Track of the Moon Beast is a horror movie about a somewhat boring minerology grad student named Paul, who becomes slightly less boring when he's struck by a radioactive fragment of moon rock during a meteor shower, causing him to transform into a lizard monster when under the light of the moon, because of something about Native American gods.
Hoping to save Paul are his Love Interest Kathy and fellow professor and Magical Native American Johnny Longbow. Hoping to save the movie is an out-of-place musical performance of a song called "California Lady." Can either of them succeed? Probably not.
Moon Beast was one of numerous '70s low budget horror movies created by regional filmmakers. In this case, it was filmed on location in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico by director Richard Ashe (credited as Dick Ashe) in his only directorial effort, with a cast made up largely of local performers. The screenplay was cowritten by Bill Finger, one of the creators of Batman, and Charles Sinclair, who claimed that he and Finger wrote the whole thing over a weekend (which, based on the film itself, is not hard to believe). Moon Beast was shot in the summer of 1972 but wasn't released for almost four years, due to the producers failing to secure a distributor before filming concluded.
See also Werewolf (1996), another movie set in the American Southwest about a boring guy named Paul who turns into some kind of were-beast while a supporting character makes confusing references to Count Dracula.
Tropes present in this film:
- Artistic License – Biology: The picture of the T. Rex in the biologist's office wouldn't convince a 4-year-old. Besides its "classic pear shape," it appears to have human hands complete with four fingers.
- Artistic License – Nuclear Physics: Everything surrounding the "explanation" of the radiation from the meteor, mixed in with some Artistic License – Space.
- Artistic License – Paleontology: It's claimed that the closest living relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex is the Komodo dragon. It's not. In fact, literally the only thing linking them together is the fact that both are reptilesnote — beyond that, they couldn't be any more different.
- Basement-Dweller: Paul lives with his mother at age 24, and Kathy feels he's a very lonely man, his clear friendship with Johnny Longbow notwithstanding. That said, while living at home in your 20s was unusual in the '70s, Paul is a graduate student and likely doesn't have a lot of money.
- Better to Die than Be Killed: Paul realizes that not only does he become an uncontrollable lizard, but also that the meteor fragment that transforms him will eventually kill him, he tries to kill himself presumably in the hope of Dying as Himself.
- Big "NO!": Kathy shrieks it when she realizes Paul's fate is inevitable.
- Captain Obvious: Paul explaining the meaning of Johnny Longbow's Native American name. Because Kathy has to have it explained to her what a longbow is.Paul: It translates... "warrior's bow, which reaches long to its mark."
- Chekhov's Skill: Johnny's archery skills.
- Covers Always Lie: The monster in the picture in this entry is MUCH more impressive-looking than the one in the actual movie.
- Don't Explain the Joke: After Longbow and his students play a prank on Paul at the movie's start, Kathy goes on to explain the prank and how they came up with it in excruciating detail. She even starts describing his reaction to the prank. Inaccurately.
- Downer Ending: The movie is essentially Paul deteriorating before being Driven to Suicide and doesn't even get to die as himself.
- Dull Surprise:
- "Moon rock? Oh, wow."
- Also, the prank, in which Johnny Longbow's students surprise Paul with a mask and a loud scream. From their excruciatingly drawn out explanation and apologies about how they "got more of a reaction than [they] bargained for" you'd think he must have had some sort of epic freak-out. His actual response? Mild confusion.
- Dying as Yourself: When he finds out that he not only turns into a murderous lizard man, but he's going to burn up and die in due time anyway, Paul tries to find several ways to kill himself. He fails each time and ultimately dies as a murderous lizard man.
- Failed a Spot Check: A pair of cops obligingly just keep staring in the exact opposite direction from where Paul is sneaking up on them.
- Fan Disservice: A good look at the drunken bowler's asscheeks.
- Fanservice: Say what you want about Paul, but he's got a great body. He spends roughly 1/3 of his screentime topless. Kathy's fondness for tiny shorts and skirts provides a little fanservice in the other direction.
- Imagine Spot: Paul has a fantasy of getting into the mountain lift and jumping out of it while it's in the air.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Johnny Longbow; heck, his name comes from the fact he's an excellent archer. Becomes Chekhov's Skill at the climax.
