Episode 35: Habitat (1997)

We return to the 90s as MikeD brings in a supposed Sci-Fi Channel movie (with plentiful swearing and nudity?) that’s like a combination of Society, Airborne and Ferngully. Balthasar Getty stars as a high schooler whose dad mutated him to withstand UV rays and mutated his house to be a jungle of pheromones. There’s a crazed boxing coach and the usual cavalcade of bullies, stoners and feisty young ladies of the best high-school dramas. Then the EPA

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MikeD’s VHS Dungeon: Future-Kill (1985)

Hi, failure fans! This inaugurates what we hope will be a recurring feature: things appearing on our website/blog that aren’t just links to new episodes of our glorious podcast. And now over to future-kill-vhs-muttleyMikeD.

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All four of us own some VHS tapes, but I’m probably the closest to being a collector. Here you can see our old pal Muttley holding my copy of Vestron Video’s Future-Kill, emblazoned with “The Stars of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are back!” Yes, ten years after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the guy who played Leatherface’s brother and the lady who played Sally are back, along with a bunch of non-actors from the Austin arts scene, in a movie that has nothing in common with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre except violence and Austin locales. The guy who played Leatherface’s brother (Edwin Neal) is the star of the show here, and the lady who played Sally (Marilyn Burns) is only in a couple scenes but ends up the hero.

But first: that amazing key art! Somehow H.R. Giger himself was induced by novice writer/director/producer/genre film nut Ron Moore to render a lovely monochrome image of Splatter, the evil guy played by Edwin Neal. This art probably doubled Future-Kill‘s shelf life at rental places, although its dubious claim to the Texas Chainsaw mantle was usurped a year or so later by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and it didn’t appear on DVD until 2006.

You can tell this will be sci-fi horror. What type is it? The type with appallingly cheap costumes, set in a post-apocalyptic would that is basically our world with bonfires here and there and people in cheap costumes walking around. Filmed on city streets at 3AM. That makes it very reminiscent of Forgotten Failures fave Mutant Hunt, but Mutant Hunt is superior.

Advantages to Mutant Hunt:

This is graffiti? Get with it, Austin.
This is graffiti? Get with it, Austin.
  • shorter, therefore less boring
  • filmed in New York, not Austin. Therefore better graffiti, better storefronts, gritty apartments and warehouses instead of suburban farmhouses, some nice shots of the waterfront, etc.
  • fewer uses of the word “faggot” (0 compared to roughly 6)
  • better costumes. At least Mutant Hunt has robots with their faces falling off. Future-Kill has people with eye makeup, and two people you’re supposed to know are nuclear mutants because their hair is patchy and purple.
  • better characters. Mercenary Matt Riker, the big-haired Jersey Girl scientist lady, the guy who looks like John Oates, the stripper/mercenary, the whiny pleasure-droid, etc.
  • sets that seem actually futuristic, sort of
  • better practical effects. Mutant Hunt has the aforementioned melting robot faces, and the mutant who extends his arm to reach something and his arm is a perfectly straight tube like a roll of wrapping paper in a sleeve. Yes, that is a terrible practical effect. But I don’t think Future-Kill has any effects at all, except “put fake blood on guy’s face”.
  • more complex plot. It is not a coherent plot, but it’s better than “frat idiots randomly go to area controlled by nuclear freaks, are attacked by nuclear freaks, try to escape”

Advantages to Future-Kill:

  • the villain is truly malevolent and scary instead of being a malfunctioning loserbot
  • better fight choreography
  • more swearing
  • breasts (circa minute 17)
  • crazy colorful lighting
  • more political awareness, in the form of lectures about nuclear armanents and police brutality from a girl festooned with rabbit feet or tiny mink tails or something
  • better music (two full songs by exciting punky new wave band Max and the Makeups, plus a Marshall Crenshaw-esque power pop number when the frat idiots are driving around)
  • frat party antics, if you like that

So what the heck happens in this movie? Well, there’s a city, and the abandoned Thompson nuclear research laboratory keeps catching fire, which may have produced two or more mutated people. Anti-nuclear protestors have taken over acres of the downtown of the city, possibly in response to one of these fires, or it may be unrelated. It’s kind of a Escape From New York / Double Dragon scenario. The anti-nuclear protestors are called freaks and they dress funny, including Duran Duran video girl eye makeup and slightly Thunderdomish outfits. They just sort of hang around downtown entertaining each other in an area the cops have abandoned. It’s a bit odd to have one part of one city be post-apocalyptic while the rest of the world gets along fine, but that’s what we have here. Important: the freaks are very peaceful, except for one guy who is an actual mutant, who showed up, was welcomed into their bosom, and now goes around murdering people. This guy is named Splatter, he wears purplish armor and has a retractable Wolverine claw, and he’s ruining it for everyone. The police think they’re all violent even though every single murder is the work of Splatter.


