Monday, January 26, 2009

Future-Kill (1985, Ronald W. Moore)



Future-Kill is the greatest testament in history to the importance of a good poster. Famed Alien (1979) production designer and full time artist HR Giger painted the one-sheet and not only did this help get the film into theaters, the unforgettable sight of an HG Giger poster on the shelf of your video store horror section virtually guaranteed that a certain type of horror movie fan would satisfy their curiosity someday, never mind the quality of the product.

I've been there now, and am warning anyone who has been tempted by their Giger fandom and the enticing tagline The stars of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre are back: this is for bad movie masochists only, and even then....sheesh. This is not easily digestible camp, but an endurance test which insidiously thwarts the hopeful expectations we hold for movies that might be so bad they're good.



There are two stories as to how Giger's art preserved this pain for hapless future trash fans. The first, corroborated by Giger himself, is that director Ronald W. Moore begged him in tears and pleaded that his movie would be doomed otherwise. This seems obvious, though I don't think Giger would've agreed to help if he'd actually watched what he was attaching his name to. The conflicting story is that one of the two Texas Chainsaw stars who were "back," Edwin "Hitch-Hiker" Neal, was an avid poster collector and got Giger involved himself. Given that Neal's credits on the film also extend to additional dialogue, associate producing, and dialogue coaching I guess it's possible he assisted with the coercion of Giger because the dialogue and acting of Future-Kill is sheer torture.

Pity poor Marilyn Burns, the unforgettable heroine and true star of Chainsaw. Her performance set the standard for every horror movie heroine that ran from a knife wielding psycho, and Future-Kill reduces her to an extended cameo in the ugliest post-apocalyptic biker slut costume imaginable. She deserved better. Even Tobe Hooper himself misused her in the ludicrous Chainsaw follow-up, Eaten Alive.

Neal is also in stupid sci-fi costume, a far cruddier version of the character on the poster. There aren't many others in elaborate costumes, only punks and new wavers who call themselves "Mutants." Neal calls himself "Splatter," which was the movie's original title just as "Leatherface" was for Chainsaw. Future-Kill is near-future movie, that most tenuous of science fiction subgenres in which the futurism is painted with the lightest of brushstrokes. In capable hands, this can evoke a world familiarly low tech and yet otherworldly, as in the first Mad Max or Escape From New York.

The brushstrokes of Future-Kill are akin to a paint roller thrown at a wall. In the near future, said "Mutants" like Neal and Burns are anti-nuclear protesters who have segregated themselves from the rest of society and dwell exclusively in the bad part of town. The part of the bad part of town is played by downtown Austin, Texas, late at night when all the shops are closed. The Mutants don't appear to do anything but show up at the occasional anti-nuke protest, the rest of their days are spent loitering around like they're waiting for the Adam Ant concert.

There are a lot of stories that could been made from this scenario, and Moore opts for a ripoff of The Warriors which inadvertently manages to create an even stranger near future than he'd intended. After the credits and introduction of Splatter as the villain of the Mutant movement - unlike the others, he resorts to violence - we're placed in the company of stupid 80s movie frat full of thirty somethings acting like jackasses. They're at a stupid party, pulling stupid pranks and they're all utterly loathsome. As a result of a botched prank, this group of five or six jackasses are required to go the Mutant side of town and kidnap one of them to get regain full frat privileges or whatever.

When they get to the Mutant side of town, whom do they pick out but Splatter and some of his goons? One of the frats gets iced, their car gets stripped and the posse is stuck running across town, fighting for survival.

What's most bizarre is that every single character in the story is either a Mutant or a frat, creating the impression that in the not too distant future these will be the only two classes of society...Those rich enough to attend college and those whose societal conscience compels them to dress like Cyndi Lauper.

This is when the movie becomes frustrating to no end. Despite the veneer of the horror genre which landed the VHS in the horror section of any video store you'd find it in, the body count does not belong to these jerks. They actually prove quite capable at defending themselves from Splatter's goons, so much so that they barely flinch at their overnight transformation from frat dickheads to action heroes. Moore's horrible editing and seemingly improvised screenplay make them ridiculously callous, never mentioning the few deaths among their own party and cracking wise in one scene when they were traumatized in the last one.

There really are very few deaths amongst their own. Anyone who's sat through a slasher movie full of hateful characters has at least had their deaths to look forward to. Astonishingly, all but two survive and we're forced to listen to their dumb asses all night until they finally kill Splatter and the movie can end.

At one point a good hearted Mutant girl takes the Frats to a Mutant bar to see post-Punky New Wave Mutant band Max and the Make-Ups. This is easily the most bearable part of the entire movie, they're a real band and not too bad.

You might be tempted by the poster art, you might be tempted by the incongruousness of a science fiction near future in which fraternities play pranks on the post-apocalyptic dregs of society, but this is a film which punishes you for watching. As my girlfriend put it - not enough future, not enough killing.

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