Ten years after "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" (1974) opened American audiences' eyes to the relentless violence of an impending onslaught of splatter movies, two of that film's stars collaborated to make yet another low-budget fright flick in their native Texas. Edwin Neal (the bizarre hitchhiker from "Massacre") co-produced, co-wrote, and starred in "Future-Kill," a now mostly forgotten link on the independent film chain that pit frat boys against punk rebels in the dead of night. This film is a working definition of the term "underground movie," and whatever its faults or virtues may be, it certainly lives up to distributor Subversive Cinema's name.
In spite of what the title may suggest, there is nothing futuristic about this movie. In fact, seen today, everything in it is hideously dated. The film begins as Splatter (Neal), a punk-metal-"Mad Max" wannabe, is scolded by the leader of his rebel gang for being too violent. We later find out that this gang calls themselves the Anti-Nuke Mutants and makes their place of operation in a nuclear research lab that was shut down after an accident. The gang claims to be a peaceful organization, which must explain why each member has access to a variety of sharp weapons and fire arms.
The movie shifts gears to a frat party at a local university where a group of goofy guys tar and feather the leader of a rival fraternity. As punishment from their chaperone, they must disguise themselves as gang members and kidnap the Mutant of his choice. Stay with me. This plan goes completely awry when Splatter sees them, kills their chaperone as well as the Mutant leader (!) and sets out to murder the frat boys too. The boys eventually receive aid from a female Mutant (Alice Villarreal) who leads them to Dorothy Grim (Marilyn Burns, the shrieking final-girl from "Massacre"), Splatter's bustier-wearing ex who wants to kill him. Under her charge, the boys will be used as bait to lure Splatter into her web.
Needless to say, there is absolutely no logic to anything in this film. The plot, if it can be called that, consists primarily of the frat boys running around the city, ducking into doorways and making their way through alarmingly profuse amounts of smoke to avoid being obliterated by the mascara-covered gang members. The dialogue is amateurish at best and downright inane at the worst. Pacing and tone are forever in question, as the first twenty minutes of the movie are taken up by "Animal House"-inspired antics and goofball humor that doesn't really work, only to give way to an incredibly bleak midsection and denouement. With the exception of Neal and Burns, the performances are hopelessly wooden and even laughable at times.
On the other hand, this film is perfect fodder for late-night cult showings. Although the story and characters make no sense at all, the movie still manages to be watchable due in large part to the cinematography. The film is surprisingly well shot, especially considering the tight situations that surrounded the filming, not the least of which was the fact that the producers had no permit and resorted to guerilla tactics around Austin, Texas in the wee hours of the morning. Violence and gore effects abound in good measure, and there is certainly no shortage of blood. The costumes and hairstyles bring back vivid memories of an era of punk rock and heavy metal. Add to this the constant pumping of the requisite synthesizer score, and you've got yourself a regular midnight movie.
Ensuring that "Future-Kill" arrives in style for its cult fans, Subversive Cinema has released it in an anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer. Considering the shoestring budget and limited availability of equipment during filming, it is safe to assume that the source elements for this transfer were not sparkling. The transfer is relatively clean, with only minor speckling and a somewhat murky appearance. Colors are nicely saturated, especially in the opening and final sequences. The major problem here is a lack of sharpness, as the print looks very blurry and faded throughout. Black levels are also muddy, exhibiting a good amount of grain. Still, it is remarkable that it even looks this good, and I doubt that we could expect better.
The audio is presented only in its original mono soundtrack, which does not stand up as well as the picture quality. The sound is very harsh, making dialogue sometimes unintelligible. This is even more unfortunate as there are no subtitle options. There is really nothing remarkable to say here. It sounds old and garbled, but again this goes back to the source.
Thankfully, Subversive Cinema has included a couple of fun bonus features on this release. First up is an audio commentary with director Ronald W. Moore and Edwin Neal. Their conversation is ongoing and never lags, as the two talk about the making of the movie and make observations about it. Neal is especially interesting to listen to, with his wacky sense of humor (a complete 180 from his character in the movie). This definitely helps put the film in perspective and, in some ways, adds to our appreciation of it.
Neal shows up again in the next extra, a 22-minute conversational featurette. He discusses his career, the origins of "Future-Kill," its legacy, the cast, and lots of other interesting subjects. A comedian and frequent voice-actor, Neal is a real clown and makes this featurette a delight to watch. The level of success he has had outside of his cult stardom is quite impressive.
The rest of the bonus features are pretty much routine, with talent bios of Neal, Burns, and Moore, and trailers for this and other Subversive releases. As an insert, a reproduction of H. R. Giger's beautiful poster design is included with this release. This poster may technically be the best thing about the movie.
"Future-Kill" is by no means a good movie, but it is well-meaning and often funny (if for the wrong reasons). It has developed an underground following that will surely be thrilled by this DVD release and the care that Subversive Cinema has taken with it. If you are in the mood for a midnight movie that boasts everything we love to hate about the 1980s punk scene, then you can't go wrong with this film. Spiked hair and blue eye shadow never looked so kitschy. On second thought, scratch that.