Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Future-Kill (1985)

I remember the box for Future-Kill (1985) staring at us from the video store shelf, daring us to rent it. “The Stars of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” are back!” it shouted at us. We had rented The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) a couple of years earlier, but the print had been so bad that we couldn’t really see what was going on, and as a result we weren’t that impressed by it. This, of course, changed for me a few years later when I finally saw a good print of the film, but when I was 12 I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. 

Still, I knew it was an important film; a legendary film – and incredibly popular to boot – so the fact the stars of that movie were in this one seemed like a ringing endorsement. But that wasn’t what got us all fired up about seeing Future-Kill. What made us pick it up and take it home that day was the image on the front of the box; the poster art.

It was designed by H.R. Giger, the renowned artist who had (perhaps most famously) designed the creature from Alien (1979). I’m not sure if we knew who Giger was at that time, or if we made the connection between Alien and the poster for Future-Kill, but we certainly thought it was a supercool image and it made us want to see the film.

We were young, and not all that discerning (as long as we could see what was going on), and the movie delivered an acceptable amount of action/violence, etc. so we enjoyed it well enough, but we didn’t LOVE it. Over the years, it became apparent that most people didn’t even LIKE it. The reviews I read were not kind. “…just another bunch of fraternity assholes trying to get out of the wrong part of town,” says L.A. Morse in Video Trash & Treasures II. “A sickening movie with nothing to counter balance its violence and nihilistic viewpoints,” says John Stanley in Creature Features. And whenever I found myself discussing the movie with another human being (which wasn’t that often) they would always say some version of this: “Really cool poster, really bad movie.”

The years went by, and I’d practically forgotten about the movie until late one night, when I turned on the TV and found myself staring at the opening credits of Future-Kill. Remembering all of the bad reviews, and practically nothing about the movie itself, I almost changed the channel… but something made me stop. And watch. And I was immediately puzzled. This was supposed to be a futuristic, sci-fi action/horror movie, but what I was seeing now was an off-kilter ’80s teen sex comedy. Or maybe a sub-par Animal House (1978). The “fraternity assholes” that L.A. Morse had described were engaging in such hilarious high-jinx as tarring and feathering a rival fraternity jerk and pulling a bait and switch with an attractive prostitute and a… how shall I say? …plus sized naked lady. What the -?

There was some news footage about a group an anti-nuclear protesters who dress like radiation scarred punks and refer to themselves as “mutants.” There is some suggestion that we are in “the future” and that there has been at least one nuclear disaster of some sort, but when we see shots of the city, everything appears to be pretty standard mid-1980s and non-apocalyptic.

The fraternity assholes, as a punishment for their out of control antics, are taken deep into the downtown “forbidden zone” of the city, where the “mutants” rule and things are dangerous. Their assignment is to kidnap one mutant and bring him back to their frat house. It should be a simple job for a group of strong and aggressive young assholes (one of whom is a bit of a macho muscle-head). Unfortunately, their leader decides to pick on the most dangerous looking, psychotic mutant of the bunch: Splatter, played by Edwin Neal from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He’s big and mean, and he’s wearing body armour complete with a glove of spikes. And we know that he is actually a victim of radiation poisoning, which makes him a real “mutant” (unlike the make-up wearing activists), and as such, he’s just a little pissed off.

Not surprisingly, things go awry for our fraternity assholes and they find themselves stranded in the forbidden zone with Splatter and his mutant minions trying to track them down and kill them (why didn’t those morons just grab one of the small wimpy looking mutants wearing too much eyeliner?). 

Seeing all of this unfold on late night TV, I was immediately reminded of my initial assessment of the movie; it’s really a second rate version of The Warriors (1979), which was (and probably still is) one of favourite movies of all time. Some might argue that this is just another reason to NOT like Future-Kill. But I loved The Warriors when I was a kid, and I used to try to think up ways to rip it off that would retain the excitement of the original movie, without being too obvious that they were ripoffs. I could never come up with anything that I thought would work. And I’m not sure that the makers of Future-Kill quite did either, but damn it if they didn’t give it a four star college try (insert fraternity joke here).

Part of me has always been of the opinion that if you can’t be watching the movie you love, at least be watching a decent rip off of it. And Future-Kill seemed to fit the bill for me back in the mid 80s, and again on late night TV in the early ’90s. But as a young adult I could see so much more in the film than I did as a kid. It wasn’t just a riff on The Warriors. It was also a teen sex comedy, and a horror film (with some decent gore) and a weird apocalyptic sci-fi movie (minus the convincing futuristic images of a ruined city – people still go to college and play stupid pranks in this future world, after all).

But that’s not all.

I was studying film (and theatre) at university when I saw this movie for a second time, and I could really appreciate the visible low budget can-do attitude of the filmmakers. It seemed obvious to me that they had just taken it to the streets and shot a bunch of footage late at night, most likely without permits, and I found it all incredibly inspirational. The soundtrack also inspired me, as it was a synth score (horribly out of date in the ’90s, but currently retro-cool). I played keyboards in a few basement bands starting in the 1980s, and I still had the out of date synthesizers to prove it. I had always imagined that I would score my own movies (like John Carpenter) if I ever got the chance, and the synth score of Future-Kill sounded like something I could actually do!

It should also be noted that I spotted the boom mic about a dozen times while watching the movie that night. This not only added to the campy fun, but also the sense that my friends and I could make a movie if we put our minds to it. By the time the credits rolled at 2:00 AM, I was a bonafide fan of Future-Kill. I bought a copy on VHS and watched it a few times over the years. Recently I upgraded to the collector’s edition DVD, which has some nice extras. The movie still looks (and sounds) cheap, but the boom mic is no longer a supporting player (as the image has been matted).  But that’s a small complaint.

Future-Kill (1985), for all of it’s shortcomings. will always be a special movie to me. Watching it is like visiting an old friend. I can’t say that everyone will love it as much as I do, but if you are a fan of #NotQuiteClassicCinema, it is undoubtedly a shining example of some of things you love to hate (or is it hate to love?), and I believe it is worthy of spending a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

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