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It is probably the most well known unknown movie from the '80s. Every video store had a copy, the H. R. Giger styled cover art prominently featured to get the eager renters attention. For many, the image was marvelously menacing, a sci-fi Freddy Krueger with long needle like fingers blocking out a dark, foreboding façade. There was even an additional slice of hype for those who bothered to pick up the box and read it. Future-Kill, a low budget genre effort from Austin, was actually claiming to have reunited the cast from the area classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Turns out, of course, that only Edwin Neal ("the Hitchhiker") and Marilyn Burns ("Sally Hardesty") appeared in the film, with the latter more a cameo than an actual starring role. Still, would-be suckers were struck by the combination of poster and promise, and Future-Kill developed a dedicated cult following. Now Subversive Cinema is giving the oddity its first ever DVD release. The question, of course, is does the movie live up to its legend, or is it merely another case of a rose-colored releasing strategy hiding a real cinematic clunker? The answer is as perplexing as the film itself.
When some frat dorks tar and feather another Greek idiot, their president decides to punish them in the only manner he feels is appropriate – he takes them to downtown Austin, Texas and forces them to kidnap a member of Spandau Ballet. Actually, the area is infested with No Nuke protestors who live in tribes and dress like Annabella Lwinn from Bow Wow Wow. Among there number is an evil dude named Splatter, who takes both his fashion cues and homicidal rage from Vernon Wells. When a member of the Visage sect gets offed, all racooned eyes focus on the brothers. As members of the crazed clan start chasing them around various backstreets and alleys, our date raping rejects have to figure out how to survive. With the help of a chick who resembles Poly Styrene and another who seems stuck between Kajagoogoo and Duran Duran's "Wild Boys", the guys just might make it. That is if Splatter doesn't find them and turn the boys into part of his Future-Kill plans.
Somewhere along the line, writer/director Ronald W. Moore got kind of confused. While scripting a Porky's like Revenge of the Nerds Greek Animal House like teen comedy, he obviously felt his flaccid fraternity sex farce needed some heft. After all, aside from some boobs, and a couple of cut-rate pranks (including a gratuitous tar and feathering) he just knew audiences would want something deeper, more hip, happening and in tune with the times. Sensing the growing angst over the threat of nuclear annihilation, the recent success of George Miller's Mad Max movies as well as the continued cult surrounding Walter Hill's The Warriors, along with his own love of new wave music and punk rock, Moore conceived a second storyline in which a group of dedicated neo-New Romantic activists use the A-bomb threat as a means of setting up a secret society in the middle of Austin's abandoned warehouses. Their peaceful protests, in complete bogus blitz kid gear, would act as a wake-up call for the sullen citizenry. Last but not least, Moore required a villain to act as nemesis for the collection of cool guy frat jerks who would stand at the center of his less than impressive heroes. He came up with a mutant man who was physically altered by excessive radiation (thus more fuel for the 'No Nukes' fire) whose mind now tends toward the psychotic. Naming him – and his film – Splatter, an intriguing category-defying epic was just within reach.
While obviously not an accurate portrayal of how Future-Kill found its way to a VCR near you during the Regan years, it sure feels that way. In one of the most embarrassingly deranged narrative shifts to ever soil a strip of celluloid, this specious speculative fiction (emphasis on the third word) would give Syd Fields a wealth of scriptwriting heart attacks. More or less three separate films cobbled together with twist ties and used gummy bears, it is hard to tell what Moore thought he was accomplishing. The politics are pedestrian and laughable, while the alternative society is an even bigger joke. The action is ordinary, the customs confused, and the lack of basic bloodletting (until about five minutes before the end of the last act) gives horror fans nothing to hang their hunger on. Still, there is something about Moore's cinematic audacity, his desire to make the movie he wants to make - or remake, since we learn the original cut was about 50 minutes long and he went back and shot some more footage to expand the running time – without worrying if anyone even gets his mangled motives. True, this doesn't make the result any good, but in an era where everything was a rip-off or a retread, Future-Kill does feel unique. Indeed, it is probably the only pseudo genre offering to rely almost exclusively on an audiences' desire to see what happened to a couple of actors from one of their favorite fright flicks.
