There have been a lot of disgruntled rumbles about the monsters in Moon landing conspiracy flick Apollo 18. I've even heard people say, "Well, if those are the monsters, then I'm definitely not seeing the movie." What the hell, people? Sure there are things wrong with this movie, but the monsters are definitely not it. In fact, I thought the monsters were classic and clever. Here's why.
By the way, if you haven't seen Apollo 18 yet, you're about to be spoiled. So beware!
As I said in my review last week, Apollo 18 suffered from the classic B-movie problem of being really slow and draggy and then suddenly filling the screen with bugfuck insane awesomeness. And part of that bugfuckery literally involved bugs — moon spiders, to be exact. Just writing those words, moon spiders, makes me grin. It sounds like something ripped from the cover of a 1934 issue of Weird Tales — THE MOON SPIDERS OF HELL! You can just imagine improbably underdressed astronauts fighting these shadowy denizens of the darkest ice puddles on the Moon.
So for sheer retro pulp fiction awesomeness worthy of HP Lovecraft, I give the film points. Plus, the way the spiders was depicted worked delightfully well. Instead of crappy CGI or a secret Soviet base, we got shadowy creatures who masquerade as moon rocks. If you're going to create a scary monster on a barren satellite whose most commonly-known feature is rocks — well, then, hiding your weirdass creatures inside those rocks is a genius move. And the moving rocks were creepy as hell when we first saw them. There's a terrific bit early in the film when we see an illuminated circle around the area where the first subtle shift in rocks is taking place. It looks exactly like a million other pieces of found footage where a conspiracy theorist has lightened one area of a picture and added big arrows to call attention to a bit of something that's supposed to be an alien or a creeping terror. Except it turns out in this case that the phantom movement we're seeing spotlighted is real.
Another artful aspect of the moon spiders' design is their habitat, which is in the freezing shadows of the Moon's craters. For some reason, our astronauts only have flashbulbs rather than flashlights, so we see the biggest moon spiders revealed in jagged flashes of illumination. There's no effort to make them realistic, which is fine. The half-seen, many-legged bodies looming out of the darkness, coupled with tiny skittering rocks, evokes the terrors of an old-school movie where we feared what we didn't see, rather than being disappointed by what we did.
Apollo 18's monsters even evoked the infamous 1835 "Great Moon Hoax," where a series of articles in the New York Sun claimed that astronomers had seen a thriving colony of "man-bats" and unicorns living along the edges of rivers on the Moon. So many people thought the articles were true that a craze for man-bats ensued, and people went nuts over the idea that soon we'd be zooming to the Moon to hang out with our flying friends — or to fight them, if they turned out to be demons. I love that this contemporary Moon hoax film bears so many resemblances to this nearly two-centuries-old newspaper hoax.
Again, I'm not saying Apollo 18 is a great horror movie, but don't go ripping on the monsters if you want to tear it down. Give me a moon spider any day over yet another CGI ripoff alien with a double-layer mouth dripping goo or a bug face reverse-engineered from District 9's prawns. At least Apollo 18 gave us good, old-school monsters whose invisibility was actually plausible (they look like rocks!). Plus, watching the little buggers scuttle around inside the astronaut's helmets or across the cameras was hilarious. This was a movie that had no pretentions, and a good sense of humor about itself. Again, points for that.