CHILLING CLASSICS MONTH: Track of the Moon Beast (1972)

This entry was written by Bill Van Ryn, who is the creative force behind the website Groovy Doom and the zine Drive-In Asylum. Somehow, he’s tackled nearly every yeti related film on this box set. Thanks, Bill!

Filmed in 1972, Track of the Moon Beast never received any significant theatrical distribution. It sat shelved for years after completion, and IMDB claims it premiered June 1, 1976, but I’ll be damned if I can find an ad for any theatrical engagements in any newspaper archive.  The first appearances I can document are when it came to TV in 1978, and after that it was a frequent item on local stations desperate to fill their late night slots. Even though the film takes place in the early 1970s (a fact that the fashion and decor will never let you forget), the plot for this is straight out of classic 1950s science fiction.

A young man named Paul (Chase Cordell) is struck by a tiny shard from a falling meteorite from the moon. The shard has embedded itself in his head, and for some reason this causes him to transform into a rampaging lizard monster whenever the moon rises.  He happens to be friends with a local professor who connects this bizarre turn of events with an ancient Native American legend, although nobody can stop Paul’s deadly transformations.

Track of the Moon Beast boasts an interesting creature design by Rick Baker and Joe Blasco, about on the level with Baker’s monster suit work for 1971’s Octaman. It’s a throwback ‘man in a suit’ monster movie, and the majority of the film is just total camp. Even its most ridiculous moments are played with a serious tone, and the experience of watching the limited actors devour the absurd script makes it an easy target for riff trackers, both professional and amateur.

There is one scene in the film that I found extremely effective: after Paul transforms for the first time, we see an older man and his wife who are in the middle of a fight. The wife is angry and has locked the drunken man outside, threatening to go to bed and leave him out there all night. They are ridiculous caricatures, and we know he’s going to be attacked by the Moon Beast, but the film presents it in an unexpected way, focusing on the wife’s stunned look of horror as she hears the sounds of it attacking and killing her husband just outside their front door.  The camera pans from her frozen face to a large pool of blood that has started to seep under the door, and for a few moments the film actually seems capable of something.

Although it never lives up to that moment again, Track of the Moon Beast probably would have ended up with a better reputation if it had just been a little more lighthearted. The nihilistic aspects of the story are a real bummer, made even worse by the fact that there is actually some real chemistry between Chase Cordell and Leigh Drake, who plays Paul’s girlfriend Kathy.  It’s almost by accident, but they do seem very natural together, and Kathy of course is about to find out the cruel truth that every girl who ever dated a werewolf could have told her: there’s no future when you fall in love with a man who transforms under the moon. There’s a scene where Paul and Kathy overhear a doctor in an adjacent room casually discussing the fact that Paul’s condition is hopeless and he is doomed to die. Although the film veers off into a ludicrous climax at this point, it’s hard to shake the fact that a man is given a medical death sentence on screen and runs off into the desert with intentions of suicide. The fact that he turns into a man-lizard and disappears in a supposed shower of cosmic rays might make you smile, but you’ll either be asleep or seriously bummed out when it’s all over. I couldn’t blame you either way.

Don’t have the Chilling Classics box set? You can watch this for free with an Amazon Prime subscription.

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