FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Mar 28, 2024

Chilling Classics Cthursday: TRACK OF THE MOON BEAST (1976)

When Track of the Moon Beast's number came up for this week's Chilling Classics, I was surprised by how immediately gotdang pumped I was to watch it again for the first time in about 15 years. It's a terrible movie as far as, you know, movies go, but I don't care. I saw it at some point during my youth--it must have been on Creature Double Feature or something--and it deeply terrified me. I can't imagine it ever terrified anyone else, particularly anyone over the age of "child." But as a result, it's one of...well, I don't want to say it's one of my "favorite" movies, because that doesn't quite feel right. It's more accurate to say simply that it's one of my movies. Corny to say, maybe, but I'll say it: it's special to me, this tale of a dude who got hit in the head with a piece of the moon and subsequently turned into a lizard monster on occasion.

(Say what you will about Track of the Moon Beast, but the poster is lit!)

(Also, I'm not sure if it strictly qualifies as "a poster" because it never got a theatrical release. That's how bad it is! It was shot in 1972 but no one picked it up for distribution; it finally started playing on The Tee Vee in 1976 and has been somewhat ubiquitous ever since.)

Whenever I ask for your favorite horror movies for SHOCKtober, there are a few entries that may seem a bit out of left field. Usually, those are the movies that imprinted upon someone in some major way. Perhaps it was the circumstances it was seen a particular time: a bonding experience with mom or dad, a too-much-sugar sleepover, a first date. More often, it has to do with the film, no matter how cheesy or Z-grade, scaring one silly. We can all talk about how The Exorcist or Jaws or Halloween or Some Other Masterpiece kept us awake at night. But what of the Messterpieces that did the same? 

I think it's cool as heck that at for at least one person, this movie--this two-point-something on imdb, mercilessly roasted on MST3K movie--achieved its intended effect. It hit the right notes, and it worked

Watching it now, I go full gramma-in-a-rocking-chair-on-the-porch, shaking my head fondly and wistfully as I remember all Pepperidge Farms-style. Dare I say, though, it still has some value?...maybe? a curio. 

The 1970s saw a lot of films on the earnest end of redspolitation, and Track of the Moon Beast certainly counts among their number. No longer portrayed solely as the savages of 1950s westerns, indigenous characters now served to be wise and noble stewards of the land (crying over pollution in PSAs, for example) or wise and noble advisors to white men who are trying to figure stuff out. It's Frank Redbear teaching our caucasian hero about moldy corn in Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice. And it's Johnny Longbow helping the police solve some murders in Track of the Moon Beast by showing them "400 year old" "paintings" of an "Indian legend" where someone also turned into a lizard monster. That's right, it's a 400-year-old painting, and definitely not a quick pencil sketch someone did on a pad they bought at CVS!

It's amusing (?) to watch all the ways Track of the Moon Beast does so wrong by Native Americans by trying to do right. Like our heroine Cathy, who heads to a Reservation to take photos of religious artifacts, only to then take one of the artifacts to use in a practical joke. It's all a bit like that frogurt bit from Treehouse of Horror on The Simpsons, you know?

Also I don't know how many indigenous religious artifacts are made out of tin, but I am not an expert so this could totally look like the real deal!!!! Just like the painting.

Also curious: this movie was co-written by Bill Finger, the man who co-created Batman. If you squint, you can see some shared DNA between Track of the Moon Beast and the formative comics and comic characters of yore. "A guy gets hit in the head with a moon rock ("Moon rock, oh wow" -- Cathy) and transforms into a lizard monster" is a premise that easily could have earned a 24-issue run at DC or Marvel in the 70s under the title Moon Beast. (I mean, Moon Knight's first appearance was in an issue of Werewolf by Night in the 70s, it's really not far-fetched at all.) 

The big show-stopper of the film, undoubtedly, is Albuquerque's own Frank Larrabee performing "California Lady" at a Ramada Inn. I love that it was a Ramada Inn. I love that Larrabee was actually performing there and they just...threw it in the movie. And you know what? Justice for Frank Larrabee! "California Lady" sounds like some discount Don McLean and it would absolutely be right at home on the 1972-1973 CD from Time-Life's Singers and Songwriters series. Sadly for Mr Larrabee, the 70s were chock full of sensitive men playing the acoustic guitar sensitively and singing sensitive songs and he never popped off beyond a 6-song EP. But "California Lady" is really theee thing that people take away from Track of the Moon Beast, which is more than Don McLean could ever boast.

Of course, I take away much more than that from it, despite the fact that it boasts some of the most wooden acting you will ever see, dialogue spoken at what feels like 75% speed, and a climactic "explosion" that looks like this:

I've written (and drawn) more about the movie a couple of times, both here and beyond, and who knows, maybe I'll write about it again in another 10 years. At the least I'm sure I'll give it another watch because although it may be terrible, it is mine, and that's rarer than a moon rock.

Moon rock, oh wow!


Scott said...

I remember seeing that awesome cover all the time at the local Hollywood Video, but I could never bring myself to check it out. My loss!

Stacie Ponder said...

Hmm I don't know if it was your "loss" so much as it was your "wisdom" haha...the cover art is the best part of the movie!

Verdant Earl said...

I remember watching this on The Tee Vee in the late 70s along with a double-feature thingy. I am old.

Stacie Ponder said...

That sounds like the perfect "Going by the titles, these should both be better" double-feature.

And excuse me, you're not old, you're seasoned!

Steve K said...

Ok, so this compelled me to watch I Drink Your Blood (on Tubi, yay) today, and -- I legitimately think it's really good. Thank you!!! The score, the rats, the vibrant reds.

Speaking of the rats, according to IMDB, these are the same trained rats as in Willard, which I saw on TV in '71 or '72 when I was like 5, which kind of blows my mind how long I've been aware of their work.

Steve K said...

I was so thrown down a memory hole by the FONT that the "I Drink Your Blood" title card is in, that I brought a bunch of people Bluesky down that hole with me - realizing that that font (Lydian) is also the font of the Nancy Drew book covers of the time as well as of the episode-specific credits of Quincy M.E.

Stacie Ponder said...

I love an inappropriate title font! And you've got me wanting to watch I Drink Your Blood again, it's been a while...