It’s difficult to talk about Black Moon Rising without mentioning John Carpenter. There were a number of low budget B-Movies in the 80s that tried to emulate the director’s style, although this one has a better pedigree than most because the screenplay was written by Carpenter, and the whole feel of the film is clearly influenced by him, with laconic dialogue straight out of Escape From New York. You would think this would be enough to insure its status as a cult classic, and while director Harley Cokeliss gives it a good old go, there isn’t really enough substance here to make it stand out on its own.
Tommy Lee Jones plays Sam Quint, a mercenary hired to steal a computer disc for the government. Pursued by gangsters, he hides the disc in a prototype new car – The Black Moon. The car is subsequently stolen by a syndicate of car thieves, led by the sinister Ryland (Robert Vaughn) and Quint must forge allegiances to retrieve the disc and the Black Moon.
The impressive cinematography has a nice blue tint and looks really crisp, especially on this new Blu-ray transfer, recalling Walter Hill’s The Driver and Michael Mann‘s Thief. Cokeliss’ direction never lets the pace lag and Lalo Schifrin’s synth score is great, again paying homage to Carpenter. Jones gives a wry, knowing performance as Quint – He’s not Snake Plissken however much the director wants him to be – but Jones seems to recognise this and struggles manfully to make the part distinct, but with only some success.
It doesn’t help that the chemistry between Jones and Linda Hamilton is virtually non-existent. Fresh from the success of Terminator, Hamilton is confident and charismatic in her role but the character is muddled from the outset. Her relationship with Vaughn is interesting but this subplot is discarded before the big finale. Vaughn himself gives a nuanced performance as the oily baddie, which also makes you wish he’d got more substantial villainous roles. The film also benefits from a veritable who’s who of character actors in supporting roles, including William Sanderson, Richard Jaeckel, Lee Ving and Keenan Wynn.
While Black Moon Rising has some memorable characters, played well enough by the seasoned cast, the plot itself is pretty derivative, resembling a low key, grittier version of Buckaroo Banzai. It’s also let down by the design of the Black Moon itself. It looks like a cross between Knightrider and one of the Thunderbirds. For a car of the future it’s clunky and looks like it’s made of cardboard. The editing is quite hit and miss too. While some set-pieces are polished and effective, others are messy and unclear. The entire ending is cut incredibly abruptly, which is a shame because the heist leading up to it is pretty tense and exciting.
Just because a film looks and sounds like a John Carpenter film, doesn’t make it one. Black Moon Rising has the same DNA as Carpenter’s films but lacks the personal touches that made his classics so iconic. It’s telling that this film was released 2 years after the Terminator but feels like it was made five years earlier. Part car-chase-actioner, part-heist, part-espionage thriller, this is an old-fashioned genre picture that can’t quite decide what it wants to be. It’s hokey and derivative, but never boring and undeniably fun.
Special Features include a commentary by Lee Gambin, an interview with Lalo Schifrin, a making of documentary, and a lot of material on John Carpenter, which seems unfair treatment of the film’s actual director! The best feature of all though is an interview with Cokeliss himself, who is incredibly likeable and a really engaging interviewee.
Black Moon Rising is available now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video, order here: https://amzn.to/2UrtCqt
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
- Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original 35mm interpositive
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- Uncompressed PCM 2.0 stereo audio and alternative 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
- New audio commentary by Lee Gambin, author of Show Me: The Making of Christine
- Black Moon Ascending, a new interview with director Harley Cokeliss
- Thief in The Night: Producing Black Moon Rising, a new interview with producer Douglas Curtis
- Sound of Speed: Composing Black Moon Rising, a new interview with composer Lalo Schifrin and film music historian Daniel Schweiger
- Carpenter’s Craft, a new video essay on co-writer John Carpenter’s screenwriting career by author and critic Troy Howarth
- Making Black Moon Rising, an archival documentary featuring behind the scenes footage and cast and crew interviews
- Alternative Hong Kong version scenes, a presentation of selected scenes from the Hong Kong theatrical version with a different score and sound effects
- Theatrical trailer and radio spots
- Alternative work print opening sequence
- Extensive image galleries
- Theatrical trailers, TV spots and radio spots
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Haunt Love