge, orders her brought back to the castle. They are about to leave when a hunky hero arrives firing crossbow bolts before asking any questions.

"Guys, I can see my house from here!"
He introduces himself as Thane of Hawksridge (Blake Bahner). He dresses like Conan doing Broadway, and wields a massive two-handed sword that is ludicrously over-sized. He dispatches the bandits in short order, and then we get some expository scenes in which Melina informs him that she's the daughter of Ulric (the awesome Russ Tamblyn or Dr. Jacoby from Twin Peaks!), keeper of the famed Demon Sword--which is really just a dagger. It seems that Ulric has been captured along with the Sword, and taken to the castle of the evil Lord Khoura (Lyle Waggoner), who is determined to use the nefarious Demon Sword for his own person gains.

Satisfaction. Fuck yeah.
Thane (of Hawksridge!) is all for stopping that shit, so he sets of with Melina to find the fabled Seer of Roebuck (guffaw! played by Hoke Howell), who is supposed to help them in some way that the bourbon I'm now drinking has made me forget. At any rate, they're off! Meanwhile, at Khoura's castle, we see his #1 henchman is really a lady, who dresses like she's right out of the Thunderdome. Khoura, who is trying in vain to activate the Demon Sword, realizes that he needs fresh virgin blood to do so, so he sends his dominatrix out to find some.

"This is the Demon Sword?! I thought it was one of them glass dildos..."

Thane and Melina, meanwhile, have arrived at a village. We get a humorous scene involving a slave trader (played by the amazing Lawrence Tierney) who sells sex slaves, both young and old. Thane and Melina eventually find their way into a hookah den of sorts, all the while asking where the Seer of Roebuck is. Some humor is thrown in here, when Thane gets a dance from a bellydancer and slips a large coin into her bustier. They finally get directions to the Seer and are off to see him.

I must hand it to the folks at Troma, they threw in totally unnecessary yet awesome claymation dinosaurs. Seriously. They're sprinkled throughout the movie, have almost zero interaction with any of the actors, yet, well, there they are. Thane will comment on them from time to time, but that's about it. I still got a smirk from seeing them.

And here we get a rare glimpse at the Harryhausen species of dinosaur.

Finally, our intrepid adventurers arrive at the Seer of Roebuck's hovel. The Seer himself resembles a late-stage Alzheimers Dumbledore and his manner of speaking is like a cross between Mr. Magoo and Burl Ives. Meanwhile, back at Khoura's castle of awesome... actually, we get scenes cut back here from time to time but nothing really much happens other than Khoura spouting some admittedly awesome dialogue that is so over-the-top hammy it deserves light applause. We get a scene where Khoura's henchwoman does some spell in order to take over Melina's body somehow, and try to kill Thane remotely, but that doesn't work.

"Hi, I'm Kenny Rogers, welcome to Jackass!"
Finally, Thane and Melina leave the Seer (having learned what? I'm not sure), and on the way slay a flying dinosaur and eat it. While sleeping, Khoura's henchmen find them and kidnap Melina, yet leave Thane alive for some fucking reason, and tie him to the ground. Thane awakes with a snake on his chest, that rattles despite clearly being a boa instead of a rattlesnake. Like us, the snake soon becomes bored with Thane and leaves. A wandering swordsman by the name of Damon (Dan Speaker) happens by and frees Thane, only to challenge him to see who is the most saturated with testosterone...I mean, the best swordsman. It ends in a tie, and they become best buds, with Damon pledging his sword arm to Thane's cause. Away they go to Khoura's castle!

Snakes on a Thane

Melina is finally reunited with her father in Khoura's Dungeon of Shame. Thane and Damon arrive in short order and proceed to penetrate large numbers of leather-clad guard-ass with their giant...swords. One thing of note here: a guard with long hair that is basically the head guard keeps goading his underlings into attacking (and dying via) Thane and Damon, yet he himself keeps fleeing, only to arrive again with another group of guards, and then fleeing again. Hilarious stuff! Thane and Damon make short work of most everyone in the castle not named Khoura. The evil man himself finally shows up with Melina and her father, with the Demon Sword (dagger) in his belt.

Damon is killed, off-screen, by Khoura, and Thane attempts to attack Khoura but fails due to his magic. Khoura ends up with a death grip on Thane's tunic, for some reason or other, and Melina draws Thane's attention to the freakin' Demon Sword/Dagger, just sitting there, tucked into Khoura's belt. Thane simply looks over, draws the dagger/Sword out, and plunges into Khoura's chest, simple as that. Khoura screams and disappears in a flash of light. Thane hands the Demon Sword back to Ulric and then starts making out with Melina right in front of her dad, who rolls his eyes and walks away. The end.

"Compensate much?"
Friends, have I ever lead thee astray? "Yes!" you bleat, dropping a half-chewed chicken carcass out of your greasy fingers, "You told me it was safe to perform ass-to-mouth on the Whore of 701 Delightful Diseases!" Ahh, yes, there was that...well, anyway, I shall not lie to you this day when I say that Wizards of the Demon Sword does indeed have a tiny bit of merit to it. Sure, the claymation dinosaurs are laughable, as is the blatant Conan plagiarism, but when you get past all that you will find that Wizards does have a few worthy ideas, mostly due to the humorous dialogue. The fighting is atrocious, the sets are best forgotten, and the plot will drive you mad waiting on the actual wizards of the fabled Demon Sword to show up (They never do! Who are these "wizards"?!).

But still, if you like cheese, and I mean thick, sloppy, dripping off week-old nachos directly into your greasehole cheese, then you could do worse than watching Wizards of the Demon Sword...but just barely. Incidentally, it's also laughable that The Hills Have Eyes great Michael Berryman is given top billing on the cover as well as featured on the cover art, yet his scene is all of 10 seconds long.

In the end, I would have to say this, like most Troma movies, deserves a split score. I give it 1 Thumb Up if you are a fairly well-adjusted person, capable of tying your own shoes and shitting in a pot without soiling passersby. I give it a solid 2.5 Thumbs Up if you are a fan of Troma movies, or the type of person who likes to spend a busy afternoon hooking up a golf-cart battery to your inflamed nipples.

"Et tu, Thane?"
Until next time, my dearest friends, I bid thee adieu.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Random Mad Movie Screengrab

"Ooh! I'll give that burgomeister such a pinch!"


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