Mutant Hunt (1986) -**
You kind of have to admire the chutzpah of a guy who spends ten years making hardcore gay porn, then sees Blade Runner one day and says, “Yeah— I can do that.” Granted, Mutant Hunt was not Tim Kincaid’s first foray outside the market for man-on-man smut. His career had kicked off in 1973 with a hetero-oriented sexploitation movie called The Female Response, and Mutant Hunt came smack in the middle of a four-year flurry of cheaply made horror and sci-fi films, the most famous of which were Breeders and Robot Holocaust. But both before and after the late 1980’s, Kincaid (or Joe Gage, to call him by his nomme de porn) did little other than to film dudes blowing each other. That background makes Mutant Hunt look a tad more impressive than it does on its intrinsic merits, because it throws the mad ambition of the project into starker illumination. Armed with scant money and barely any but the most obviously inapplicable filmmaking experience, Kincaid set out to rip off one of the best, most highly respected, and most extravagantly expensive big-studio science fiction movies of recent years.
Instead of Nexus 6 Replicants, Mutant Hunt gives us Delta-7 cyborgs. In a pointedly unspecified but not too far-flung future, the Inteltrax Corporation’s Delta-series cyborgs are the ultimate labor-saving device, sparing human workers the age-old hardships of long hours, low pay, and hazardous conditions. (As usual, the macroeconomics of this state of affairs are left largely unexamined, and won’t bear serious scrutiny.) The original genius behind the cyborgs is a somewhat improbably young woman named Domina (Stormy Spill). She’s no longer with the company, however, having apparently been drummed out by an unscrupulous rival known only as Z (Bill Peterson, of Bad Girls’ Dormitory). That story never really comes out, but I’m betting it has something to do with Domina’s addiction to a synthetic narcotic called Euphoron. Z, as it happens, is also a Euphoron consumer, but not in the same sense. He has discovered, evidently by accident, that exposure to Euphoron corrupts the psychosexual response programming of the firm’s experimental new Delta-7 model, turning the cyborgs into compulsive thrill-killers, and he’s got his office secretly buying up all the Euphoron on the market so as to create a stockpile that will enable him to sell droids and drugs together as a sort of do-it-yourself killbot kit. This plan is all kinds of illegal, of course, but that doesn’t worry Z much. So long as he can keep his top scientists, Dr. Paul Haynes (Marc Umile, also in Bad Girls’ Dormitory, and Cold Hearts as well) and his sister Darla (Riot on 42nd Street’s Mary Fahey), from discovering what he’s up to, Z should have no trouble selling the drugged-out Delta-7’s to criminal cartels, brutal Third World dictators, and the like under the table. Unfortunately, Haynes has caught on that there’s something fishy going on with the Delta-7 program, and Darla’s computer analysis of brain modules and vital fluids harvested from cyborgs that Z had scrapped after using them as test subjects turns up unmistakable traces of Euphoron in their systems, together with equally unmistakable evidence of what exposure to the drug does to cybernetic minds. Worse yet, they make this discovery on the very night that Z releases three of his pets into the wild, so to speak, for a field trial of their abilities. Obviously that means the Hayneses will have to be neutralized, but Z is able to capture only Paul. Darla gets away, with instructions from her brother to seek out somebody named Matt Riker (Rick Gianasi, from Robot Holocaust and Sgt. Kabukiman, N.Y.P.D.).
Darla reaches Riker’s apartment with a whole squad of standard cyborgs just minutes behind her. She is thus unable to explain to Matt and his girlfriend (LeeAnne Baker, from Necropolis and Galactic Gigolo) what she’s doing busting in on them like this until after Riker has finished destroying her pursuers and they’ve finished tossing his girl out the window to her death. It’s okay, though— she was just a cyborg herself. As you might suspect on the basis of his performance against a pair of machines with extensible arms and double the strength of the average human, Matt Riker was formerly a Special Forces operative, and is currently a bounty hunter. He agrees to take on the hunt for the three Delta-7’s, although his glib attitude toward the assignment leaves Darla somewhat skeptical that he truly understands what he’s getting himself into. It just so happens, though, that one of the super-cyborgs is in the neighborhood right now, and it suddenly decides to crash the party. Perhaps this is supposed to be an example of the telepathic danger awareness which Darla says the Delta-7’s possess. In any case, this particular cyborg fares no better against Riker than its supposedly far less formidable cousins, which leads me to believe that maybe Z should rethink these “unstoppable robot army” plans of his.
Regardless, Riker calls for backup soon after that first meeting with the real enemy. “Backup” in this case means Elaine Elliot (Taunie Vrenon), an old colleague of his who remains in the service. At the moment, Elliot is on the trail of a mysterious new player in the Manhattan Euphoron racket— someone who keeps buying up everything the cartels on the Lunar colonies can produce, but then strangely never seems to resell it. The Euphoron connection gives Riker the idea that he and Elliot might actually be working the same case, so he brings Darla with him to the Club Inferno, where Elaine is posing as a dancer in a floor show so sad and inadequate that even the one in The Astro-Zombies takes pity on it. Elaine herself has to call for backup later that night, when one of the rampaging cyborgs sets its sights on her. Her backup is official, though, since another federal agent named Johnny Felix (Ron Reynaldi, who also worked out Mutant Hunt’s decidedly lame fight choreography) is on the case with her. Felix is a martial arts master, and although he has the upper hand throughout the entire fight, he decides that discretion is the better part of valor when he sees the frustrated cyborg punch the concrete pedestal of a street light to pieces. Elliot and Felix meet up with Riker and Darla at Matt’s apartment, and formulate a plan of action: Riker and Felix will each hunt down and destroy one of the remaining Delta-7’s, while Elliot and a pocket-sized drug-sniffing robot locate Z’s Euphoron stockpile and bust the operation.
