The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - BLACK MOON RISING (1986) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - BLACK MOON RISING (1986)

black moon rising review
A pair of thieves team up to steal a prototype car.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Harley Cokeliss

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Robert Vaughn, Richard Jaeckel, Lee Ving

black moon rising blu-ray

There's a lot of nostalgia for the 1980s kicking around pop culture circles lately. With its souped techno-car, a Lalo Schifrin synth score, Robert Vaughn playing a wealthy asshole and Tommy Lee Jones and Linda Hamilton playing romantic leads, Black Moon Rising is quintessentially '80s. Yet it's fallen through the cult movie cracks in the decades since, and is now best known as a footnote in the filmography of John Carpenter, who penned the original drafts of its script before some rewriting courtesy of William Gray and Desmond Nakano.

Jones is leather-jacketed anti-hero Sam Quint, a professional thief who now works for the FBI, who use him to pull off the sort of jobs the agency can't be seen to be involved in. His latest assignment sees him stealing a cassette from the Lucky Dollar Corporation of Las Vegas (aka the MacGuffin Corporation of America), pursued by a very 1980s corporate asshole baddie in the form of Marvin Ringer (Lee Ving). Quint hides the cassette in the bumper of the Black Moon, a prototype car developed by ex-NASA boffin Earl Windom (Richard Jaeckel) which can reach speeds in excess of 300MPH.

black moon rising review

When Quint turns up at the Los Angeles hotel (named The Betsy in a nod to the 1978 automobile drama, which also starred Jones) where Windom is showing off the Black Moon to a prospective investor, his attempts to retrieve the cassette are scuppered when the car, along with every other car parked at the hotel, is stolen by professional car thief Nina (Linda Hamilton) and her veritable army of assistants. Quint gives chase, but Nina evades him by entering a high security building, home to a massive car theft ring led by Ed Ryland (Vaughn, essentially repeating his Superman III role here). Nina wants the Black Moon for herself, but Ryland is having no such insubordinance and locks away the car. Quint needs to get his hands on the Black Moon to retrieve the cassette, and Windom wants his baby back. All three team up in an attempt to steal the Black Moon from under the nose of Ryland.

On paper, Black Moon Rising has all the makings of a cult classic. As he so often has throughout his career, Carpenter riffs on his two favourite filmmakers, Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks, essentially remaking To Catch a Thief for the Knight Rider generation, with Jones and Hamilton enjoying the sort of relationship you might find between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in a Hawks thriller. Hamilton's Nina is the classic 'Hawksian woman', a tough but seductive femme fatale who refuses to play second fiddle to the male hero.

black moon rising review

Thanks to his Oscar winning turn in 1993's The Fugitive, which gave him an overdue career boost, Jones is known to modern viewers as the wrinkled grouch of movies like Men in Black and No Country for Old Men, but there was a time when Jones was known for playing the love interest to female stars in the likes of Coal Miner's Daughter and the Carpenter scripted The Eyes of Laura Mars. Yes, Jones was once the quintessential handsome leading man, and he's at his most craggily charismatic in Black Moon Rising, where he's arguably more sexualised than his female co-star with an abundance of shirtless moments. His Quint is a classic Carpenter anti-hero, a working class guy manipulated by shadowy authority figures, falling somewhere between Escape from New York's Snake Plissken and They Live's John Nada. In a scene that preempts the celebrated extended brawl of They Live ("Put the glasses on!"), Quint is cornered by Ringer and his heavies, who subject him to a beating that seems to go on forever. In a nice touch, the film acknowledges Quint's wounds later on when his ability to perform in bed with Nina is severely hampered by his aching body.

What holds Black Moon Rising back from the pack of '80s cult gems is the blandness of its direction by Harley Cokeliss, who had previously served as assistant director on The Empire Strikes Back, a film directed by The Eyes of Laura Mars' Irvin Kershner (Hollywood's a small town!). Cokeliss gives Black Moon Rising all the visual panache of an episode of TJ Hooker, despite some nice cinematography by Misha Suslov, who captures that distinctive look of night-time Los Angeles, when the California city seems like the world's most deserted metropolis. There's a car chase that sees Jones pursuing Hamilton through oncoming traffic, but in Cokeliss's hands it's devoid of thrills and energy - To Live and Die in LA this ain't!

black moon rising review

Watching Black Moon Rising in 2019, it seems to have influenced a batch of current filmmakers. Its key stunt, a car flying from one skyscraper to one another, was borrowed for a recent entry in the Fast & Furious franchise, while the scenes where Jones and Hamilton's tough guy and gal leads team up with Jaeckal's nerdy boffin to pull off an insurmountable heist have much in common with the dynamic currently enjoyed between Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson and Simon Pegg in the Mission Impossible series.

Black Moon Rising has clearly influenced those who have seen it, but it's the sort of movie you watch and enjoy while wishing its set-pieces had been pulled off with more aplomb. How might it now be remembered had it been directed by Carpenter?

Feature commentary by Lee Gambin, author of 'Show Me: The Making of Christine'; interviews with Cokeliss, producer Douglas Curtis, composer Schifrin and film music historian Daniel Schweiger; video essay on co-writer John Carpenter’s screenwriting career by author and critic Troy Howarth; archival documentary featuring behind the scenes footage and cast and crew interviews; selected scenes from the Hong Kong theatrical version with a different score and sound effects; trailer and radio spots; booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kieran Fisher.

Black Moon Rising is on blu-ray April 15th from Arrow Video.