Moonchild (1994)

Directed by Todd Sheets
Asylum Home Video VHS

Humans spend a lot of time creating things. Not everything we make is good. For instance, I have a third cousin with a heroin problem who insists on making at least six babies a year. But what if a lifetime’s worth of positive creative energy could be siphoned into a single project that could save the world? And what if the project was a post-apocalyptic, thrash-metal werewolf movie that felt like an adaptation of an unreleased Sega Saturn game combined with backyard wrestling?

This is Todd Sheets’ Moonchild. And I’ve got a Sheets-eating grin.

Behold the Mutant Zone! The place where mutants wear hoodies and make-up from The Crow! The place where zombies have “666″ painted on their foreheads! And the place where Jacob Stryker has escaped from a science lab, the victim of super solider experiments gone haywire. In times of stress (i.e. twice in the movie), Stryker transforms into a berserker werewolf. It’s soon revealed that Stryker’s estranged son might hold the key to saving humanity from a violent plague AND the clutches of an evil dictator who appears to be on quaaludes. For some reason, Stryker also has a bomb inside of him that will detonate in 72 hours. With the help of rebel sympathizers, Stryker embarks on a race against the clock to find his son and save the planet. And battle Kronos, the mysterious executioner who transforms his hand into a drill so that he can torture children.

This is a good time to tell you that this movie is incredible.

When we watch a Todd Sheets movie, we expect gross-out gore with tons of ambition and little substance. From Dead Things to Zombie Bloodbath, that’s what we get. Like Andreas Schnaas (Zombie ’90, Violent Shit), Sheets forged a career out of pushing the limits of no-budget chaos within an innocent, sexless context. With Moonchild, Todd Sheets puts great care towards lighting, sets, plot, costumes, characters, pyrotechnics, effects, guns, and strong roles for women. There’s less of a reliance on a singular element and more thought put towards a cohesive vision. We never expect this from Sheets. We expect Goblin, where someone walks around a house for twelve minutes and then a demon stuffs a scythe into a man’s asshole.

At one point in Moonchild, a Ford Bronco II and a Lincoln Town Car are involved in a chase that never exceeds eight miles per hour. At first, it’s funny. But then you notice that Sheets’ friends, siblings, and grandparents are jumping through the windows of the cars while they’re moving. Sheets is lying on the ground and filming as the cars drive over him. People were risking their lives for a twelve-second scene in an homemade action-horror movie that was shot on a camcorder. That’s when you realize that if Moonchild was a person, it would not only pick you up from the airport at 1 AM — it would also have two bags of Twizzlers waiting for you in the car. Because this movie is overflowing with heart.

Moonchild was made by adults, but we can’t hold that against it. In fact, the movie feels like what happens in Rushmore when tenth-grader Max Fisher and his pals reenact Serpico as a school play. In that scene, the novelty of seeing kids impersonate an R-rated Al Pacino is hilarious on its own. But beyond that, it captures how we process passion and creativity as children. It’s like happiness unfolding before our eyes. That’s why Moonchild is so endearing. Sheets’ choices suggest the same sentiment. With a do-or-die devotion to creating a synthetic dimension, Moonchild ends up feeling like a grown-up version of Doctor Death, Webster Colcord’s post-apocalyptic Super 8 epic. Both movies were built with sincerity and love. But Moonchild takes Colcord’s 18 minutes and blows them up to 90 without losing momentum or fun. There’s even a rousing speech that ends with, “Anger is a tool! Hate is a liability!”

Todd Sheets goes through life facing a world that rarely accepts his creative output on its own terms. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to pour your life into movie after movie, only to be met with dismissal because you’re not a “professional.” I want a world where people understand how inspiring it can be to witness a shot-on-video movie that features a werewolf in a bear suit. I want everyone to scramble to fill their lives with movies that were fueled on unhinged passion because there was no other choice. I want a revolution.

I want it to start with Moonchild.