Saturday 21 May 2022

COLD MOON (2016)

Directed by: Griff Furst, Starring: Josh Stewart, Frank Whaley,
Chester Rushing, Candy Clark. Horror, US 2016, 83mins, Cert 15.

Approximately 55 minutes into this adaptation of Michael McDowell’s 1980 novel ‘Cold Moon Over Babylon’, a coffin levitates out of its freshly dug grave, explodes, and deposits a snake-like creature bearing a remarkable resemblance to Michael Keaton’s ‘Betelgeuse’. Given author McDowell co-wrote Tim Burton’s BEETLEJUICE, this is either a belated tribute to the late writer (who died in 1999), a cynical attempt to miss-sell this Southern gothic tale of supernatural revenge, or a complete coincidence (admittedly, Candy Clark’s Grandma Larkin is a dead ringer for the “...ghost with the most...”).

It’s 1989. Down at the Larkin Blueberry Farm in Babylon, Florida, Jerry Larkin (Chester Rushing from MY FATHER DIES, STRANGER THINGS), is worried the blueberry yield is getting lower every year, and those red repayment reminders building up in the kitchen drawer look increasingly likely to spell foreclosure in the not too distant future. But Jerry and his grandmother Evelyn (the venerable genre Candy Clark, hugely over-emoting here) have a more immediate concern: why hasn’t Jerry’s 16 year old sister Margaret not returned home from cycling into town to help her teacher Mr Perry...?

There’s a lot of plot strands all desperately straining for screen time in this unnecessarily overcomplicated ghost story. Like the muddied waters of the river which Margaret Larkin’s strangled corpse is fished out of, the narrative focus constantly seems to be shifting, which, whilst never dull, makes for an uneven, muddled experience. There’s a murder mystery for starters (who strangled Margaret?) which is then abandoned at the start of the second act when, in a double-whammy that the film never really recovers from, not only is the killer revealed, but they also brutally dispatch two of the main characters by unflinchingly beheading one before swiftly running a sword through the other! As I said, dull it certainly ain’t! Then, whilst the sheriff (Frank Whaley) does his best to complicate matters further by arresting an innocent man on the basis of a clue stitch-up even the writers of Scooby-Doo would baulk at, the unsympathetic bank manager who’s been itching to grab the deeds to the Larkin Farm, Nathan Redfield (Josh Stewart), is consuming increasingly vast quantities of hard liquor and drowning his liver whilst seemingly transforming into Sean Penn with every swig. Meanwhile, his wheelchair bound dad James, (Christopher Lloyd, wasted – in the role I mean, not literally like his on screen son Nathan) spends most of his limited screen time nonsensically ranting whilst leering at his nubile cheerleading babe carer, who’s favourite past-time is trying on new bikinis – when she’s not sleeping with his alcoholic son that is – and who also just happens to be the sheriff’s daughter to boot.

There’s the obligatory scene of characters watching NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) on TV for those who wish to play genre cliché bingo. The Tommy Wiseau cameo is of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety (who thought that would ever be a selling point anyway?),

Oh yes, I nearly forgot, there’s also the ghost of strangled Margaret Larkin, floating around town suspended in mid-air peddling her invisible bicycle and generally harassing her killer at inopportune moments. These yield some visually striking flourishes, but even she too flounders (along with her fellow haunters) in the near hysteria of a film which is trying to cram too much of a novel into its relatively modest running time. Ultimately, COLD MOON eclipses itself.    

 ** (out of 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was first published by FrightFest.