Everybody’s Into Weirdness: FUTURE-KILL (1985)

Austin splatterpunk goes DIY with Ronald W. Moore's sole feature film.

The Alamo Drafthouse is a brand built on weird. Beyond being situated in a town that has long aspired to remain eccentric in the face of all normality, it’s easy to forget that the original Alamo started as something of a private screening club, running prints of the odd and obscure into all hours of the night*. Though the company has obviously grown into an internationally recognized chain of first run movie palaces, the Drafthouse Ritz in Austin, Texas remains committed to showcasing genre repertory programming, namely via its Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday showcases. This column is a concentrated effort to keep that spirit of strangeness alive, as programmers Joe A. Ziemba and Laird Jimenez (often pulling from the extensive AGFA archives) are truly doing Satan’s bidding by bringing ATX weekly doses of delightful trash art.

The fifteenth entry into this disreputable canon is the Austin splatterpunk DIY Texas Chain Saw Massacre reunion Future-Kill

Year: 1985

Trailers: Fraternity Vacation; The Dungeonmaster

Alternate Titles: Splatter; Night of the Alien

In Future-Kill, it’s hard to tell whether or not the apocalypse has already occurred, or if we’re anticipating Earth’s eventual fiery demise. Frat boys still walk the planet, popping collars before tarring and feathering their rivals, so evidence seems to suggest the latter. Nevertheless, downtown Austin is overrun by purple-haired, chrome-masked Mutants, all of who protest impending nuclear doom. Reality – at least as we know it – is on the brink of utter annihilation.

Ronald W. Moore never wrote, directed or produced another motion picture after Future-Kill, and that’s a true shame (he now owns a movie memorabilia company in suburban Texas). This is not to say the UT grad’s oddball New Wave horror transmission is some sort of unheralded classic. It’s clunky, full of proto-Eli Roth jabroni humor, and too visually muddy for its own good. However, there’s a legitimate vision at play that could’ve been expounded upon, had Moore ever been given a second go behind the camera. For a movie that’s essentially lensed in the back alleys of ATX, the single shot director sucks a good bit of scorched circle ambiance from the piss-stained corridors that line Sixth Street, transforming them into dens of punk rock vice. Sadly, the grimy atmosphere of Future-Kill never really caught on with the public, as the movie was relegated to a limited theatrical run before finding its way to the dusty middle shelves of video store genre sections.

Future-Kill is a mash of late '70s and early '80s stylings that were prevalent in both pop music and cinema. There’s a grungy cartoonishness to the Mutants that feels indebted to Walter Hill’s The Warriors – led by Splatter (Texas Chain Saw’s Edwin Neal, intoning like cyborg Barry White), a filth ball kin to Freddy Krueger, melded with one of Lord Humungous’ motorcycle fetish troopers. Splatter scares many of his kind because he isn’t afraid to kill in order to further the squad’s battle for nuclear disarmament (not a big Reagan fan, one would take it), having been horribly disfigured via radiation poisoning. Wielding a retractable Wolverine claw with reckless abandon, Splatter storms about his dilapidated hideout, a volcanic wrath-monger who cannot be contained. Even fellow fiend, Dorothy Grim (fellow TCM alum, Marilyn Burns), eyes the maniac from afar, wondering just when he’s going to cross the line.

Smash cut to the Sig-Ep House, where a bunch of letter-sporting goons have just landed themselves in hot water for fucking with the ride of a rival President (future Austin Chronicle Arts Editor, Eddie Faires). For penance, they’ve been tasked with painting their faces to look like Mutants (which really only involves a bunch of pink and purple eyeliner) in order to head into “FREAK CITY” (as one rubber faced brother refers to it) so that they can kidnap a protestor and bring them back to campus. How this prank makes any logical sense is up for the audience to decide, but shit hits the fan rather quickly once the crew come across Splatter, who quickly shoves his claw through the bottom of one bro’s jaw. The fun and games are over, as the boys are running for their lives after being framed for a gang leader’s murder (again – the narrative lucidity of Future-Kill is hazy at best), lost in a maze they struggle to navigate on their own.

A long, dark urban nightmare ensues, complete with a punk pixie guide (Alice Villarreal) to the mosh pit clubs these sewer cretins call home (with a show-stopping performance from local rockers, Max and the Makeups, along the way). This climaxes in a funhouse-style showdown inside of a run down industrial high-rise; each room bathed in a different shade of neon. Where the rest of this concrete jungle trek is drab and dimly lit, Future-Killcomes alive during this final day-glo stalk and slash sequence. It’s far from stunning, but again glimpses Moore’s modestly ambitious filmic vision. It’s a movie that makes the most of its meager means, playing like a demo reel for future ragers that never arrived.

In top exploitation picture fashion, Future-Kill spawned its own iconography inadvertently via advertising, as H.R. Giger (who was either persuaded by superfan Edwin Neal or manipulated by Moore into taking the gig) agreed to pen the poster art. What resulted was a classic VHS box that (like all the best grindhouse art) promised an experience the picture didn’t necessarily deliver. Giger’s work resembles a cross between William Gibson cyberpunk and the Alienmonstrosities the artist helped envision for Ridley Scott’s horror classic. Many tapes were rented thanks to the striking sketch, though it’s not hard to imagine some viewers being disappointed when they got speared frat boys instead of a slimy futuristic Hellscape.

The mileage one gets out of a movie like Future-Kill is going to almost solely depend on their willingness to indulge the movie’s ruddy, lo-fi aesthetic. None of the characters are particularly likable, to the point that you’re actively rooting for Splatter to massacre the meatheads – until the Mutant sexually assaults a woman, reminding us that he is, in fact, the bad guy. Yet Future-Kill remains undeniably diverting for its brief runtime (which had to be padded with extra hijinks in order to reach feature length). It’s no lost gem, but Moore’s lone feature will do the job if you’re in a pinch for an era-specific horror freak out.

Tonight on Weird Wednesday: Ladies and Gentlemen…The Fabulous Stains

Previous WW Features: Penitentiary; Skatetown USA; Blood Games; The Last Match; Invasion of the Bee Girls; Julie Darling; Shanty Tramp; Coffy; Lady Terminator; Day of the Dead; The Kentucky Fried Movie; Gone With the Pope; Fright Night; Aliens