An eccentric mix of veteran actors, Southern Gothicism and neo-noir lends “Cold Moon” a certain charm as a ghostly revenge thriller. This handsome-looking potboiler is well-crafted on various planes, even if telepic and direct-to-video helmer Griff Furst’s mostly game-upping latest feature is also occasionally at tonal odds with the screenplay’s campier “Creepshow”-type horror aspects. Nonetheless, as guilty pleasures go, this one rates a solid B.
Orphaned Jerry Larkin (Chester Rushing) is a sober-minded youth attentive to the financial plight of grandmother Evelyn (Candy Clark) and their family’s Florida blueberry farm — in contrast to high-spirited sister Margaret (Sara Catherine Bellamy). Galavanting around on her bicycle long past when she’s due home, Margaret is attacked by a mysterious, hearse-driving figure on her belated return. He throws her over a bridge, then leaps over himself to ensure she drowns. Afterward, a coroner discovers the 16-year-old was four months pregnant.
This merely kickstarts a lurid narrative in which some of the folks we expect to be our main protagonists barely survive past the first act. Local child-of-privilege sociopath Nathan Redfield (Josh Stewart) turns out to be the main menace here, and he’s well-deserving of the supernatural payback he gets.
That last element renders “Cold Moon” increasingly silly, but no less entertaining. Dead Margaret appears to become empowered by a vengeful snake-spirit. Other primary characters include Nathan’s awful bankster father (Christopher Lloyd), his naive teenage brother (Robbie A. Kay), and the African-American schoolteacher (Marcus Lyle Brown) Nathan tries to frame for his crimes. There’s also a well-intentioned local sheriff (Frank Whaley) and his sexy daughter (Rachele Brooke Smith), who also has dangerous ties to Nathan.
Ultimately at least as much a portrait of noir psychopathy a la “The Killer Inside Me” as it is a supernatural thriller, “Cold Moon” is goofy, but juicy. It looks fine in Thomas L. Callaway’s widescreen photography, with Louisiana standing in for the Babylon, Fla., setting of co-scenarist Michael McDowell’s source novel. All other design contributions are nicely turned, beyond some iffy CGI. (And why include yet another familiar clip from Romero’s original “Night of the Living Dead”? That movie’s public-domain status has been milked to death already.)
The performers are impressively committed, though they run a gamut: The principals are fine while some older, name actors occasionally go over-the-top. “The Room’s” Tommy Wiseau barely figures in a nonetheless-distracting early cameo as a rodeo snake-charmer. Do rodeos have snake-charmers? Probably not, but then exceptions must always be made for the strikingly inexplicable Mr. Wiseau, who seems like a UFO no matter what context he’s dropped into.