Future Kill/Splatter (1985) **½
It all starts with the cover art. Paintings by H. R. Giger will get me every single time, and this is a really cool one, a brooding man whose eyes are hidden in the shadows cast by his brow, his wickedly bladed and spiked mechanical right hand splayed like an eagle’s talon in front of his face. Then turn the box around, and the jacket copy woos you with the information that stars of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre may be seen on the tape within. Don’t be fooled, though. Future Kill/Splatter may not exactly suck, but neither will it live up to any expectation you may have formed while contemplating whether or not to watch it.
There is, however, something to be said for 1980’s horror/science fiction movies that involve lots of punk rockers. This nobody can deny, and it’s especially true if you yourself are a punk. These movies can almost always be counted on to have everything hilariously wrong, and those things they do get right will be curiously divorced from any recognizable context. Hell, sometimes the movie will even avoid the very word “punk”, preferring instead to come up with some fictional name for a movement of youth rebellion that is nevertheless instantly recognizable. Who knows, maybe they just don’t want to offend those creepy guys with the purple mohawks and the chains on their jackets who hang out in front of the liquor store down the street from their apartments.
So how does Future Kill handle the whole business? With surprising astuteness, actually. Here’s the deal: In the movie, the punks (called “freaks” or “mutants”) don’t appear to be the sort of world-wide subculture that they are in the real world. Instead, the mutants are a sort of radical anti-nuclear protest front, based in a section of some unnamed city that has been rendered hazardous to live in because of some nuclear accident or other. The bizarre hair, clothes, and makeup are explained as a conscious attempt to suggest by their appearance the dangers of radioactive contamination. It’s like the comedian said at about the same time: “The only people really ready for the Bomb are the punk rockers-- they look like we’re going to.” The mutants are constantly staging rallies and demonstrations at the site of the abandoned nuclear research lab at which the accident took place, organized by their leader, Eddie Pain (Doug Davis), and his “enforcer” Splatter (Edwin Neal from Chainsaw). The mutants really do bear a surprising resemblance to real-life peace punks in their ideals, even if they look more like the King’s Row fashion plates of the turn of the 80’s.
All of this is explained in a sort of prologue sequence, after which Future Kill briefly turns into another movie altogether. This other movie is like the frat house comedies of the Porky’s era, and concerns some frat boys who have wronged the leader of a rival house, and who have been sent by their own leader to make a formal apology. Instead, they end up tarring and feathering the guy to whom they were supposed to apologize, and thus come very close to being expelled from their own fraternity. The frat comedy meets the post-apocalyptic punk movie when the offending frat boys are told that the only way they can keep their standing with their house is to go to the irradiated downtown, dressed in mutant garb, and kidnap the mutant of their leader’s choice. The leader drives the guys into the city, and selects Eddie Pain (whom he does not recognize) as the abductee. The frat boys concoct a plan in which some of them will distract the girls who are walking with Eddie, the biggest of them will conduct the actual abduction, and the remainder will draw the attention of the guy in the shadows who is following at some distance behind. This would be a good time to say a few words about Splatter, because he is, predictably, that guy in the shadows. He’s also the man from the Giger painting. Apparently, he was a young scientist employed at the nuclear facility at the time of the accident. Whatever happened cost him his right arm, half his face, and (as we learn a scene or two after the kidnapping attempt) his dick. It also cost him his sanity and his conscience, but Eddie Pain has found a use for him because he now hates the nuclear power industry and he knows all sorts of valuable things about nukes and the companies that make them. Splatter must also be some sort of cyberneticist, because he has constructed for himself a robotic arm full of spring-loaded javelins, razor-sharp claws, and shuriken launchers, which he uses to intimidate just about everyone in the city. And while the frat boys don’t know it, they’re about to pick a fight with him. The distracting of the girls goes well, the abduction looks like it will go well, but the frat president gets his head impaled when he tries to divert Splatter. Obviously, the kidnapping has started to fall apart, and Eddie has been saved from the frat boys, but he is not very happy that Splatter just killed a guy-- hey, they’re supposed to be a peace movement, right? So what does Splatter do when his methods are disapproved of? That’s right, he kills Eddie too. There are advantages to this for Splatter, of course. With Eddie dead, he becomes de facto head mutant, and by blaming the murder on the frat boys (not implausible when you get right down to it), he stands a chance of mobilizing everybody in the fucked up downtown under his banner, even though they all think he’s a dangerous psychopath who makes their movement look bad.
From this point on, the movie basically turns into a punk rock version of The Warriors. The surviving frat boys, who were separated into two groups when their little scheme went awry, have to find a way home through the city where nobody trusts them, and with Splatter’s minions (whom he appears to have hired off the set of some paramilitary action movie set in the jungles of South America) hot on their heels. The least Neanderthal of them succeeds in befriending one punk chick by saving her from being raped by the cops. She agrees to lead the guys to safety, and spends the rest of the film helping them avoid Splatter and his misplaced Salvadoran guerillas.
It is in this phase of the movie that the most interesting scene occurs. Our heroes are hiding out in a not-unconvincing punk club, where a band called Max and the Makeup is playing. I can’t be sure, but this may be a real band. They don’t really look or sound much like what most American punk bands looked and sounded like in 1985, but they would certainly have been plausible around 1980, and Europe was still producing droves of bands that sounded like them in the mid-80’s. The point is that what the band does not sound like is some clueless mainstream person’s idea of how a punk band should sound; their two songs would not sound out of place on a Killed By Death comp. On the other hand, their guitar player is faking so badly as to make me wonder if he’d ever seen a guitar in person before. I can’t believe anybody who actually played would fake it that badly. So maybe what happened is that a real band was hired to record the music, but they just didn’t look weird enough, so the filmmakers hired a bunch of non-musicians to do the performance when the cameras rolled. The point of this scene, interestingly enough, is clearly to establish that punks are people too, and that normal folks like our frat boy heroes shouldn’t look down on them because they dress funny. In fact, by the time Splatter shows up, even the big, ape-like guy who was ultimately responsible for the whole situation is having fun, dancing with some punk girls, and one of the other frat boys utters some lines suggesting that he might like to stay in the city and become a mutant himself.
But Splatter does show up, and it’s The Warriors again. As the film winds down, it comes out that the safe place to which the frat boys are being led is in fact Splatter’s own house, a dwelling built in the ruins of the old nuclear lab. Ah, the treachery! But no-- Splatter’s girlfriend, who used to be Eddie’s girlfriend, lives there too, and she apparently has been looking for a way to get rid of Splatter for some time. (Maybe she’s tired of never having sex, huh?) What she needs is some bait to lure him into the elaborate array of booby traps that she has laid throughout the building. And what better bait than the guys he’s been chasing for the last 80 minutes? I probably don’t need to tell you that what follows is the usual one-by-one stalk-and-slash in the big, dark house, but a surprisingly large percentage of the characters live to tell the tale after Splatter gets his. There is a last-minute ending-after-the-ending thing, a la Friday the 13th, but it is carried out with no conviction at all, as if it was put there for no reason other than that the screenwriter felt it was expected of him.
Is it good? Well, not especially. Will it put you to sleep? Probably not. Watch it for the scene at the club, and for the scene in which the slutty mutant girl discovers why Splatter never shows any interest in the ladies.