Track of the Moon Beast, 1976. Dir. Richard Ashe. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.
- Noted critic John Kenneth Muir – who must be a serious critic as he uses his middle name, too – said the film was ‘a failure in every way’. Which sounds like my kind of film. Plus – at 1 hr 20mins I can write the review and not miss lunch.
- The opening shot is of a guy focusing a giant telescope, which you’d think they could have organised before they yelled action, although maybe this guy’s ability – or inability – to focus is some kind of plot point.
- There’s something like a flaming Christmas pudding falling through the night sky. Which would certainly be worthy of a look, telescope or otherwise. Cut to some bored looking American Indians chanting and shuffling unconvincingly around a campfire. Although I’m not an expert on that (or anything else).
- Next thing you know we’re in the production studio of a news broadcast, watching from behind a producer as a newsreader gives a WHOLE lot of exposition about how a meteor is on a collision course with the moon. Eventually we get the credit sequence – ‘Track of the Moon Beast’ – in green slime writing, with edgy violins and blundering horns to emphasise the sliminess. The cast list includes Chase Cordell, which is my new favourite actor’s name.
- This whilst we watch someone on a motorbike ride across the desert – although he’s riding so slowly it might actually be a push bike. With stabilisers.
- He eventually pulls up between a boulder and a bush, jamming the front brake so hard he almost goes over the handlebars, but maybe that was the best of a number of takes. He doesn’t seem that comfortable with the bike. Even getting off it and putting it on the stand seems to be a big deal for him. If this is Chase Cordell, we’re in trouble.
- Turns out, it IS Chase Cordell, who’s in the character of Paul G Carlson, an anthropologist. Paul’s about as comfortable with a trowel and brush as he is with a bike. After what feels like ten years fussing with a shard of pottery, he’s interrupted by a terrifying male scream off camera, which presumably is the noted critic John Kenneth Muir.
- Paul looks up – nothing but rocks. He goes back to his pots. Another scream. He glances up again, and is confronted with a giant mask with earrings and a generally stupefied look, which is exactly like my current expression, only without glasses.
- The mask disappears, and in its place we’re looking at a guy by the name of Johnny Longbow. ‘Hi Paul!’ he says. ‘Johnny!’ says Paul. They laugh and shake hands. Then two others come out from behind a rock carrying the mask. It was all a joke. We learn easily and naturally that Paul is indeed an anthropologist, Johnny Longbow is a professor of science and shit, and the other two, Budd Keeler and Janet Price, are his mineralogy students. (Side note: everyone gets introduced with their full name, which is nice. I think everyone needs a formal introduction in a monster movie. You care more.)
- We learn more about these people. Budd specialises in screams and bird calls, Caroline seems to be some kind of stand-aid. They chat about this and that. Paul wipes his eyes, method acting the heat and dust, although to be fair it does look hot and dusty. Someone else comes out from behind the rock – the desert looks pretty crowded this time of year. This character is a woman in cut off jeans, who holds a camera about as naturally as Paul rides a motorbike. Johnny Longbow gives her his signature smile, which is a bit like how I imagine crocodiles smile at livestock approaching the waterhole. She ignores Johnny – either because she already knows him or because of the smile, and introduces herself directly to Paul – presumably because he’s the only one with his shirt off. She formally introduces herself as Kathy Miller, and yes, she does know Johnny Longbow. She’s out there doing ethnographic shots of this and that, but decided to capture Paul reacting to the mask. Or anything, really.
- Paul explains to Kathy what Johnny Longbow means: ‘warrior’s bow that reaches long to its mark’. Which I think is pretty much what she was worried about.
- We’re straight back to the newsreader with important information – although how it’s more important than why Johnny Longbow is called Johnny Longbow is anyone’s guess. The newsreader uses a lot of sciency words like ‘seismograph’, and must have won the audition simply on the way he draws out the word ‘Krakatoa’. It sounds as if the meteor has impacted the moon and knocked chunks off of it which might rain down on earth and cause monstrous complications. Or not.
- In a daring cut, the camera pulls back to reveal that Paul, Johnny Longbow and the others are watching this news bulletin on a portable TV, perched on the end of the table where they’re having supper. Although maybe the director used some footage of the crew actually having supper. I’m not sure. It’s all so natural and authentic.
- Despite the news announcement going on for some time, the newsreader does a summing up and then closes the bulletin with a statement that this has been a bulletin from the news centre in Albuquerque. (And if you think I typed Albuquerque first go without a spellcheck you’re crazy).
