Back in the ‘80s, Steven Spielberg and his acolytes mined sci-fi and fantasy to make family-friendly features. There were chills, thrills and everyone went home happy. In another corner of the cinema worked guys like George A. Romero. The original zombie king was churning out flicks like Monkey Shines and Creepshow, weirder horror movies that used sci-fi and fantasy conventions to either scare the snot out of you or make you laugh. This prologue pertains to Cold Moon because it is to Romero what Stranger Things is to Spielberg with the addendum that the latter is higher quality entertainment. Cold Moon plays more like an episode of Tales from the Crypt that got away from its makers for an hour longer than its 30-minute time run time.

Set in a small Florida burg in 1989, the story unfolds like a crossover between two universes you’ve never heard of: There’s the Southern Gothic ghost story and the serial killer character study. While that premise sounds ripe with potential, the execution is less intriguing. It begins with the murder of Maggie Larkin (Sara Catherine Bellamy) on a bridge by the aforementioned serial killer. The murderer is never designated as a serial killer, but he wears S&M gear that covers his face, a black trench coat and drives a hearse in a non-professional capacity. When his identity is revealed later on, there’s the unmistakable feeling that he’s done this before and will do so again in the movie.

Unmasking the killer is necessary for this review. It is a spoiler but not a crime against cinema like spoiling the end of The Sixth Sense. So here it comes.

The killer is Nathan Redfield (Josh Stewart), the new president of the bank and alcoholic heir to James Redfield’s (Christopher Lloyd) fortune. Young Maggie was only 16 and a target of Nathan, whose many charms include sexual predator. He gets her pregnant, she refuses to abort, so Nathan throws her off the bridge that leads to the Larkin family orchard. In his dual role as financial predator, the Larkins are behind on their mortgage and Nathan wants to repossess their land. An energy company believes there’s oil beneath the Larkin’s blueberry bushes and Nathan wants that money. It isn’t long before the hearse is gassed up and the leatherette is shined for a mission to take out dear old Evelyn Larkin (Candy Clark) and her grandson, Jerry (Chester Rushing). The only thing standing between Nathan and total victory is the ghost of Maggie Larkin, brought back to this earthly plane by a swamp serpent of revenge.

Co-written by Jack Snyder and Griff Furst and directed by Furst, Cold Moon is a perfunctory exercise at best. It feels like a good movie exists somewhere among the poor performances, odd directorial choices and erratic editing, but that may simply be rationalizing lost time. The film is at it’s strongest when focused on the haunting of Nathan. To call the ghost of Maggie Larkin an homage to the monster from The Ring would be a kindness, but her attacks on her murderer provide the movie with some much-needed energy. These scenes also highlight Josh Stewart, who plays Nathan like the kind of rich kid who read “The Most Dangerous Game” and understood it as a guide for living. At points he garners sympathy for the all-around bad person he is, thereby giving the film’s greatest performance.

The rest of the cast is middling. Frank Whaley plays the small-town sheriff, showing audiences and casting agents that time has grooved weariness into his boyish good looks. Having watched Christopher Lloyd in two recent low budget horror movies it is reasonable to wonder if he’s just doing people favors now or taking on the bare minimum required to maintain his SAG benefits. The rest of the cast lacks either the talent or experience needed to elevate the material; they may be trying but you really can’t tell.

They say nobody sets out to make a bad movie, and that may be true. But if the goal is to put your influences on display, know what made them great in the first place. Movies like Creepshow endure because they were fun, inventive and over-the-top. To the unending sorrow of its viewers, Cold Moon has none of those qualities.

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