If you like good acting, I suggest you stop reading this article and forget you ever heard the name Moonchild. This odd, little movie stars both John Carradine and Victor Buono. You remember Mr. Buono, he played King Tut in the Batman TV show and a hundred other minor roles throughout the mid-twentieth century. Both Buono and Carradine have a grandiose, faux-aristocratic style of acting that makes you want to shake them until their neck snaps. Regardless, the two men have starred in enough schlock to fill an extra-large dumpster.
Moonchild falls into the “creepy castle” movie genre. It’s a tried and true and tired old method of churning out films on the cheap. A producer gets a deal on renting a European castle somewhere, and then flies the cast out for a weekend shoot. Such films always consist of the same ingredients: blood, boobs, and either vampires or Satan worshippers. Oh, and there is very often a hunchback or Igor character. In Moonchild, the hunchback is named Homunculus. He is not only named Homunculus, he is also referred to as a homunculus, which he is not. I don’t think the writer knew what a homunculus was.
It’s likely the whole creepy castle genre was born out of James Whale's 1932 film The Old Dark House. You might say The Old Dark House was a homunculus. What James Whale didn’t have was the Gregorian funk soundtrack. The soundtrack for Moonchild sounds like Bootsy Collins wandered into a monastery in 13th century Flanders. I suppose the monks would have been a bit surprised when a 6 foot 2 black man (not counting the 8-inch platform shoes) dressed in a glitter suit, top hat, and starburst sunglasses, sauntered through their arches, but once the monks stopped panicking and started singing along with whatever Bootsy was layin’ down, it might have sounded like the Moonchild theme song and soundtrack.
Moonchild is billed as a horror movie, which it most certainly is not, unless you count the horror of realizing you have spent money to see it. There are no monsters, or slashers, or ghosts. There are no Satanists or space aliens, just never-ending arguments between a king and a priest. Writer and director Alan Gadney seems to have had higher aspirations than making a straightforward grindhouse money-grab. By all appearances, he believed he was making a deeply philosophical movie about the eternal conflict between Church and State.
In place of a plot and/or character-driven drama, what Moonchild provides is a series of overblown soliloquies about the freedom of man. Most of them sound about as deep as a Captain Kirk diatribe, but not as well written, if you can imagine that. Actually, Shatner would have fit right into Moonchild. He could have spouted overblown platitudes right alongside the others.
The premise of the film is that in this creepy, old castle, there is a never-ending conflict between a pompous priest (Buono) who wishes to conduct an inquisition and a king who challenges the inquisitor’s judgment. This clash has been played and replayed for centuries. Any time a young man visits the castle, he is drawn into a phantasm where he must play the role of the sinner, while the king and the priest fight over his fate.
The film shows us an unnamed college student’s journey through the madness. I assume that Gandey thought he could provide some insight into the current relationship between church and state by replaying the inquisition. He clumsily tries to bridge the time gap with scenes that involve the college student arguing with the enthroned inquisitor and asking with indignation, “Am I not innocent until proven guilty?!” At which point I yelled at the screen, “No, you idiot! This is the inquisition!” I guess no one expects the Inquisition.
Moonchild does not have the obligatory boobs (good name for a punk band). The pretty, blonde ingenue is spared having to bare her bosom, but lest we fail the patriarchy, she has no lines at all in the film. She makes sad eyes and loving eyes and inquisitive eyes at the men running around her, but apparently what she has to say is irrelevant. Of course, if we truly are talking about the Catholic Church, that would be a fair assessment of their attitude toward the female of the species.
The film is completely pointless. If Gandey had something to say about the relationship between Church and State, hiring Buonno to defend the inquisition doesn’t shed light on much, but Gandy may have had a different motive. The film is bookended by a quote from Edgar Cayce, “the sleeping prophet.” If you are not familiar with Cayce’s work, here is a brief excerpt from his Wikipedia page: “Edgar Cayce (/ˈkeɪsiː/; 18 March 1877 – 3 January 1945) was an American clairvoyant who claimed to channel his higher self while asleep in a trance-like state. His words were recorded by his friend Al Layne, his wife, Gertrude Evans, and later by his secretary, Gladys Davis Turner. During the sessions, Cayce would answer questions on a variety of subjects like healing, reincarnation, dreams, the afterlife, past lives, nutrition, Atlantis, and future events. As a devout Christian and Sunday school teacher, Cayce's readings were often criticized as demonic by his religious colleagues.”
Gandalf or Gandy or whatever his stupid name is, decided to use the following quote, “Yyou may not even have to come back at all if you become perfectly developed in this life.” I’m not sure if that qualifies as “actionable advice”, but there you have it. It’s as insightful as anything else said in the film.
Gandy originally made this film for his master'ss thesis at the University of Southern California. It was released in 1974 and flopped. He made one other film during the same period called West Texas, but that didn’t do so well either. As far as I can tell, that was the end of his career in film.
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“Moonchild” is a Crowley reference, however based on your description this film bears no resemblance to Crowley’s novel (which is supposed to be decent), or the occult ritual bearing the same name (which is supposed to be gross).