- Johnny Longbow gets his big acting moment, one that I think the noted critic John Kenneth Muir most enjoyed. ‘This is a great stew’ says Janet. ‘What’s in it?’ (And I transcribe the response in case any actors out there want to use it in future auditions):
‘A whole lotta things… chicken… corn… green peppers…. chili.. onions… (the way he sighs and looks off to the right when he says onions – the pathos in such a simple ingredient). Well! It’s an old recipe round here.’ (Basically chicken stew with a touch of heat, but hey). Kathy says she wants to get some night shots. Paul says he knows a great spot but it’s far away. Kathy nods, and they leave the others to clear up.
- Just before they hop on the motorbike to go, Janet gets freaked out by a lizard. Johnny Longbow uses this as an excuse to tell the ancient story of the argument between Lizard and Coyote. The upshot was that Man could have Lizard hands so long as Man was mortal. Which sounds dubious, and may or may not have any bearing on the film.
- Out at Santiago Crest, Paul is busy pointing out geographical features to Kathy, including Albuquerque (which I totally copied & pasted, alright?). When he points up at the sky, Kathy grabs his shirt and says ‘Paul? What’s wrong? What is it?’ utterly unable to see anything that Paul hasn’t pointed to first. Especially a blazing meteor shower. Paul gets struck by a meteor and ends up sprawled on top of Kathy, although it could just be a sleazy excuse.
- To be fair, he does have a cut on his forehead, which Kathy cleans right off. Paul points out a glowing moon rock by the motorbike. ‘Moon rock! Oh wow!’ says Kathy, more excited about moon rock than Johnny Longbow was about onions. Although it transpires she’s not excited about the rock at all – it just reminded her she’s supposed to go to a NASA exhibition the next day. Hopefully not in Albuquerque. Meanwhile, they decide to go back to Paul’s place for antiseptics and sex.
- Back at Paul’s place, he struggles to figure out how to turn off the indicators, which made me more worried for Kathy as pillion than all the moon rocks and meteor showers and moon monsters put together. But hey, they made it back. Kathy seems amazed by Paul’s garage, although to be fair, there’s so little tension in the script you’d look anywhere, even a workbench.
‘I gather nobody’s home’ says Kathy. ‘My mother’s in Europe,’ says Paul. ‘She travels a lot.’ I think Kathy was right to be worried about the workbench.
- ‘I’d like you to meet a friend of mine’ says Paul. He draws back a curtain to reveal a big lizard called Tye. Short for Tyrannosaurus. Kathy doesn’t like the lizard but they kiss anyway. I mean Paul and Kathy kiss. Not Kathy and the lizard. Although I feel there’s more chemistry there.
- Cut to: Paul and Kathy at the NASA exhibition. Paul bends down to take a closer look at a moon rock. Kathy takes a shot of his butt. But at that exact moment, a beam of light zaps out of the rock and hits him in the head. So in forty years THAT shot’ll end up on Instagram.
- Paul feels unwell and goes outside for some fresh air. Suddenly we jump cut to a country & western singer on stage in a club singing a song that goes ‘my voice been gettin’ croakeee…’ I think the director is trying to tell us something.
- The song carries on, into something that seems more like a musical intermission. The song is called ‘California lady’, so maybe Kathy is from there. She certainly looks a little fried. I’m guessing someone in the band is related to the director, or he owes them money. But no – suddenly we see Johnny Longbow, Paul and the others in the audience, Paul with his head in his hands, but whether that’s the music or the meteor strike it’s hard to say.
- On a side note, I feel it’s a bit of a miss on the director’s part that we’re not formally introduced to everyone in the audience. Just saying.
- The music carries on playing whilst we see Johnny Longbow back home with Paul, who’s taken his shirt off again (presumably a major factor in his casting, along with his availability & rate).
- The music still carries on, whilst Kathy (wearing a babydoll nightie) helps Paul into bed. Gives him a pill and a cup of water.
- The music ends. Kathy stands outside Paul’s house talking to Johnny Longbow (it’s not a nightie after all). Johnny delivers a long and wistful speech about how Paul is learning a lot – how to accept help from other people etcetera. The speech is even more wistful than his speech about the onions. Kathy swings her hands like she doesn’t know whether to tear her hair out or slap him. They walk to Johnny’s car. ‘If Paul calls me, I’ll pick you up and take you to him.’ ‘And if he calls me first…?’ says Kathy. They both smile. Kathy rubs her nose. Maybe there’s a subtext to all this I’ve missed, which is entirely likely. I’m still stuck on the onions.