- Incredibly Lame Fun: Possibly even in-universe, as Johnny, Kathy, and Bud are utterly delighted with their practical joke on Paul, which got no reaction from him other than a mild look of puzzlement. They even explain the whole thing, as if "brandishing a mask while yelling" is far too complicated and clever for Paul to understand otherwise.
- Insistent Terminology: For some reason Johnny and others repeatedly call Paul's werelizard form a "demon lizard monster," in those exact words, throughout the second half of the story.
- Large Ham:
- Johnny is maybe slightly softer-spoken than your average ham, but he still has his occasional moments of Chewing the Scenery.
- PAUL IS NOT PAUL ANYMORE!!!
- Leitmotif: The stereotypical theme for Johnny Longbow.
- Lizard Folk: Paul becomes one.
- Made of Iron: Paul jumps off a ski lift, plummets several stories, falls on rocky ground, and inexplicably comes out no worse for wear. Actually averted. It was an Imagine Spot with him considering doing so.
- Magical Native American: Johnny Longbow is a downplayed example of this trope. While he displays the usual fascination with Native legends and obligatory archery skills, he's also a respected professor of anthropology In-Universe and stays strictly on the scientific explanation of Paul's transformation. He is reluctant to believe a supernatural explanation as he initially thinks that the meteor gave Paul a concussion that requires medical care. He also notes that old Native American legends he describes are probably based on a similar occurrence of a meteor fragment in the past.
- Mister Exposition: Longbow, especially his endless lecture on the Indian legend late in the film.
- Monster Misogyny: Surprisingly averted; the only woman that dies over the course of the film dies of fright in a non-exploitative fashion. The monster's preference for male victims is unusual for low-budget horror.
- Newscaster Cameo: Gary Kanin, then the news anchor for Albuquerque's KOB TV, appears in a few scenes as...Gary Kanin, news anchor for KOB TV.
- Not That Kind of Doctor: Discussed. The local sheriff calls Johnny Longbow to help him investigate a crime scene, even though (as Johnny notes) he's an anthropologist. Johnny does recognize the track left behind by the killer, though only because he saw it at a local museum.
- Nuclear Mutant: A radioactive meteorite fragment reacts with leftover lizard DNA from when Native American gods created mankind to turn Paul into a lizard creature. Or something.
- Offscreen Teleportation: Upset at the idea of Paul no longer being human, Kathy drives off to find him, leaving Johnny Longbow and the police behind with their cruiser as they watch. In the next scene, Kathy drives off of the road, parks the car, and finds Paul standing in front of her — and Johnny is immediately there to fire his meteorite-tipped arrow at him. The police he was with drive up to the scene a moment later. Maybe Johnny is more than he appears...
- Our Werebeasts Are Different: The basic concept is there — exposure to the Moon causing a person to change into a half-beast. The explanation of how and why, however, is... bizarre, involving Native American deities, radiation, and a gross misunderstanding of biology.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Credit where it's due — even if he is a condescending jerk, when confronted with a murder involving clues he doesn't understand, the police captain immediately goes to a trusted authority for assistance, and is willing to listen to theories involving Native American legends that even Johnny Longbow admits are pretty fantastic.
- Reckless Gun Usage: At the climax, when Cathy starts screaming, the police just fire into the darkness in random directions.note
- Rotating Protagonist: Johnny Longbow becomes our hero by default once Paul turns into a lizard.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: So after all this it turns out Paul can't be cured, and he dies. The end!
- Shout-Out: The drunken bowler's murder on his own doorstep is a homage to The Leopard Man.
- Sinister Southwest: Scary supernatural goings-on in and around Albuquerque!
- What Happened to the Mouse?:
- Johnny's students Budd and Janet, who seem like major characters in the first few scenes but turn out to have little role in the story. In the MST3K cut they completely vanish after the first act; in the unedited version they do feature in a later scene where they and Johnny examine some of Kathy's photographs but are still nowhere to be found at the climax.
- Paul's pet lizard Ty. We're shown a shot of its cage busted open after Paul's first rampage, but it's unclear whether the lizard escaped, Paul killed it, Paul absorbed it, or if it's a poorly handled Red Herring. Even when Johnny notices the lizard's disappearance he doesn't treat it as important, even though his paleontologist friend had just told him that the creature's tracks resemble a Komodo dragon.
"Moon rock? Oh, wow."