Black Moon Rising: “Carpenter minus the craft”
Troy Howarth in his visual essay, Carpenter’s Craft, talks about how John Carpenter shopped around spec scripts he had wrote in order to start one of the most beloved of all late 20th century runs. One of those was Arrow Video’s Black Moon Rising. That opening says everything that needs to be said about
Black Moon Rising features Tommy Lee Jones as Quint, a thief charged by Bubba ‘High-Tower’ Smith to steal some documents as part of a high stakes court case. Barely escaping with his prize, Quint stashes it inside of a super speed high spec car, the titular Black Moon. Unfortunately that car is stolen by Linda Hamilton (Nina), along with many others as directed by Robert Vaughn (Ryland) – a paranoid man who steals cars and stores them in his super secure superbase. This sets up a final act in which a group of people with different vested interests (including the Black Moon’s engineers) try to steal back the car with the file inside it. There’s an awful lot going on, somewhat contrary to the typically straightforward scripts that would later go on to make Carpenter’s legend. Character arcs too are inconsistent. Someone who collaborates with Ryland refuses to pay up as he cannot sell damaged cars, demanding to be paid, Ryland has an outburst and then orders his former collaborator dead. It wasn’t a small amount of money, didn’t he want paying?
There are many things to like about Black Moon Rising, for one there is an impressive cast – the aforementioned Tommy Lee Jones, Hamilton, Vaughn and Bubba Smith. The score by Lalo Schifrin is fun. Tone skews to a darker end of the spectrum with what would be a much goofier romp in the hands of anyone else, something that makes this stand out amongst similairly told tales during the 1980s. You have to travel far and wide to find a poor heist movie and poor heist movie this is not. It is in that detail that we see how heightened a security system Vaughn’s sleazy Ryland has, and that is far more of a feature than the car which the film shares its name with. This may not be Michael Mann’s Thief, but it is a solid low budget alternative. Also, to return to the cast, the film gives Tommy Lee Jones a chance to brawl and play the love interest – a real anomaly in his career. And the scene in which Quint is introduced sees the film at its absolute coolest.
I compare Black Moon Rising to a TV Movie for good reason. During the 70s and 80s, the TV movie wasn’t the same sort of beast as it is now. Many were interesting and had concepts worthy of rediscovery, a boxset like the American Horror Project or Nikkatsu Diamond Guys would be a fantastic coup for Arrow Video given how many of them subscribe to the company’s remit. Within that context, Black Moon Rising’s shortcomings and lightness wouldn’t stand out as prominently. If it indeed was a TV movie and was presented as some sort of curated collection it would be easier to be forgiving. Only that isn’t the case. Sure, it is a fun knockabout but it also has zero staying power – John Carpenter script or no.