2/2/07

1007 Track of the Moon Beast

(1976, Horror, color)

Moon rock? Oh, wow!

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

A stray meteor turns a shirtless mineralogist into a murderous were-lizard.

Summary:

No, 'Native American longbow demonstration' is not a metaphor for sex.Half-dressed mineralogist Paul rides his dirt bike into the New Mexican wastelands to dig for ancient knick-knacks. Piercing screams and a shiny mask interrupt his work; he looks up to see his Native American anthropologist friend Johnny Longbow striding out of the desert. Johnny explains the practical joke and then introduces a pair of his students, who cling to each other while they explain it more. A leggy, half-dressed photographer named Kathy appears to elucidate it even further. Somehow this leads to an expository meteorological television broadcast, an Indian legend about opposable thumbs, and a recipe for stew.

Paul invites Kathy to come with him to the top of a local mountain to “get some night shots.” They observe the various New Mexican cities, make out, and watch a meteor shower. (Moon rocks? Oh, wow!) One of the tinier meteors hits Paul in the head. Kathy fusses over the cut on his temple; he uses her plea for antiseptic to invite her back to his place. She overlooks his pet lizard and the fact that he lives with his mother (who remains conveniently in Europe for the entire film) to spend the night.

Next day, Paul accompanies Kathy to a museum photo shoot of the recovered meteorites. Getting too close makes him feel faint. Later, he accompanies Kathy and Johnny to a folk-rock concert, where he feels faint again. The band warbles, “California laaaaaaaaadyyyyyyy,” over his journey home and the thrilling “putting on his pajamas” scene. Later, Paul turns into a lizard man murders a drunken bowler.

Next day after that, the chunky local sheriff summons Johnny to look at some really freaky hand and footprints he found by the bowler’s mangled corpse. Johnny takes the evidence to a paleontologist, who opines that it was a miniature T-Rex. For some reason, the sheriff does not think this theory plausible enough to share with his superiors, nor with the public at large.

Johnny leaves to give a longbow demonstration to Kathy and Paul. Paul feels faint (again), and they take him home (again). Kathy sleeps over (again), this time to fuss over him like an underdressed mother hen. While she’s asleep, he turns into a lizard man and slaughters a tent full of elderly campers.

One of the campers survives long enough to describe the lizard monster to the chunky sheriff, who summons Johnny (again). This time, Johnny has prepared a slideshow of pictures copied—apparently by a third grader with a severely limited supply of crayons—from deerskin drawings of ancient Indian legend, which goes like this: Once, there was a man who was hit in the head by a meteor. He turned into a lizard and killed people. Then he caught on fire and died. The end. A trip to the moon rocks in the museum somehow confirms it—Paul is their killer.

Paul is already at the hospital with Kathy, looking at X-rays of meteorite fragments in his head. The news of his were-lizardhood causes understandable consternation, but he agrees to be locked in the hospital brig for the night. The moon rises, he transforms, and presumably remains incarcerated until he changes back the next morning. Moon monster experts are flown in that very day, but by the time they arrive, the meteor fragments have spread throughout his brain, preventing surgical removal.

The sweaty, shirtless, and overwrought Paul decides to escape and do away with himself. Kathy follows him out to the nearby mountain where she predictably falls down and gets stuck. Her cries for help prevent Paul from leaping to his death. The moon rises and turns him into the giant lizard man before he can help her. Fortunately, the cops fire their guns to drive him off. The subsequent battle leaves two cops dead and Kathy in hysterics. Johnny shoots him with moon rock-tipped arrow, and Paul explodes.

Introduction:

Drugs, alcohol, womanizing, and so forth.The ‘Bots have purchased an onion blossomer, which they use to blossom a shoe, a bowling ball, a caulking gun, a plunger, and Mike’s wallet.

Host Segment One:

Crow has blossomed, batter-dipped and deep-fried Tom’s head. Tom vehemently objects. Quoth Mike, “Lighten up, you didn’t even miss it.” Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl has taken the top off Bobo’s skull and soldered electrodes to his brain. Now anyone with a universal remote can use his involuntary muscular reflexes to make him do their bidding. Pearl makes him perform a stupid soft shoe while cattle-prodding himself and singing songs from West Side Story. Mike finds a remote and makes Bobo smooch Pearl, then cattle-prod both her and Brain Guy. He’s almost succeeded in making Bobo call the Satellite of Love out of orbit when he accidentally hits the “sleep” button. Bobo nods off; Pearl and Brain Guy recover. They send a movie in retaliation.

Host Segment Two:

Crow plays a stupid practical joke with offscreen howls and an Indian mask, which Mike ignores. Crow then explains the practical joke at length. Mike steadfastly eats his pea pods. Crow explains even more, apologizing endlessly until he finally breaks down. “I hate myself!” he cries.