- Cut back to Paul, having a restless night, what with the meteor in his head and the terrible music and everything. He pulls his shirt off. (SIDE NOTE: I had exactly this experience a coupla days ago. I made a mushroom risotto, which was completely delicious, except I ate too much and then got convinced a) someone working in the dried mushroom factory had decided to slip in some death caps and b) the rice was expanding in my stomach and would completely suddenly spill out of me like popcorn from a machine when you take the lid off too soon.)
- He paces about, looking at the moon. Cellos play. Cellos are the most devastating of the string section. Violins may be psycho, but cellos are 100% evil. Plus they have a spike.
- Paul hyperventilates, draws the curtains. Tye the lizard looks anxious. Maybe this is a regular thing.
- Cut to: some drunk guy coming back from bowling wearing a jacket with DUKE on the back. He drops his keys. We get an extended shot of his arse as he bends over looking for them. But he can’t find them, so he ends up banging on the door for his wife to open up. She’s on the sofa watching news bulletins, drinking beer and eating cereal from the packet. After absorbing enough of the news bulletin, she says ‘Go to hell, Sid!’ (so his name isn’t Duke / maybe he’s taken the wrong jacket home). She tells him to sleep it off outside, and bolts the door.
- Duke / Sid hears something. ‘Who’s there?’ he says. We see his face as the monster bears down on him, grunting horribly – although, at this stage, it might be his wife, come round the back.
- But no, because his wife is still inside the house. She listens to the horrible sounds whilst she clutches her belly – although, at this stage, the sounds might be gastric in origin, after all that beer and cereal.
- But no, because blood comes in under the door. She slowly unbolts the door. Duke/Sid topples in dead, missing his face. Which isn’t much different from a normal bowling night, to be fair.
- For some reason, Johnny Longbow shakes hands with the two cops come to investigate the ‘messy killing’. Turns out, Johnny knows Mac, the lead cop. Mac wants Johnny’s opinion, because he hasn’t seen anything like this before. There are two blanketed bodies on two trolleys back of an ambulance, one large, one small. ‘Ahh – which one is him?’ says Mac to the paramedics. They point to the larger body, even though that can’t possibly be right. ‘The woman had a weak heart, says Mac. ‘But take a look at the man…’ He pulls back the blanket. ‘What kind of thing would cut up someone like that?’ Johnny winces. ‘Coulda been a mountain lion, Mac.’
- Mac takes Johnny round the back of the house and shows him an enormous bloody handprint on the wall, a single, giant footprint. (Does it hop?) Mac has made a plastercast. Johnny says they should go to the paleontology department and see if they can get any answers there.
- Meanwhile, Kathy goes round to see how Paul’s doing. She’s shocked to see Tye out of his cage. Very suspicious.
- Back at the paleontology department, everyone agrees the plaster cast is the left hind foot of ‘some kind of reptile, some very, very large lizard.’ Mac says he can’t believe there are lizards like that running around New Mexico, but at least he doesn’t mention Alburquerque by name ( I totally typed that without help this time – I just kinda threw myself at the keyboard and hoped for the best). The palaeontologist thinks it looks kinda like the foot of a komodo dragon, but one that walks upright, something more like a tyrannosaurus rex. We zoom in on a happy looking t-rex in a picture on the wall.
- Mac worries how he’s gonna explain his murder theory to the commissioner: ‘A man was killed last night on his doorstep by some kind of dinosaur’. Although, judging by Mac’s general demeanour and policing skills, I’m sure the commissioner’s heard a lot worse.
- Back out in the desert, Johnny gives a demonstration of his archery skills. Paul stands in front of a target, holding a pepperoni sausage in either hand. Johnny shoots one of them – but then Paul comes over all faint – as I’m sure many of us would, standing in front of an archery target holding two pepperoni sausages.
- Kathy takes Paul home and says she’ll stay. She settles down on the sofa to read a book. The sun sets. The moon and orchestration come out. Paul is restless again. Takes his shirt off. And something bad must be about to happen because they even start playing a harpsichord or something. Paul staggers around, hyperventilating in a bare-chested kinda way, whilst Kathy snoozes on the sofa. He slams the screen door open (looks like Kathy is a heavy sleeper). The moonlight casts magnificent shadows across his bare torso (Chase Cordell earning every cent of that forty-eight dollar fifty rate).
- Cut to: a fantastically improvised scene: a bunch of guys playing poker out in a tent. When they like a line they come up with, they just repeat it. It’s on a par with the stew scene, and that’s saying a LOT. Suddenly, the monster slashes its way into the tent. The monster looks like Duke/Sid’s wife, only without the beer and cereal box, and maybe wearing a spiky costume instead of a dressing gown, although the dressing gown was pretty rough. The monster tears through the guys like so much cereal.
