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Weekend At Bernie’s III: Winter Wilderness Weekend

Long before I had an obsession with horror movies, and particularly BAD horror movies, I had an obsession with video games. Yes, I was that kid that would spend more time picking out movie rentals for the weekend than I would actually watching them. It’s a good thing that I usually lived within walking distance of a store, because I’m sure that my Mom & Dad would not have wanted to wait for me. As my mom occasionally went home and put up the groceries that she had just purchased BEFORE remembering that she’d left me at the video store, I’m almost 100% positive that they would not have wanted to wait for me.

However, for every time that I rented Halloween 4 or Waxwork, you could bet that I was also leaving with a copy of Code Name: Viper or Faxanadu for my NES. And while I was never much of a Sega Genesis fan (other than their RPG games, but that’s a different article for a different website), I found myself incredibly excited to be reviewing one of the cult games from my heyday.

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MOONSTALKER!! I’m reviewing MOONSTALKER!!! Not MOONWALKER!!!!

Instead of pushing myself as a writer and trying something new by reviewing an iconic game featuring one of the most polarizing figures in recent history, here I am doing another run of the mill review for some no-budget, late 80’s shitburger that no one remembers. Not even me. Well, there go all the jokes about “touching kids” that I had written. Oh, sorry! My bad! “Alleged” jokes that I had written. That’s better.

Released to video in 1989, Moonstalker was directed by Michael O’Rourke. O’Rourke was also the writer of 1989’s Hellgate, starring “Horshach” from Welcome Back, Kotter. The film was made by a company called American Bluebell Films. This may play into the film’s obscurity as they are better known for their ice cream.

The film starts and the opening theme music kicks in. The music here sounds like it was lifted straight from a 1980’s baseball bloopers video. My favorite blooper was the 7 times Steve Howe was suspended for drug use. Cocaine’s a hell of a drug.

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A group of kids dance around a campfire in the snow. The cameraman sneaks up on them from the shadows of the surrounding woods. One couple abscond to a nearby pop-up trailer, presumably to bump uglies. “Abscond”. You like that? That’s my attempt to sound “smart”. An unseen killer enters after them and the kids are then killed off-screen. The killer then walks up on the group at the campfire. The camera pans up to the full moon above, the film’s title overlaying across its face. It almost reminds me of the title screen from a Darkstalkers game. And there I am back on gaming again.

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The credits end and we find Harry, a middle-aged man, drinking beer outside of his RV. He is accompanied by his two teenage kids: Tracy, your average 80’s hair band lovin’ rocker chick with a pretty poor “Valley Girl by way of Minnesota” inflection & Mikey, his effeminate son who is not very happy about being on this trip. His wife, Vera, is inside the RV watching soap operas on a portable TV while attired in only the finest of stone wash denim.

An old man in a junker, towing a pop-up of his own, tries to pull into their camp. Harry tells the old man that he will have to leave as this is his spot, and he is hoping to have quiet time alone with his family. The old man introduces himself as “Pop”. He agrees to give Harry and his family their space, and then drives to the other side of the camp site. He raised his family in these parts, and understands wanting to be alone with them.

As soon as the old man has started driving away, both Vera and Tracy start shit talking Pops, saying that he is “dirty” and a “derelict”. Pssh, you can derelict my balls, you vile bitches! Meanwhile, Mikey wants to go over and bond with the old man. He hopes to talk with Pops about fishing, and building campfires, and gladiator movies. Harry thinks that’s just a swell idea and decides to take his whole family over to hang out with the old man that he kinda just kicked out.

They sit and eat with Pops at his campfire as he tells them about his own family. Pops lived with his wife and his son, Bernie, is these parts years prior. His wife took ill, and Bernie helped take care of her. When she died, Bernie also became “sick”. He was sent to a “big hospital, down state” and has “never been the same again”. I think you see where we are going from here.

Pops asks Harry about his RV and what features it has. Harry  & Vera basically brag about their warm showers, color television, and microwave oven. Pops laments that his wife would have loved to have owned a microwave oven.

They hear what, to me, sounds like hiccups. Really goofy, over exaggerated hiccups. Pops explains it away as probably just a black bear in the area. Mikey is quite surprised to discover that there are bears in the woods. I can only assume that he has not been asked the question about where they shit. Pretty soon, he’ll start asking about lions and tigers. Oh my.

