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Great Bad Movies: Moontrap (1988)
"For Fourteen Thousand Years... It WAITED"
The late '80s and early '90s were the golden age of the Direct To Video movie. The number of video-rental stores was exploding across America, and those stores constantly demanded fresh product to fill their shelves and feed the habits of movie addicts. Low-budget movie makers like A-Pix, Full Moon Studios, Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment, Empire Pictures, Republic Pictures (and many more) were more than happy to provide video stores with a steady flow of B-grade goodies, most of which skipped traditional theatrical distribution entirely and "premiered" directly on good ol' VHS tape. It was a great time to be alive, especially if you were a fan of cheap horror, sci-fi and action adventure movies!!
Lots of the one-rent wonders from this golden era were quickly (and justly) forgotten, but a number of them have gone on to become cult classics all these years later. Moontrap is one of those films. The enduring popularity of this late 80s video-store and cable TV favorite can be chalked up partially to its two leading men, both of whom have continued cult appeal - Walter "Chekhov" Koenig of "Star Trek" fame and Bruce "Evil Dead" Campbell - but also because it's simply a fun, entertaining, cheap-but-charming sci-fi/horror exercise. Fans have clamored for a DVD/Blu-Ray release of Moontrap for years and their patience was finally rewarded in late 2014. Even better, a long-delayed sequel, Moontrap: Target Earth, is currently in production with an eye towards a early 2017 release!!
"Moontrap" on Blu-Ray:
In Case You Missed the Original...
Moontrap begins with a quick flashback to the 1969 moon landing. As the astronauts descend onto the lunar surface, they're being watched by some sort of mechanical eyeball-looking thingy which pokes out from beneath the ground, then quickly retreats. From there we jump to the present day (well, the late '80s present day, anyway), where we meet space-shuttle astronauts Koenig and Campbell, who've been sent to intercept an unidentified craft in orbit around the Moon. When Koenig space-walks around the bizarre ship, he discovers a hole in the hull and after rooting around inside for a while, brings two items from it back to his shuttle: a mummified humanoid body and a strange metallic egg-like device of unknown origin. This, of course, will prove to be a spectacularly bad decision for everyone involved as the film goes on (cue ominous music).
Back on Earth, the mummy is determined to be 14,000 years old ("That predates history!" Koenig exclaims incredulously) and the purpose of the egg-like artifact is revealed when it cracks open and unleashes a tiny robotic creature - which begins scavenging random machine parts to make itself bigger until it's become a giant bad-ass killing machine. After Koenig and Campbell help destroy the thing, NASA quickly puts them back into a rocket and shoots'em back up to the Moon to find out if there are any more of those robotic thingies hiding out up there. Would you be surprised if I said there was indeed a secret base on the dark side of the Moon, crawling with those ancient robo-killers? I didn't think so. Moontrap's promising premise eventually slips into fairly standard shoot-em-up, blow-em-up silliness during its final reel, as you might expect, but at least it's a fun ride!
Trekkies will be in their glory during Moontrap but I get the feeling that Campbell fans might be disappointed, as Bruce doesn't get to do his trademark lunatic "Ash" shtick or "Burn Notice" snark here. He basically plays second banana to Koenig, who gets top billing because... well, duh, Star Trek, remember? Walter certainly seems to be enjoying himself getting to play the hero for once - I'm sure it was a nice change of pace for him to use his own voice instead of Chekhov's thick-as-Borscht faux-Russian accent! The origin and purpose of the mysterious robot killers is never fully explained (actually it's never really explained at all) but I have to give credit where credit's due, the critters are nicely rendered with charmingly old-school stop-motion special effects. Compared to many other straight-to-video sci-fi films that were released around the same time period, Moontrap still looks pretty good.
It occurred to me while watching Moontrap that its "alien machine intelligence from space" concept has been borrowed by several other higher-profile, bigger budget films in the years since Moontrap first made the rounds, most notably Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Jamie Lee Curtis' 1999 bomb Virus and the found-footage hit Apollo 18, to name just a few. It might be just coincidence, but I'd bet that the makers of these movies might have a vintage VHS copy of Moontrap on the shelf at home.
"Moontrap" (1989) trailer:
"For 25 MORE Years It Waited...for a SEQUEL!"
Naturally, the creators of Moontrap - writer Tex Ragsdale and director Robert Dyke - had always intended their film to be the first in a series. Unfortunately the opportunity to do a follow up didn't present itself till fairly recently. In 2011 the pair launched an online crowd-funding campaign to try to raise money for a Moontrap 2 graphic novel, which they hoped would then provide the springboard into a second film, but it was cancelled due to lack of interest.
For years, the only way to see Moontrap was to pay premium prices for used VHS copies on eBay or sit through scratchy, poor quality dubs on YouTube... but in 2014, the film's long dormant cult following got a double barrelled shot of good news: the long-out-of-print original film was finally getting a way overdue DVD/Blu-Ray release (with bonus interviews with Koenig and Campbell!) through Olive Films. Even better, Ragsdale and Dyke announced that they had officially begun production on the equally overdue Moontrap sequel! The second film will be titled Moontrap: Target Earth and its official Facebook page gives us this synopsis of the film's storyline:
"Moontrap: Target Earth deals with the discovery of an ancient spacecraft on Earth, left behind by an advanced human civilization, now lost in the distant past. A young woman studying the ship suddenly finds herself transported to the Moon, to confront the gigantic machines that guard the secrets of those long-ago lunar voyagers."
Campbell and Koenig are apparently not involved in the sequel (dang!), whose biggest name cast member is veteran character actor Charles Shaughnessy (of The Nanny and Days Of Our Lives fame). Shaughnessy will play "Richard Kontral," the villain of the film, while Sarah Butler will play "Scout," whose investigation into the mysterious alien spacecraft will take her back to the Moon to meet its machine overlords. Sarah Butler's biggest role to date was in the 2010 remake of I Spit On Your Grave, and she's also appeared on TV's Castle and CSI: NY.
The official Facebook page for Moontrap: Target Earth announced that the film will be released on DVD via Sony Home Entertainment on February 7, 2017. Let's hope it stacks up well against the ultra-cool original after such a long wait!!