Meanwhile, Z has three rather large problems on his hands back at Inteltrax. First, because he’s a manager rather than a scientist, he really does need somebody on staff to handle the hard work of designing and programming cyborgs, regardless of whether he means to sell them for legal or illegal purposes. With that in mind, he’s been keeping Paul Haynes alive, but nothing he’s tried so far has succeeded in either tempting or intimidating him into cooperating. Secondly, there’s Domina. Domina is pissed that Z has cornered the local Euphoron market, and she’s begun using her cyborg secretary, Hydro (Doug DeVos, of Breeders), as a go-between for some hardball negotiations with the rogue exec. Basically, she’s offering him a choice between a bribe and extortion. Either Z coughs up 50 kilos of Euphoron in exchange for information from Domina’s electronic spy network about the activities of Darla and her allies, or she drops the dime on him, Inteltrax goes the way of a hundred mobbed-up companies before it, and the Euphoron trade returns to business as usual that way. The third big problem is hinted at by Z’s incredulous reaction to the huge quantity of drugs that Domina demands of him. As he correctly surmises, not even she could shoot up that much dope; the rest is earmarked for the Delta-8, a yet more advanced and yet more powerful cyborg which she has been developing on her own in secret. The Delta-8 was designed from the outset to run on Euphoron, so it enjoys all the advantages imparted by the chemical, without the apparently unforeseen side effects of gradual physical and neurological deterioration that afflict Z’s drug-addicted Delta-7’s. (The Delta-8 is nevertheless much uglier than even the most degenerate Delta-7, for no reason that I can begin to discern.) Domina wants her old job back, and if she has to assassinate Z with her new cyborg to get it, then that’s more than fine by her.
Presumably the physical degeneration of the Delta-7’s explains why this movie is called Mutant Hunt, rather than the seemingly more sensible Cyborg Hunt. It’s realized by having the makeup department glue unconvincing prostheses to the stunt men’s faces and then dousing them with viscous yellow glop, an economy measure which I’m guessing was adopted in order to free up funds for other sorts of special effects— the kind that justify the “Too gory for the silver screen!” blurb on the front cover of the old Wizard Video VHS edition. I can’t deny that Kincaid’s makeup artists went all-out when it came to devising ways to depict the biomechanical ickiness of the cyborgs’ destruction, but that very fact calls attention to the relative paucity of what most people are going to think of when they read that boast. Nor is that the only sense in which Mutant Hunt seems to be going out of its way not to live up to its own hype. Throughout the film, we hear one character after another talk up the superhuman strength, speed, and intelligence of the Delta-7’s, much as their counterparts in Blade Runner extol the prowess of the Replicants, but at no point are we shown anything like Daryl Hannah beating the shit out of Harrison Ford to back it up. In fact, even before they begin to succumb to the side effects of mutation, the cyborgs are shown to be lumbering, clumsy, witless brutes, generally unable to so much as land a punch on the heroes even despite their absurd stretchy arms (which they rarely seem to remember they have anyway). They can to some extent put themselves back together after being smashed up, but the way that’s handled here is a far cry from the menacing impassivity with which the titular cyborg shrugs off damage in The Terminator. And as if the “unstoppable” cybernetic killing machines’ inability to come to grips with a couple of guido jocks and a pasty redhead who can’t seem to make it through a fight without the front of her shirt coming undone weren’t bad enough, Ron Reynaldi (in his behind-the-scenes capacity as action coordinator) deprives the fighting of whatever residual tension or energy it might have possessed by permitting everyone not directly involved in the punching and kicking to loaf around the edges of the set, waiting for the dust to settle. It’s especially obvious and especially damaging in the initial tussle at Riker’s apartment, where Darla (whom the cyborgs have come to capture, remember) seems more bored and irritated with the situation than afraid for her life and/or liberty; I half-expected her to demand petulantly of Matt, “Come on— can’t you do this later? I was trying to tell you something important!” while he battled on her behalf.
Even so, I can’t quite bring myself to hate Mutant Hunt the way it probably deserves to be hated. It’s no damn good and kind of boring, but it’s no good and boring in an interesting way, if that makes any sense. I had much the same reaction to Alfonso Brescia’s War of the Robots, another plodding, dumb, lackadaisically written piece of shit that for some reason I found perversely charming in spite of myself. Mutant Hunt is less blatantly nonsensical than that movie (which says more against Brescia’s film than it does for Kincaid’s), and therefore engaged me less. Both, however, display a hubris so vastly disproportionate to their creators’ actual abilities and resources that they left me eager to see more of their respective makers’ work— even though I’m quite confident that little if any of it will be one scintilla more entertaining. I tell you, watching this stuff does weird things to your mind after a while…