“Oh, it’s just a harmless old guy.”
Part of why I love the slasher movies is the ritualistic repetition. Familiar elements presented, hopefully, in new ways. It’s like open source movie making: here is a simple, accessible code, do with it what you want. Do try this at home.
Of course, the danger with that type of democratic process is that there are gonna be alot of bad ones made either naively or opportunistically by people unable to do a good job. And the deeper I get into Slasher Searching the more of these I’m gonna be left with.
MOONSTALKER is, surprisingly, on DVD. But it’s an amateurish Jason-with-a-touch-of-Leatherface knockoff movie; any variations on the formula seem accidental. It’s one of those movies where the very first shot makes you realize you’re in for a chore. Actually it’s not a bad P.O.V. shot of a killer spying on some campers, but there are people dancing next to a fire and it is very clear that this is not how they dance. This is what some crew members do when the director says “go dance next to the fire” and there’s no music playing and they’re kinda embarrassed and trying to be sarcastic.
The first section of the movie is about an obnoxious family who park their trailer in a snow-covered camping spot (filmed in Reno, Nevada according to IMDb). The dad Harry (Ernie Abernathy, no other credits) is a humorously clueless oaf who barbecues hamburgers in the snow and keeps trying to convince his miserable family that this is a fun vacation. His teenage daughter and squeaky voiced son keep whining about not wanting to be there, and then he finds his wife (who doesn’t respond to his demands for her to bring him a beer) in the camper hiding under a blanket watching soap operas on a portable TV. The family try to convince him they should go to L.A., where it is sunny and fun and there are things to do, but he brushes the idea off in part because he says there are “winos” there.
They all get annoyed when another guy named Ben “Pop” Bromley (Tom Hamil, LADY AVENGER) drives up with his trailer. Dad tells him to find some other place. Pop says he understands, says he used to take his son Bernie here. Before “they took him to one of those big hospitals down state. Bernie was never the same after that.” Because of “nerves, Harry, just nerves.” He doesn’t mention that Bernie is in the trailer with a chain around his neck, a bag over his head and a strait jacket like a member of Slipknot. And then he lets him out and gives him an ax. As a young man apparently Bernie’s primary activity was chopping wood, but I guess you need different challenges in life so now he enjoys chopping people.
The acting level bumps up from home made regional horror to z-grade slasher when it moves on to the main story about a group of twenty-ish-somethings meeting up for “Wilderness Counselor” training. It’s clearly supposed to be like FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 and other sequels where the counselors are at the camp before the kids (because that would be fucked up for Jason to go after little kids). But they must not’ve been able to get a summer camp location with actual cabins, ’cause these counselors just stay in a few tents.
There’s alot of sexual harassment and showering that goes on here. Also there’s a mean boss named Regis (John Marzilli, PROJECT: METALBEAST) who seems to see himself as a drill sergeant. He has a girlfriend named Marcie (Ingrid Vold, TIME BARBARIANS) who dresses up in a camo bikini with facepaint and listens to “Ride of the Valkyries” while he’s out. He comes back thinking she’s going to ambush him. I am unclear whether this is a sex thing or just a military exercise. Whatever it is he finds her dead with her legs chopped off, and his limbs are next.
Bernie shows up with a vehicle and outfit stolen from a random victim, so he looks like a tough cowboy guy. He’s mistaken for a counselor who didn’t show up (the actual owner of the cowboy hat?) even though he doesn’t talk, just breathes. One of the guys is sure he’s “a nutcase” and “a maniac,” but Regis won’t kick him out.
He acts like a totally different guy when he’s wearing civilian clothes. Maybe he just gets into character as this cowboy guy.
Again like FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 there’s a scene where a character tells the backstory of the killer as a scary campfire story. Weirdly, it happens about 54 minutes in. Then various indistinguishable characters start fucking in sleeping bags only to end up Feeling the Bern. There’s a little bit of gore, mostly along the lines of Bernie swings ax / rubber arm, leg or head falls to ground. In one scene a woman goes to use the shower “while there’s still hot water,” and (as in HALLOWEEN II) Bernie is somehow able to turn the heat up so high it instantly scalds her face.
Harry, that dad in the opening, kept calling Pop Bromley “just some harmless old guy,” and when the cops find his corpse they also call him “just some old guy.” There’s one cop that I guess is supposed to be kind of a Loomis figure, because he’s the only one who recognizes that “Bernie is back.” Apologies to the actor, but his performance is humorously self conscious, pointing or waving with every line, like he just found out you can use hand gestures.
For such a low functioning individual Bernie does turn out to be pretty creative. Toward the end the cop comes across a campfire singalong of “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” but it turns out to be a tape deck playing while a bunch of dead bodies tied together are puppeteered to sway back and forth.
Blake Gibbons, who plays Bernie, had already worked with Quentin Tarantino at this point. No joke. They both played Elvis impersonators in an episode of Golden Girls. He’s still a working actor today, mostly in TV. He’s been on episodes of CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, CSI: Regular, NCIS: Los Angeles, you name it. If it has a C an I and an S in it he’s probly been on it. Also The Young and the Restless and General Hospital.
Writer/director Michael S. O’Rourke helmed one other movie, DEADLY LOVE from 1987, for which IMDb has very little information. He also wrote HELLGATE starring Ron Palillo and RETURN TO JUSTICE starring Griffin O’Neal, James Ryan and Cameron Mitchell.
IMDb says this is a.k.a. CAMPER STAMPER, which is much cooler and more memorable I think, but I can’t find any evidence of it being released with that title.