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In a way, it’s a real shame that we don’t live in an actual world where the vengeful spirits of murdered innocents, are able to wreak supernatural havoc upon those that killed them. It’d probably put a hell of a dent in crime figures, and be a great deterrent for acts of violence. Luckily for fans of poetic justice (and scary movies) it’s not uncommon for it to regularly happen in the world of genre. This brings us to “Cold Moon”, which is based on the chilling Michael McDowell 1980 novel “Cold Moon over Babylon”. The late McDowell was also the screenwriter of “Beetlejuice” and “The Nightmare before Christmas”, and had Stephen King as a vocal supporter of his work. It’s directed by Griff Furst, an actor and filmmaker who’s previously brought films like “Lake Placid 3” and “Ghost Shark” to the screen. Included in the cast is; Christopher Lloyd (fast becoming a figurehead for genre Indie productions), Candy Clark, and Josh Stewart (soon to be seen in “Insidious: The Last Key”). It did the festival circuit during 2016 (including Frightfest’s Halloween event), but is now only just getting a US theatrical and VOD release on the 6th October. So YGROY watches the skies for some ghostly retribution…

It’s 1989 in the small town of Babylon, Florida, and things aren’t going well on the blueberry farm owned by Evelyn Larkin (Clark). The crops are failing despite the efforts of grandson Jerry (Chester Rushing) and granddaughter Margaret (Sara Catherine Bellamy). But this is all forgotten when 16 year-old Margaret disappears whilst out riding her bike. Unbeknownst to her family, she has been brutally attacked by a masked figure on a nearby bridge and thrown into the creek below, where she’s tied to her bike in the muddy river and left to rot. The corpse is eventually discovered and Evelyn is devastated, blaming a local figure for the tragedy. But as a spectral figure rises from the water, and secret sins within the town are revealed, somebody will have to pay for the evil crimes they have committed…

There’s a pleasingly watchable quality about “Moon”, and it’s certainly not your run-of-the-mill ghost story or spooky whodunnit. Whilst it starts like a particularly brutal version of “Murder, She Wrote” or “Midsomer Murders”, it changes abrupt gear at a certain point in the plot and becomes a more vicious version of “Columbo”. Not that any of those detective shows had a creepy-ass ghost with a snake in their mouth of course… but you get the idea. It transitions a crime mystery with character studies of some loathsome individuals, and bolts on some appropriately angry spectres. And it just about works.

The quaint small-town politics and Southern-comfort attitudes, jostle with some surprisingly nasty murders and cold-blooded actions. Sometimes it does jar a little; on one hand we have the slightly naïve (but good-natured) sheriff bumbling through the investigation, and on the other we have a cold-hearted killer that strangles a girl and then decapitates someone else! But it makes for an unusual and atypical genre film. It also allows for some chilling images like the sight of a drowned victim, glassy-eyed and having a water-snake enter her open mouth.

Two things work particularly well. When the film goes full American Gothic, it really works. There are some great moments like; coffins literally exploding from the ground, the drowning victim levitating slowly from the river, and best of all is the wonderfully surreal sight of a dead girl riding a totally invisible bicycle. There are also some nice sequences of suspense such as barely glimpsed figures, and the bedraggled girl waiting in the bank queue. Sometimes it does push it a little too far into ridiculous territory. The moment when a human-headed serpent arrives, you can’t help but be reminded of “Beetlejuice”, and at its weakest points the plot does seem like a (VERY) mean-spirited version of that movie but seen solely from the living’s perspective.

The second thing that works well are the later scenes that provides a truly damning study of a loathsome character, as we gradually see everything from their POV. It helps to make the ongoing haunting and otherworldly persecution of the individual especially satisfying, although the supernatural force in question doesn’t seem to mind the odd bit of collateral damage. It does make for a neat denouement though, and an appropriately grim final detail.

The film also benefits from some nicely judged performances from Clark, Stewart, and Lloyd (whose career path seems to be following that of Boris Karloff in his later years). You’ll even see “The Room” creator Tommy Wiseau in a (probably thankfully) wordless cameo. It also has some very nice cinematography and an excellent score which makes it feel like a larger-budgeted film. The SFX are mostly pretty good with the hollow-eyed spooks and apparitions, apart from the occasional dodgy bit of CGI. It’s hard to produce decent-looking ghosts these days when audiences are so used to being scared silly by umpteen studio horrors, but these will do the trick nicely … especially during the dastardly end sequence.

One thing that niggles about the story (and this applies to all ghostly vengeance films really) is why supernatural vigilantes spend so much time pissing about with weak scare tactics, when they are obviously capable of providing more “stopping power”. It might seem churlish to aim that particular criticism at any one film, but in this case it feels especially appropriate. Damage limitation comes to mind. The various changes in tone and narrative focus might put a few people off as well, as will the characteristics and actions of a few of the people in the story, some of which have seemingly changed from the book itself.

But as far as an offbeat horror drama goes, this is very watchable and pretty engaging. It doesn’t necessarily follow the tropes and rules you might expect, and the switches between character study and out-and-out genre is quite atypical. It’s actually reminiscent of the recent “I am not a Serial Killer”, which of course also starred Lloyd. So fans of that might like to check this out as well. All in all, a pleasant little surprise that might win a few fans.

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