Saturday, September 5, 2009

Library of Classics: FUTURE-KILL (1985)

Note: the Library of Classics is an occasional feature of Mondo 70 dedicated to the more idiosyncratic DVD holdings of the Albany Public Library. For previous Library selections, click on the "Library of Classics" label below.

Two of the most popular exploitation genres of the 1980s were post-apocalyptic fantasies and frat-boy comedies. Robert W. Moore's ingenious notion was to combine the two. It couldn't be a perfect fit, of course, since the idea of fraternities persisting past any imaginable apocalypse is a bit of a tough sell, but the key to exploitation is to retain the trappings of a genre, and as far as that goes Moore, in collaboration with co-writer/star Edwin Neal, sets quite the trap. The collision of genres might be messy, but isn't that how we discover how two great tastes can taste great together?

We open with what at first seems deceptively normal shots of a modern city skyline, but after the credits we find ourselves privy to a tense confrontation between Eddie, the non-violent leader of the anti-nuclear protest movement, and his non-non-violent colleague, known only as Splatter. He is the movement's only expert on nuclear technology, which entitles him to some indulgences. Eddie wants to draw the line at murdering fellow movement-people, however, but Splatter explains that his latest victim had talked to a reporter. While this did apparently violate some regulation of the anti-nuke movement, Eddie feels that the girl's need to speak out didn't merit a fistful of cybernetic claws in the throat. Splatter is skating on thin ice now, and doesn't like being lectured to. There's clearly trouble ahead in our future world.

So cut to a frat party. It looks like the present day, or at least the present of approximately 25 years ago. But isn't this the future? Isn't it supposed to be post-1985? The title of the film is "Future-Kill," isn't it? But if you think about it, it is the future. After all, when the director films the scene several months prior to release, he imagines it to be the present of the time the film is released. On the other hand, maybe they weren't making Deep Throat pinball games in 1985 and Moore had one custom-built as part of his future tapestry. If so, the point nevertheless seems to be that the more things change, the more they remain the same, since the frat boys and their lingerie-clad girlfriends behave pretty much as in any bad 1985 sex comedy. The hijinks culminate in the hilarious spectacle of a man being tarred and feathered.

Offered an (*ahem*) wiener, the lady replies, "No thanks, I'm trying to quit."

We never see how the Deep Throat game actually plays, but aren't you curious? I hear that it was easier to win free games on Behind the Green Door, however.

Come up with your own caption for this one.

The heroes of our story are in mid-pledge, and it's the job of their balding, overaged minder to find them useful work to do. His idea is to send them into the dangerous part of the city where the mutants dwell, so they can kidnap one of the local freaks. This requires our lads to undergo some camouflage, the better to pass for freaks. In the past, to become a mutant one had to be exposed to radiation of some kind, rather like our troubled Splatter. To pass for one in the purported future of the frat, however, requires only extensive exposure to eye-shadow.

These pledges majored in speculative anthropology at Future State U, with a minor in Theater Arts.

So the freak hunt is on. Could it not end badly? For who should be aimlessly strolling the dark sidewalks of the mutant quarter than Splatter when the faux-mutants attempt to make off with a native. For Splatter, extremism in the defense of mutants is no vice. When the pledges' minder tries to break up the trouble, he gets cybernetic claws to the throat. Eddie happens to witness this scene, but he shows no gratitude to Splatter for fending off the kidnappers. Can you blame the man for killing the ingrate on the spot? Maybe not, but you can blame him for framing the frat boys for the deed to justify hunting them down and killing them.

A desultory chase ensues that consumes the rest of the picture. There's a good deal of running around, but there always seems to be time for quieter moments like a mutant rock concert or a hooker's attempt to humanize Splatter. This particular scene climaxes in the movie's most creative death scene. The hooker, curious about what's under Splatter's armor, offers the cyborg a life-changing bit of fellatio. Upon opening his trousers, however, she recoils.

Splatter learns that the whole walling-in-a-person thing really works better with bricks and mortar.

"What's the matter, bitch?" Splatter asks reprovingly, "Don't you like what modern man can do for his brothers with a little misplaced nuclear energy? If you can find enough to put your mouth on, get started! I haven't had much luck with it." And nor does she, and for her trouble Splatter wraps her up in corrugated metal and pounds on her until blood squirts. He then stalks off to resume his chase. But while he's the boss villain, two of his underlings actually outdo him in the atrocity department by machine-gunning a cat. The film shows you the damage, but I have to draw a line somewhere.

Stick a fork in Splatter, lady, and let's get this picture over with.

Along the way there are gestures toward human-mutant reconciliation and a partly-armored, partly-painted heroine emerges as Splatter's nemesis, but the crass humor of the early frat scenes gets lost somewhere as the boys become men, displaying unanticipated fighting prowess at key moments. Future-Kill might have been a more memorable project had Moore and Neal (who plays Splatter) attempted to maintain the frat-comedy tone throughout the future-esque mayhem. Had they done so, the film might have justified the Animal House meets Streets of Fire sort of labeling it usually receives. Instead, except for some bits in a nightclub, the movie takes itself all too seriously once Splatter takes the offensive, and to be asked to take Splatter seriously is offensive, to an extent. He seems as menacing as someone you might meet at a comic-book convention costume party, and unintentionally carries the comedic load for the remainder of the film. Edwin Neal was promoted in the ballyhoo for Future-Kill as a star of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but his later work in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers seems more characteristic. As for Ronald W. Moore, this was apparently his only writing and directing credit. That may be history's ultimate verdict on Future-Kill, but people who dig Eighties trash and genre mash-ups with occasional splashes of gore may draw a different conclusion.


Anonymous said...

I truly love this misfit anti-nuke activists VERSUS frat guys gone wild in a can't-we-all-just-get-along tale of prejudiced first impressions, bloodshed, breast flesh, and New Wave noise pollution! As genre mash-ups go, easily one of the more enjoyable for my sensibilities.
After posting a VHS scan of this several months ago, fellow blogger bwanavoodoo posted a photo of an original Giger litho later translated to cover art, which he says was given to him by the director, a personal friend. Very cool!

Sebina said...

I haven't seen it, but it looks downright cool and fun - I'll have to check it out.

Rev. Phantom said...

I like this film for the exact reason that you point out in your last sentence. I dig Eighties trash and genre mash-ups with occasional splashes of gore...yup, that sounds about right.