After Pops starts to show signs that maybe he isn’t just a harmless old coot, the family decides to call it “a night”. They head back to their RV, and Pops cleans up the site before going into his own trailer. Immediately upon entering the small trailer, the audience sees Bernie. The old man has his son straight-jacketed, and chained to the walls. A mask covers his face, and is also held by chains. You see the image below? That’s Bernie! Kinda creepy, right?

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Pops is indeed a nut job, and he’s also jealous of Harry’s RV and all those nice things inside. He unshackles his son, and orders him to kill the family. He warns his son not to trash the place or he’ll “send him back to the hospital. And this time I won’t get you out.”.

And that he does. Bernie smashes through a window and murders the family. Once again, entirely off-screen. Tracy has escaped, as she had crept out earlier to go and drink beer down by the stream. She can’t hear the screams of her family being butchered as they are being drowned out by the hair band that she is presumably listening to on her Walkman. Damn you, Stryper!

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She arrives back at the RV just as Bernie and Pops are walking out, the old man carrying the microwave. She screams as her brother’s body falls out of the door. Tracy starts running, and naturally, Bernie gives chase. Pops, however, chooses that exact moment to drop dead.

The movie then cuts to 2 guys standing by a car on a darkened, forest road.  They are counselors at a nearby camp and are waiting on 2 more counselor trainees to arrive. One of these trainees, a cowboy from L.A. named “PJ” has gotten lost trying to find the camp. He rolls up on Harry’s RV hoping to find some help, but instead finds Harry’s severed head in the snow. He tries to escape, but Bernie strangles him with his chains.

Up to this point, Moonstalker has been a surprisingly entertaining, yet highly derivative “late entry” in the slew of 1980’s slasher flicks. I give it a few extra points for managing to even be that, as it’s quite evident just how low the budget must have been. However, Moonstalker now makes the fatal flaw of  removing the one thing that made it remotely intriguing: they take Bernie out of his escaped lunatic attire.

For the remainder of the film, Bernie is just some normal looking guy in a cowboy hat and motorcycle cop glasses. Granted, he doesn’t speak, but he could just be the “silent” type. Before watching the movie, I read one review in which the reviewer stated that “the killer looks like Elvis”. Now, this is just a guess, but I’m pretty sure that this reviewer has never seen Elvis. And I don’t mean “He’s not dead!” seen Elvis. If anything, Bernie looks more like Ronnie Milsap. Coincidentally, Ronnie has also never seen Elvis.

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Bernie drives PJ’s truck towards the camp, splattering a character along the way. Once he gets there, it becomes your basic kill-by-numbers slasher. While not all that bad of a film, the lack of any real gore also keeps it from standing out or being overly memorable in any real fashion. There is also no gratuitous nudity, so that’s a mandatory point off for a movie like this.

While Bobby, one of the counselors, is the film’s attempt at comic relief, the character is dreadfully unfunny. In fact, I found myself wishing that he would suffer the most brutal death in the film. Sadly, he does not. Most of the humor comes unintentionally. For example, one scene features a guy trying to talk his girlfriend into having sex in a supply tent. She reminds him that they have to be back at the campfire within 30 mins, to which he replies that it’s twice the time he’ll need. Wow! He’s actually proud of that.  Once again, comes unintentionally.

The film attempts to bring in its own “Dr. Loomis” character late in the film in the form of a detective that was on the case the last time Bernie went on a killing spree. This character is never really developed and plays no real role in advancing the story before he is quickly killed off. The only positive note to his presence is that his death comes in a very clever scene in which Bernie uses the bodies of his victims in order to set a trap. I can’t think of an example of this in any other film (not off the top of my head, at least), and sadly, it’s one of the few bright moments in a series of mediocrity.

Moonstalker isn’t a bad movie. It’s actually better than some of the weaker, yet better remembered slashers of the decade. However, it’s the one ill-fated decision to remove Bernie from any unique “costume” that is ultimately what makes the film forgettable. Add in some extremely amateurish acting from most of the cast, and Moonstalker is really nothing more than a “one and done”. Might be a decent way to kill some time on a rainy, lazy weekend, or even as something to watch on a screen outside, under the stars with your friends. Just don’t expect another Friday the 13th here. Not even Jason Takes Manhattan.

(No trailer available)