- Cut to: Kathy waking Paul who’s lying bare chested and exhausted on a sun lounger. Kathy says men are like big babies, although I think that’s a stretch. More like big lizards. She covers him up and offers him breakfast.
- At the police station, Mac is talking to Johnny about the latest murders. He throws down an eight of diamonds card that’s been torn up and then taped back together again. He says there was a survivor. He was in shock, but mentioned a big lizard. ‘A big lizard that walked like a man’. ‘Seems I’ve heard that expression before’ says Johnny, giving us a sudden insight into his dating experiences. ‘Maybe there is a dinosaur, still alive,’ says Mac, looking utterly miserable and leaning back in his chair. ‘Up in the hills.’
- Johnny is standing with Kathy, Budd and Janet, who’ve finally made it back from clearing up after the stew supper. They all look sombre when Janet asks about the guys murdered up in the hills last night – but then crack up when Janet shows them the photos Kathy took at the NASA exhibition. (Side note: Johnny’s hair looks amazing in this scene – a stylish Mary Quant bob). Johnny asks about the photo of Paul looking at the moon rock. They talk about his head injury that night. Johnny says something about light concussion they all laugh about. Johnny says he’ll take Paul to the hospital and stop by the photo lab on the way there. They’re happy about that. It saves them a trip into town.
- Johnny goes to pick up Paul, who’s putting on his shoes first and then his shirt. They talk about the moon rock Paul has on his table. Paul can’t find anything about it in any of his textbooks, which is odd. It’s also odd that Tye the lizard has gone. ‘Scared by the meteor shower,’ Paul says. Johnny isn’t convinced.
- Over at the hospital, Paul is bare-chested in front of an X-ray machine. ‘You can get dressed now’ says the doctor, but Paul’s not in any rush. The doctor says it’ll take about twenty minutes to process the plates – which gives Johnny time to go over the road to the photo lab.
- The lab technician is a tall, shy guy in a glasses/moustache combos that will one day be an emoji. He confirms it isn’t an error on the print – and he should know because he’s been doing that job for years. Which must be true because of the glasses and the pen in his pocket.
- The doctor at the hospital takes Paul and Johnny into a side room. ‘We don’t usually discuss these things with patients,’ says the doctor, ‘but this is an unusual case.’ He shows them a normal head x-ray first, then Paul’s, which shows a number of fillings and also a fragment of moon rock in his head. The doctor says if it doesn’t ‘clear up’ (as shrapnel often does), they’ll do something about it surgically.
- Cut to: Johnny and Mac in a darkened room. Johnny has a slide show that might help with the investigation. The first slide is such a crude drawing of a native american it’s surprising Mac doesn’t snort, but maybe he’s exhausted after all that lizard talk. Turns out, the native american in the picture was hit by lightning or something from the sky. In the next slide you see him turned into a lizard, chasing some other guys. Again, how Mac keeps from laughing out loud is more of a mystery than who killed the poker guys or Duke/Sid.
- Johnny and Mac take Paul’s moon rock to the rock museum. It draws a beam of light from one of the other rocks. Johnny thinks it’s some kind of energy beam or something. Mac talks about werewolves. They decide to go back to Paul and give him the good news. He takes it pretty well. Thinks about all the shirtless opportunities.
- They take Kathy to see him in a more secure part of the hospital. She breaks down and throws herself on top of him – but whether that’s because she’s never seen him in such dreadful pyjamas or because of the whole lizard thing it’s not too clear. She walks out of the room – eventually – with a weird kind of head-twitch going on, until you’d think she was the one with the shrapnel and not Paul. On the other hand it might just be method-acting code for upset. She declines all offers of lifts home, and decides to wait it out at the hospital.
- SIDE NOTE: I wonder if one of the cops guarding the hospital room is actually the photo tech guy from the sop. Sans glasses & pen. Avec cap.
- The moon is finally up (after a few cut-aways to a big clock, a harpsichord playing). ‘Something’s happening!’ says Mac, looking through the window. ‘My God!’ The only thing I can see is that Paul has lost his shirt, which is anything BUT surprising. But wait – no – he goes blurry and then kinda lizardy. You hope he’s going to bust out of the hospital and do some shit, but we segue to him normal again (shirtless), strapped to the bed, with Johnny and Mac dozing on a couple of chairs to the side.
- The straps give him plenty of opportunity to flex his chesticles. ‘We’ll soon have you back to normal’ says Johnny, unstrapping him. (Normal for Alburquerque).
- Cut to: a couple of scientists on a plane bound for Alburquerque. They’re due to land ‘in about twenty minutes’ which seems to be the time frame for most things in this film, including how long it takes Chase to put a motorcycle on its stand or cancel the indicators.
