Before Quentin Tarantino*˟ inspired us to run to the movie theatre with anything featuring his name on it — even if he didn’t directed it — there was John Carpenter. For Quentin, the films that took our coin were Natural Born Killers and True Romance. For John Carpenter, we laid the money down for Black Moon Rising and The Eyes of Laura Mars. And the thing about Tarantino and Carpenter: while we love their pens, it’s just not the same without them in the director’s chair. But when you write and direct a blockbuster and you’re churned into Hollywood’s flavor of the month, you end up selling a lot of those dust bunny-collecting screenplays sitting in the drawer. (Anyone want to read some of my dust bunnies? Yeah, didn’t think so. . . .)
In fact, the Roger Corman-founded New World Pictures made sure Carpenter’s name was front and center in the promotional materials to hook fans of Halloween and Escape from New York*. And toss in Carpenter’s pre-Halloween “modern western” homage Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) that became a cult classic courtesy of its incessant HBO replays in the backwash of Escapes’ success. Did we even care — or knew — that Harley Cokliss, who worked as a second unit director under Irvin Kershner on The Empire Strikes Back and directed New Zealand’s entry in the Max Max road rallies of the ’80s, Battletruck* (1982), directed Black Moon Rising? Nope. Not according to my copies of Starlog and Famous Monsters.
For the Snake Plissken-esque anti-hero of this high-tech crime caper, embodied by Sam Quint, the job was given to the always welcomed and never-not-awesome Tommy Lee Jones, who came into his own as an A-List, major-studio leading man with memorable roles in Jackson County Jail (1976), Rolling Thunder (1977), and Carpenter’s The Eyes of Laura Mars (again; didn’t direct it, natch; the aforementioned Irvin Kershner did). And it’s important to note that, in the same year Black Moon was released, Jones also starred in one of the greatest HBO-exclusive movies of all time, the Canadian-produced Rambo-inversion, This Park Is Mine.
We all know the story behind Escape from New York as it relates to Tommy Lee Jones, right? After blowing the roof off of theatres in 1978 with his Italian Giallo homage (check out our “Exploring: Giallo” featurette) Halloween, Carpenter had the clout to get his long-gestating passion project made (that he tried to get made even before 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13) about a Clint Eastwood-esque anti-hero’s adventures in a futuristic “Wild West” New York. (If Carpenter had gotten it made in the early ’70s during Clint’s “Dirty Harry” days . . . Eastwood going “Charlton Heston” in a post-apoc flick? Damn. I’d see that movie!)
At the time, Carpenter has just worked with Kurt Russell, who starred as “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” in the 1979 TV movie, Elvis. Carpenter wanted Russell in the lead. Avco Embassy, who initially wanted the admittedly cool-for-the-role-but-too-old Charles Bronson (sorry, Charlie), dug in their collective heels with Tommy Lee Jones (who would have owned Plissken!). Carpenter won the casting war. And Jones ended up being cast as Carpenter’s Plissken-lite, Sam Quint.
In a June 2016 radio interview with Justin Beahm, Carpenter explained that he wrote Black Moon Rising around the time he made Escape from New York (which is why we “see” Snake in Mr. Quint’s squint) as a “my car is stolen and I’m going to get it back” story. And he added that he had “never seen the final film.” And if it all sounds too familiar, like Corvette Summer (1978) familiar, you know Mark Hamill’s first post-Star Wars movie, itself a “my car is stolen and I’m going to get it back” story — without the sci-fi trappings and F.B.I tomfoolery — it probably is. . . . And if the plot of Black Moon Rising sounds familiar, like The Fast and the Furious (franchise) familiar, then it probably is. . . .
Sam Quint is a reformed thief hired by the Feds to steal a computer disc (what’s that?) that holds incriminating evidence against a corrupt Las Vegas-based corporation. After the theft, Quint’s on the run from Marvin Ringer (Lee Ving of Fear; The Decline of Western Civilization), his psycho-former partner, who wants the disc back. But, alas . . . during the course of the chase, Quint stashes the disc inside The Black Moon, a prototype supercar that exceeds speeds of 300 miles per hour — on tap water. (I know, right: the ol’ water-as-fuel sci-fi trope, again. Hey, Keanu! Hey, Val!) Then steps in master car thief Nina (Linda Hamilton in her first post-The Terminator* role), who steals the oh, so The Wraith (1986) sci-fi wagon for stolen car syndicate mogul Ed Ryland (the so-awesome Robert Vaughn as Proteus IV in Demon Seed, and yes . . . we even sat through Starship Invasions, The Lucifer Complex, Hangar 18, and the terminally goofy Battle Beyond the Stars for our Vaughn fixes). Now Quint has to break into The Ryland Towers (thus, the car-busting-through-the-glass-tower artwork of the theatrical one-sheet), where its offices’ operate Ryland’s “legit” businesses — along with a high-tech and high-volume chop shop in the basement-garage bowels.
Of course, the reason we’re writing about this forgotten entry in the John Carpenter canons — in addition to its “Fast and Furiousness,” and the fact that the fine folks at Kino Lorber reissued the film on Blu-ray (a 2K restoration from the original 35 MM interpositives) last May — is because of the 1980 Wingho Concordia II designed by Bernard Beaujardins and Clyde Kwok used in the film. Since only one was made, it was filmed for exterior stunts. Two cast cast-mold copies were made for stunts and interior shots.
The cinematographer behind Harley Cokliss’s vision of John Carpenter’s script is Russian-born Misha Suslov, who lensed the hicksploitation classics (yes, they are classics in the analog hearts of the B&S crew!) Smokey and the Judge and Truckin’ Buddy McCoy**, along with Mark L. Lester’s Public Enemies (with Eric Roberts!), and the “dark” Christmas romp, Prancer. While we lost our inner Suslov-ness over the years, we were happy to discover Suslov is still keepin’ the eye-in-the-glass with the 2020 country-romance The Girls of Summer.
* Be sure to check out our full list of reviews from our “Apoc Month” blowout of post-apocalyptic ditties from the ’70s and ’80s with our two-part “Atomic Dust Bin” round-ups.
** You need more redneck ragin’ hicksploitation? Then check out our homage to the genre with our “The Top 70 Good Ol’ Boys Film List: 1972 to 1986” featurette.
*˟ You can catch up with all of Quentin Tarantino’s films with our “Exploring: The 8 Films of Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures” featurette — complete with links to our July 2019 reviews of his films.