The answer, of course, is not very much. Edwin Neal is fairly effective as Splatter, given little to do except walk around in plastic body armor and growl like he's related to Jared-Syn. Blessed with a very malleable set of vocal chops, he does great line readings. Aside from that, this fiend is rather flat. Marilyn Burns, on the other hand, is virtually and literally non-existent here. Face hidden behind an Adam Ant style makeup job and given only a couple of scenes in which to shine, she seems tired and tapped out. One senses her participation was more for the publicity than her eventual performance. The rest of the cast look like rejects from a community college version of Delta House. None really stand out as either supportable protagonists or hissable potential victims. They mostly fluctuate between wannabe heroes and liquored up assholes – and they are much better at the secondary stance. Moore's directing is equally confused. Some moments, he's handling scenes with style and finesse. At other moments, we haven't a clue what's going on, why it's important to the narrative, and most importantly, what or who we're supposed to care about. Future-Kill may have seemed like an enigmatic title staring evocatively from the bottom shelf of your favorite Mom and Pop Video Store, but two decades later, it's merely a mess of a movie.
Subversion Cinema, a company that usually does a good job with their releases, somehow has ended up with a horrid version of this tainted title. The DVD transfer they provide is fair at best, poor most of the time. It's not just the remasters' fault. When scenes are professionally lit and staged, the image actually looks good. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen picture provides excellent color and clear contrasts during the opening interior sequences. Unfortunately, most of this movie was filmed at night, and the abundant grain, muddy blacks, and lack of visual distinction damage any optical goodwill the beginning provides. Those who long for the days when this was a VHS fixture are in luck. The video here frequently has the look of a badly dubbed cassette.
If you think the visuals are lousy, wait until you get a load of the almost unintelligible audio. Apparently recorded on Thomas Edison's infamous 'wax cone' technology, the only listenable element of Future-Kill is its omnipresent punk rock/synth snore score. When the characters converse however, their lines get lost in a thick soup of murky, milky midrange. Without subtitles to decipher the dialogue, the volume must be constantly raised and lowered. When the songs start up across the Dolby Digital Stereo mix, the levels are LOUD. When the tunes die down and the narrative takes over, you can barely make out its meaning.
Dominated by Edwin Neal, the only significant bonus features here are fun, if just a tad frivolous. While the cover art claims there is a Making-Of featurette, this critic could not locate it as part of the DVD menu. Instead, Neal and Moore are present for a genial, self-deprecating audio commentary. As the director tries to defend his vision while simultaneously agreeing that the movie is more or less junk, Neal does everything he can, from cutting up to imitating various voices, to keep the listening audience entertained. Moore does give us interesting details about the production (including what scenes were added when the original cut came in at only 50 minutes) while Neal is filled with dirt-dishing anecdotes. While energetic and jokey, we sort of sense the pair going through the motions, making do while discussing a film that really doesn't merit such attention. Equally ingratiating is the Neal interview, which provides a kind of career update for the actor. While overloaded with quips and gags (Neal is obviously someone who finds talking seriously to be difficult) we still discover some interesting tidbits about Chain Saw, H.R. Giger and his work in anime. Neal knows he is talking to the genre fanbase, and his statements are only semi-straightforward. Still, with only text talent bios, a minor photo gallery and a collection of trailers as the rest of the supposed context, we will take any analysis we can get.
Barely able to come together as an actual movie towards the end, Future-Kill will only satisfying those with an already in place long time hankering for this hackwork. Anyone else unlucky enough to find this film in their DVD player will immediately start to question the sanity of those individuals who are hopelessly enamored of this fudged up tripe. Still, to each his or her own – and the only way to really remedy such a stance is to suggest a score of Rent It. This way, if you fail to end up on the winning side of this schizo schlock, you only spent a few bucks to learn your lesson. Nostalgia for forgotten items from the past is perfectly acceptable. Everyone experiences it, from a favorite song to a specific TV show that's no longer in production. Unfortunately, anyone pining away for Future-Kill must have some pressing entertainment issues that need immediate addressing. No one of right mind could find this combination of pledges and politics the least bit interesting.
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