- The scientists have been worried about the possibility of mutations ever since the moon landing, apparently.
- When they talk to Paul at the hospital the brain surgeon guy says they can pinpoint where the particle is : the left frontal lobe, apparently. So Paul is due for a lobotomy. Paul strokes his chin thoughtfully. The scientists wait for him to say something. He doesn’t.
- The scientist explains that the moon ‘a moon rock of gigantic size, if you will’, is having an effect on Paul’s brain fragments and the outlook is bleak. Johnny asks how long has he got and although the scientist hesitates I’d make a guess at twenty minutes. They explain that the energy will become more unstable until the patient explodes – which, unfortunately, the patient overhears.
- Paul explains to Kathy that if he’s to die he wants to die looking like a man and not a monster. Preferably shirtless. They kiss. Horribly, awkwardly, completely noiselessly – the most horrific scene in the whole goddamn film. ‘If anyone asks where I am,’ he says, ‘tell ‘em I’m on the roof. That’ll give me enough time to get away.’ They kiss again – but this time there’s a sound like twigs breaking, which is way worse than the silent kissing.
- Paul leaves the hospital disguised as a doctor. He steals a motorbike and rides it away like a pro. Stops outside a shop called ‘Coins & Guns’ (Alburquerque, huh?). Goes inside to buy a shotgun and some shells. Maybe some coins. There’s a news report playing on the radio all about a dangerous guy on the loose called Paul. He runs out again. The shop owner calls Mac at the hospital, tells him all about it.
- Mac and Johnny talk about all the ways Paul could kill himself. ‘He could crash the motorcycle.’ ‘No. Crashes don’t always work…’ Kathy is sitting to the side looking increasingly uncomfortable.
- Mac wishes they had some kind of lead, some way of finding him. Close up on Kathy’s face. She’s remembering what Paul said that time they went out after the stew supper, how he took her to his favourite place on earth (before he got hit in the head by a meteorite there, when it maybe moved down the rankings a bit).
- We see Paul fall off his bike on the road leading to Santiago Crest. Next thing, he’s riding a cable car, his vision blurred, a harpsichord playing. Then he throws himself out of the door. But then we cut back to him by his bike, and realise it was just him planning how to kill himself without a shotgun (no doubt a method Mac would approve).
- Kathy has made her way up to Santiago Crest. She stops, gets out some binoculars, and sees him collapsed on the mountainside. She hurries up there. Meanwhile, Johnny and Mac race to the scene in a police car whose lights aren’t on because the film crew don’t have a permit.
- The sun goes down, the moon comes up. Takes about twenty minutes.
- Kathy is in trouble on the mountainside. ‘Paul! Please help me! Paul!’ she cries. ‘My foot is caught!’ But when Paul puts a hand onto a rock to reach her, he starts breathing funny and his hand turns into a claw. Kathy screams, changing her mind about the help. The screams help the cops locate their position, though. Paul looks confused, conflicted between lizard & boyfriend, presumably. The cops being cops open fire indiscriminately. They stop shooting for a bit, because honestly, you could be hitting anything out there. Meanwhile, Paul the lizard is creeping up behind them with his arms outstretched. He kills them with a few ineffectual swipes of his rubberised claws. Then waddles off.
- Johnny grabs his bow and arrows. He’s fashioned an arrowhead out of the moon rock. Kathy isn’t happy. Despite Johnny saying that Paul isn’t Paul anymore, she still sees some potential, jumps in her car and drives off, parks down the road – just exactly where Paul the Lizard emerges, waving at her in a friendly fashion or an evil fashion it’s hard to tell. Kathy screams regardless.
- Johnny runs up, fires off the arrow, hits Paul right in the sausage. He glows in spots and goes all psychedelic. Mac and the scientist run up and they all stand there watching the show. Mac even licks his lips in a strange way, like he can’t WAIT to tell the commissioner about this.
- Mac loads Kathy in the cop car and they all drive off, leaving Johnny propped up on his bow, wondering what just happened, and how to incorporate it in his next slide show.
So what’ve I learned?
- The moon is actually a big lump of moon rock. Like – the biggest.
- Albuquerque is impossible to spell and very hot.
- In New Mexico, everything takes twenty minutes.
- It’s very important to get used to a motorbike’s controls before you take it off into the desert.
- Chili is very good in stews. But don’t stint on the onions.
2 thoughts on “Track of the Moon Beast”
Thank you! Although I wonder how much of my enjoyment reading this was skewed by it being 3:00 a.m. 🙂
I don’t doubt it helped enormously. Like having a weird dream…! ❤️