Host Segment Three:

Mike uses his deepest voice to narrate a "Legends of Rock" episode about The Band That Played California Lady. He starts with their first hit, “California Lady,” and then moves on to the off-stage troubles of their members—the Fish-Lipped Guy, the Eskimo, and the Friendly Back-Up Singer—which include drugs, alcohol, womanizing, rehab, drugs, an alcoholic coma, a drug-addled second album, drugs, alcohol, and womanizing.

Host Segment Four:

Determined to see Mike’s pajamas for themselves, Crow and Tom tape a video camera to the top of a remote control truck and spy on him before bed. All they can discover, however, is that Mike wears a prudish, full-length robe, and has a nighttime ritual that involves role-playing with his stuffed animals. He discovers the remote control intruder and confronts the ‘Bots. “Take off your robe!” Tom cries.

Host Segment Five:

Tom accidentally shoots a baby satellite while playing with his toy bow and arrow. Mike puts it in a cardboard box in a bed of rags…until its giant satellite mommy comes looking for it. Mike gives it back very quickly. Down in Castle Forrester, Brain Guy gives Bobo tips on how to care for his newly exposed brain. Through the creative use of electrodes, Pearl forces them to exchange insults instead.

Stinger:

Quoth Kathy, “Moon rock! Oh, wow!”

Thoughts:

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.Of note, this is the third film in the run of the show where the monster’s name is Paul. (The prior two are The Projected Man and Werewolf.) I’m so proud.

You know what this movie needs? Organ stings. Consider this only slightly paraphrased exchange:

Johnny Longbow (in a deep, portentous tone): “A lizard that walks like a man.”

Sheriff (in shock and disbelief): “A lizard that walks like a man?”

Johnny Longbow (in an even deeper and more portentous tone): “A lizard...” (Significant pause) “...that walks like a man.”

It’s not just the ridiculously serious dialogue; the actors actually pause between every deliciously overwrought line reading, as if they expected it to be punched up like a sixties soap opera. It’s so blatant that my mind began to add imaginary organ noises to the soundtrack, as in Paul’s sly proposition of Kathy:

Paul (shyly): “I have some antiseptic at my place.” [A tremulous minor chord.]

Kathy (uncertain): “Your place?” [A higher and even more tremulous chord, held over the first one.]

Paul (reassuring): “My place.” [A whole sequence of minor chords, rising in pitch as they modulate to a major key.]

My involuntary organist reflexes never stopped, as even the most trivial bits of conversation came out slathered in pause-drenched meaning. Such as Johnny’s recipe for Indian stew:

Perky Student (perkily): “What’s in it?” [Quick, playful arpeggio.]

Johnny Longbow (with an air of self-important consternation): “Chicken,” [Brief unresolved chord] “corn,” [Bland major chord] “green peppers,” [Three random notes in quick succession] “chili,” [a small, complicated fugue to underscore his deep, exasperated sigh] “onions...” [Low, throbbing bass notes.]

But these little tête-à-têtes are nothing compared to the high melodrama of the final sequences. Consider this thrilling (and my personal favorite) bit of conversation from the film’s climax:

Johnny Longbow (in an anguished but authoritative wail): “Paul is not Paul anymore!” [Two organists use all their hands and feet to hold down eight simultaneous chords.]

Kathy (like a cougar falling into a threshing machine): “Nooooooooooooooooooo!” [Nine more organists arrive to help the previous two lean on every key at once.]

Too bad I never learned to play the organ.

The baby satellite sketch in host segment five is bland and underdeveloped, but at least it’s brief. Thankfully, all the other host segments work wonderfully. Mike telling Tom to lighten up about his blossomed and deep fried head; Bobo’s exposed brain; Crow’s devolution from ineffective jocularity to self-loathing—every one of them made me laugh quite hard. Mike does an excellent Legends of Rock voice, and his repetitive description of the band’s troubles sounds quite realistic. The quest for Mike’s pajamas is inexplicable but well-executed, and takes several detours into his bizarre bedtime routines. For host segments alone, this is one of the best and most consistently funny episodes they’ve done.

In the film segments, the frequent pauses and overwrought tone lend themselves well to the Satellite crew’s brand of mockery. A still-screen picture of the moon leads to Crow’s comment, “Nice place; no atmosphere.” After a lengthy crayon presentation of an Indian legend, Johnny says, “I know what you’re thinking,” to which Tom replies, “I’m boring, and my slideshow eats.” When a very serious and taciturn doctor reluctantly shares his findings with Paul, Mike says, “We’ll let you in on your illness—this time.” Throughout, frequent references are made to Paul and Kathy’s deep and abiding love affair, as in “I’m trapped in a loveless one-day relationship,” (Tom) “It’s our 24-hour anniversary,” (Crow) and “I’ve known him for eight hours; I think I deserve to see him,” (Tom again). Whenever Johnny leaves a conversation dangling (which happens fairly often) Crow fills the silence by reciting the ingredients for Indian stew. There’s a quotable quip at least every five minutes, so the commentary never slows down. Combined these with the excellent host segments, and you have an episode well worth repeated viewings.