It’s not particularly insightful to point out that most genre filmmaking in the past half-decade has been increasingly overt in its debts to the 1980s. Frankly, it’s getting a bit old. Metal stylings, neon coloration, synth soundtracks. Not to mention one-to-one remakes, revivals and odes to John Carpenter. It’s like a form of cultural arrested development. Maybe it’s just because I’ve lived through two big ’80s nostalgia waves in popular culture. Maybe I’m just grumpy.
Moonchild, a truly skin-and-bones-budgeted action-horror flick, is from that era. Hell, it’s explicitly named after an Iron Maiden jam. After a decade of dwelling in the cargo-cult nostalgia, I wasn’t sure I needed another heretofore undiscovered relic from it shoved into my brain. Oh, I was so wrong.
Todd Sheets’ post-apocalyptic actioner isn’t just scrappy, it’s outright scrapyard — a cross between Deadbeat at Dawn and Terror Squad. If you get those references, you’ll get it. Sets are barely constructed affairs, just hallways with some odd textures applied. Villains wear makeshift thrift-store costumes. The villain’s grand outfit involves the numbers 6-6-6 etched in red paint across his exposed beer belly. Action sequences thrill despite being filmed in underpasses lined with the parked cars of innocent onlookers. Once upon a time pre-teens probably discovered this on VHS at a video store. No, not the nice chain stores. If the rental outlet didn’t also shill porno, it probably didn’t carry something like Moonchild.
Look, I’m historically forgiving to films like Moonchild, which take big ideas and try their hardest with little spending power. Heck, as a fan of Godfrey Ho, I won’t even say the ideas need to be big to impress me. That said, this one has it all: In a world devastated by plague and a cyborg takeover, one man stands between humanity and outright destruction. JACOB STRYKER (Auggi Alvarez) — let’s leave those capital letters for badass emphasis — is a man whose genes were spliced with those of a wolf by the evil cyborgs who threaten humanity. He escaped their grasp but lost his son, Caleb, in the process. Stryker has a bomb inside of him, giving him only 72 hours to help save humanity, and he’s going to do so while sporting a long duster, a mane of unwashed hair and a bad attitude.
Unfortunately, he and his new friends are pursued by a coterie of bounty hunters with names like Talon, Kronos, Medusa and Ursula — all with their own bizarre attributes and weapons and / or dime-store ninja costumes. There are fight sequences, incidents of cannibalism and one of the nastiest grannies ever put on screen. It’s not really worth trying to explain the plot. That’s beside the point.
The point, of course, is to deliver as much unfettered awesomeness as they could afford to show, and well beyond it. By the grand finale, the movie’s earnestness and imagination have built up so much goodwill that even a foul-mouthed kid with a bowl cut and a revolver feels revelatory.
This is the sort of production that uses the same helicopter B-roll of a city to establish a location a half-dozen times in the same film despite never lighting the actual scenes for daylight. Despite the lack of money, there are still makeup and gore effects that feel grosser for their lack of polish. The werewolf transformation is something to be proud of, and one moment at the very end is outright nightmare fuel.
Moonchild overcame my exhaustion with ’80s tributes so fully that I ended up buying the limited-edition Blu-ray from Wild Eye Releasing — available on Amazon for a mere $20. Released in 1994 but new to streaming and Blu-ray, this is grimy, nasty, odd and overflowing with half-baked ideas that ooze the raw ingredients of intoxicating cinematic excess. In the past, it might have lived on the VHS tapes of odd enthusiasts for decades, but now it’s widely available for all connoisseurs of schlock to enjoy.