An essential part of my 50 Chilling Classics boxed set, I watched this movie in about six installments spread over several mornings, and it proved perfect for that, as it is most amusing in small doses and the story is not one that needs to be absorbed as a whole.
First we have the credits, which inform us that the special effects in this movie were handled by “Exceptional Opticals,” and that we will be treated to a song, “California Lady,” performed by Frank Larrabee. Alright!
So we meet Paul, this outdoorsy archaeologist guy, as he unearths an ancient pottery shard which is buried under like 1/8th inch of dirt. Literally someone dropped it on the ground and kicked dirt over it, and then they pretended it was buried since the dawn of time. Then we meet a bunch of characters, including some teens who never show up again, Johnny, this Native American ranger guy, and Cathy, a blonde photographer from California [we’re in Arizona or somewhere]. Johnny tells the assembled company that there is an ancient Indian legend of a man that took lizard shape. You know, the Indians really do have an ancient legend for every occasion, don’t they?
Then Paul, who has taken quite a shine to Cathy, takes her up to his favorite spot in the mountains, ostensibly so she can take some pictures. There is a meteor impact, which happens off screen, but we are told is “off the Richter scale!” I won’t even go into that one. The meteor, by the way, looks remarkably like a wad of flaming rags. Anyway, Paul gets shot in the head by a meteor fragment, which luckily does not cause major cranial damage, or leave anything but a scratch. They also find a large part of the meteor, which we are told is part of the moon. “Moon rock!” Cathy declaims, “Oh wow!” One is surprised to learn that flaming particles of the moon that have just entered the Earth’s atmosphere in a show of superheated magma are in fact cool to the touch after just a few seconds. Let’s not even discuss how moon rocks are not known to spontaneously get up and launch themselves toward Earth.
Okay, so then Paul takes Cathy back to his pad, where he unveils his giant pet lizard. She reacts in horror. Ludicrously inappropriate horror. He asks her if she’s frightened, and she responds “It’s US I’m really frightened about.” Us? Didn’t they just meet like two hours ago?
So they go out to some place where the aforementioned Mr. Larrrabee is performing his hit “California Lady” in full, featuring hilariously drowsy and unprofessional backup singers. It is said on the IMDb that he still performs this song at venues in… wherever. But it seems that there is some kind of moon beast on the loose. This guy Sid comes home late from the bowling alley to find that his corpulent wife has locked him out. He stands on the front porch agape as the moon beast slowly approaches, and then we see his blood seeping in from under the door. This blood-under-door trick is appropriated from 40s Jacques Tourneur horror movie The Leopard Man, and supplies evidence, despite all indications on screen, that the makers of this film HAVE in fact seen a movie before.
We rejoin Cathy while she is on a green crushed velvet couch in a pink terrycloth onesie reading Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Cut to some guys playing cards in a tent. Their game is interrupted when the moon beast rips in and tears one of the guys’ arms off.
The next day the cops find the bodies and are all concerned, wondering “maybe there’s still a dinosaur alive in those hills.” No one mentions the very real possibility that monkeys might fly out of his butt.
Anyway, somehow Paul begins to suspect that he may in fact be the moon beast, and goes to get his head examined. “There’s something in my head,” he says, which is met with “It’s not uncommon.” Johnny explains that this happened before to the Indians, and in the end the prior moon beast spontaneously combusted. Then, while he’s still in the hospital, we witness the terrifying transformation of man into moon beast.
Kathy is easily convinced that Paul needs to escape from the hospital, so she helps him, and he goes outside and steals a motorcycle. They meet in private, where she declaims my favorite line “Oh Paul, why couldn’t there be time for US?” You will recall that they have known each other only a few days. But back at the hospital, Paul’s absence becomes known. The doctors have discovered that Paul has many moon shards in his head, and if he’s not careful his head may soon explode.
Then there’s a sequence of someone in an overhead tram throwing themselves out, and you think it’s Paul, but then you see him there watching from the ground. Was this a vision? Or did the filmmakers just have some footage of a dummy being tossed from a tram that they felt they had to use? Next it’s night, and Kathy is inexplicably on the ground going “Paul! Paul! Help me! Paul! Paul! Paul!” [exclamations of “Paul!” make up about a third of Kathy’s lines]. But Paul’s busy transforming into a moon beast right in front of her, and then the cops, who seem to be a good half-mile away, start randomly shooting.
Johnny and the cops rescue Kathy, and then Johnny pulls out some special arrow he’s carved. Kathy helps with the exposition: “That looks like a piece of the meteor Paul had!” Then she shouts in her particular brand of loud but emotionless line readings: “What are you going to do? JOHNNY TELL ME!” Johnny shoots the arrow into the moon beast which causes the ratio of moon rock to moon beast to tip off balance, which as everyone knows will cause virtually any moon beast one might encounter to self-combust. That is what happens here, and soon Paul is all aglow, and a few seconds later is a mere pile of burning leaves. The end.
It was awful in an endearing way. The sheer ridiculousness of it all, combined with the seriousness with which it takes itself, supplemented by the rich veins of 70s flavor it packs in every frame, make this a moderate winner. Special mention must be made of Leigh Drake as Kathy. I like to see ambition, and it’s refreshing to see Ms. Drake remain undaunted by the legendary horrid performances of the past, and make a run for the title of worst actress ever. She virtually shouts every line with as little emotion or even awareness of what she’s saying, modulating little in her performance except for her volume. That’s what makes lines such as “Moon rock? Oh wow!” and “Oh Paul, why couldn’t there be time for US?” so special. When you add to all this the musical performance of “California Lady,” this thing is nudged solidly into the ‘keeper’ column.
That said, I’m glad I didn’t sit down and watch the whole thing in one sitting. It doesn’t suffer from being broken into several parts, and I suspect this keeps it from just being merely tedious by the end.
This film taught me a great many things, and I go forward with increased awareness of the possibility that moon rocks might again one day spontaneously launch themselves toward Earth and implant themselves into the cranium of a man who would then turn into a lizard who will soon spontaneously combust. In retrospect, it’s impossible to see how we could have remained blind to this danger for so long.
Sure, but be aware that it is DEEPLY stupid. Booze and friends will aid your experience. Recommended to be administered in small dosages until resistance is built up.