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John’s Horror Corner: Moontrap (1989), a killer robot Sci-Horror rich with gorgeous spacescapes starring Bruce Campbell.

March 7, 2020

MY CALL: Overall a fun 80s Sci-Horror flick boasting wonderful setting, spaceships and background design. The horror and gore fall quite short of our hopes and the action is laughably boring, but still a good movie for its other great qualities. MORE MOVIES LIKE Moontrap: For more robots behaving badly, maybe try Virus (1999), Screamers (1995), Nemesis (1992), Hardware (1990), Class of 1999 (1990), Deadly Friend (1986), Chopping Mall (1986) and Demon Seed (1977).

During a moon mission, astronauts Grant (Walter Koenig; Star Trek, Babylon 5) and Ray (Bruce Campbell; The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, Escape from LA) stumble across a huge alien spacecraft and recover an egg-like object and a 14,000 year-old desiccated human body. Naturally, they bring them back to Earth and examine them with no measures of quarantine.

From the spaceships to the macabre space cadaver, the special effects start out strong. There’s the cute little alien egg-pod-robot which swiftly gets to work scavenging laboratory machinery to assemble a cursory but very dangerous humanoid body that results in a rather boring NASA gunfight with a rather magnificent evil robot centerpiece.

To investigate the origins of this extraterrestrial robot, Grant and Ray are sent back into space where they encounter a stronghold on the dark side of the moon and find a “human” woman (Leigh Lombardi) in some sort of cryo-stasis. Our astronauts find that the “alien woman” speaks an alien language, and there are yet more man-killing robots hunting them down on the moon’s surface.

We see a lot of the robot creatures in many scenes—which is a big plus. But the action (i.e., the robot fights) is really weak, not doing justice to the special effects. Every fight seems the same; and equally uneventful. It’s just… let those actions scenes be 10-15 seconds instead of action movie level 180 seconds (but with nothing happening). I wish this movie worked more on shock value (i.e., horror tactics) than trying to be an action movie.

Despite my strong criticism, this movie’s good qualities struck way above expectations for the best thanks to director Robert Dyke (Moontrap: Target Earth) and crew. Sets, ships, artistic design, story, basic visual concepts… all were either great for the budget, or good for Sci-Horror in general. The moonscapes and structures were especially innovative. Also redeeming the lousy action are all the spaceship interior scenes—they were awesome. A lot of Sci-Fi vision crafted this film, with imagery and plot devices that may remind viewers of Planet of the Vampires (1965), Alien (1979) and Lifeforce (1985).

Overall a fun 80s Sci-Horror flick that finds its greatest success in setting, spaceships and background design. It doesn’t quite hit the desired mark for horror or gore, but it remains a satisfying watch.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. rdfranciswriter permalink
    March 7, 2020 1:35 pm

    Excellent review. All of the films you crossreference are spot on.

    This played on U.S TV in the early ’90s as part of a “Moon” syndication package for UHF-TV stations. The other two movies that aired in the block were Roland Emmerich’s Moon 44 and Carey and Chad Hayes’s (The Conjuring, McClane) debut writing effort, The Dark Side of the Moon.

    As you point out, this film was up against a low budget and in spite, they did a really great job. Personally, I’ve only watched the bigger budgeted Virus once . . . and forgot about it. Moontrap, I’ve revisited several times over the years.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      March 7, 2020 1:44 pm

      Thanks for the kind comment.

      Virus and Moontrap, if magically combined, would create a PERFECT killer robot-cyborg film. Virus captured none of the scale and setting, but absolutely nailed the kitschy gross elaborate macabre theme of using spare parts (both mechanical and human cadaver) to craft an electric stitchwork horror. Also, the horror action cultivated dire urgency. Whereas Moontrap did a solid job (especially for its time) with the human + spare parts robot and totally dropped the ball on dire urgency and horror, it mastercrafted the scale of its world in the spirit of the aforementioned Sci-Horror classics. Imagine if the best of both fell into the hands of a Dr. Frankenstein filmmaker. Then you’d have the epic Lifeforce of killer robot films.

      • rdfranciswriter permalink
        March 7, 2020 2:06 pm

        Yes. There’s big budget Virus-Moontrap-Lifeforce hybrid remake to be done!

    • John Leavengood permalink
      March 7, 2020 2:09 pm

      I’d mortgage my house to support that film!

  2. March 7, 2020 6:04 pm

    Loved this one.

    They did a sequel a couple of years ago that was a huge disappointment

    • John Leavengood permalink
      March 7, 2020 10:28 pm

      Yeah, just reading the synopsis and seeing the jpegs on IMDB… I kind of have no desire to see it. smh

    • John Leavengood permalink
      March 7, 2020 10:28 pm

      So… to be clear… no redeeming qualities in the recent sequel?

      • March 7, 2020 10:41 pm

        The effects were worse than the original. That’s about all I even remember about it


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