The Larkins have owned this blueberry farm for as long as anyone in the town of Babylon, Florida, can remember, but they may be about to lose that property. For one thing, owner Jerry Larkin (Chester Rushing) has noted the crop is not looking as plentiful, never mind ripe, as it once did, and for another the local bank run by the wealthy Redfield family has been putting pressure on them to sell up and give the farm over, where they can make the profit the Larkins have been prevented from acquiring. As if that were not bad enough, there's a tragedy around the corner for them when Jerry's teenage sister goes missing on the way back from school; why he does not is because she was murdered...
Although when she does disappear, Grandma Larkin (Candy Clark), in her anguished state, has a telling vision that informs her the girl was killed by the bank manager Nathan Redfield (Josh Stewart), which you might anticipate was a cue for a whodunit as the actual identity of the culprit was sprung on the audience in the final twist. However, it was not the case, as with unseemly haste we are told that Nathan is indeed the murderer, thanks to him taking to taking lives like a duck to water, some kind of link between making a killing in the financial realm and in reality being manufactured, though not examined much further than the usual banker-blaming in the 21st Century.
Cold Moon was more an "is it real or is it a hallucination?" horror where the one thrown into turmoil was not a noble or moral character, it was the villain who is haunted by apparitions of those he has slaughtered, sometimes with a sword (!), and it is left for us to decide whether he is seeing things that are not there. A common enough trope that surely goes back further than William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, but one that crops up time and again for those writers who like to alight upon a guilty conscience for their characters, the writer in this case being Michael McDowell, who speciality in his novels at least was his particular brand of Southern Gothic mixed with gory elements.
He was probably best known for his collaborations with Tim Burton, and sadly died rather young, so it was nice to see this attention paid to one of his novels, which were rather neglected after the avalanche of the eighties paperback horror boom in the intervening years. He knew how to craft a pageturner, but here actor turned director Griff Furst was rather scuppered by the fact this played as a film a lot more straightforwardly than it did as the written word, to the extent that his results did feel very familiar. There was the odd arresting image, such as the dead teen reappearing to haunt Nathan on the high street while travelling on an invisible bicycle, heading straight for his truck and exploding into a watery burst on contact with the vehicle, but for the most part you did feel as if you had seen this before.
Furst did rustle up an interesting cast, at any rate, with Christopher Lloyd as the stern, wheelchair-using patriarch of the Redfields beginning to regret handing over the family business to Nathan, Clark in borderline hysterical mode as the grieving grandmother, and Frank Whaley as the local Sheriff called upon to do little but look confounded at this sudden rash of crime in his sleepy, usually safe town. Even Tommy Wiseau showed up, wisely not given anything to do, not any significant lines anyway, and if you didn't know he was in this it was easy to miss him. The effects work was well-achieved, and Furst, whose usual fare was schlocky TV movies with the word "Shark" in the title, proved there was another, more accomplished string to his bow, but you had to conclude it was difficult to get excited about Cold Moon when it was your bog standard thriller turned horror, more professional than many maybe, yet perhaps material that deceptively appeared more promising than it actually was. As a calling card that its director was capable of more than silliness, it was fine.