And meanwhile… there is a frat party.

The frat party takes up the first third of the movie. It comes after GREAT opening credits, in which the windows in downtown office buildings look like rectangles of color in a De Stijl painting [see above], with addictively moody synth music. Credits are followed by a token scene of a guy with a purple furry backpack (Eddie, the leader of the freaks) telling Splatter to stop murdering everyone because it isn’t compatible with his peaceful principles. And then… 25 unbroken minutes of frat antics, as the viewer wonders if the film may have peaked during the opening credits.

But from the filmmakers’ point of view, it peaks during the frat party. The vast majority of “actors” in the credits are guests at the frat party. The viewer gets the distinct feeling that Ron Moore decided to make a movie so he could throw the greatest party ever, and the remaining 50-some minutes are him realizing that making movies is too much work and he should just run a store that sells movie artifacts instead. But man, this party looks fun. With so many set pieces– the guy who turns to every woman and says “Hi, my name’s Gregg. Do ya like me so far?”; the nerd who hyperventilates when he realizes he’s standing between two women whose bosoms are at head level; the girl who bites off the end of a hot dog while a guy looks pained (it looks like a steamed hot dog too; very unappetizing); the guy using plastic tubing to drink from a liquor bottle mounted on a rolling hospital IV cart. And the sinister upper-class frat princeling who somehow has an office, a desk, shelves of musty books and two bodyguards.

Frat guy Clint finds the most awesome way to light a cigar - via the hand of a hitherto unseen sexy babe .
Frat guy Clint finds the most awesome way to light a cigar – via the hand of a hitherto unseen bodacious babe.

After the party, some guys from a marginal frat that is running into trouble decide that to make things right with the princeling, they’ll do an unprecedented prank: go down to the part of town where the post-apocalypse may be occurring, and kidnap one of the “freaks”. For the lulz. To fit in, they dress up in Duran Duran video girl eye makeup and Duran Duran guitar player haircuts.

This does not go well.

Splatter is a mutated psychopath killing machine, but above all else, he's pouty.
Splatter is a mutated psychopath killing machine, but above all else, he’s pouty.

And… the rest of the 84 minutes (same length as Mutant Hunt!) go as you might expect. The frat idiots fail to kidnap their chosen freak, who turns out to be Eddie, the king freak of freak mountain. Splatter kills Eddie, and makes the rest of the freaks think the frat idiots killed him. They get separated and it turns into The Warriors as one group of them gets terrified and the other group meets a friendly lass named Julie who shows them that freaks are nice people and takes them to a concert. The concert is a high point as Max and the Makeups turn out to be a very, very good new wave band. No keyboards — no saxophones — if their singer wasn’t a glamorous woman, you could even call them a punk band. We hear two full songs. The frat guys start to relax.

But of course, Splatter shows up with his two mustachioed henchmen (I thought he was the only violent one?) and the nice guys scatter. Then, stalking. Lots of stalking. Walking slowly through a building with bright blue lights in one room, bright red lights elsewhere, a hallway with red and green and blue lights all coming from different places, etc. The frat guys reunite, another one gets murdered, and Marilyn Burns, as the other purple-haired mutant, Dorothy, leads them into what looks like a laboratory in a haunted house. Splatter follows. And Splatter’s henchmen have a lovely scene where one says “Fuckin’ cat”, we see a cat, we see the henchman blasting away with a submachine gun, and then we see the bloody corpse of what might have been a cat, and the other henchman says “Yummers” in a weird British accent. I think that’s the only line Henchman #2 has, because the British accent was as out-of-nowhere as the entire cat massacre.

This lighting is typical of the last 30 minutes of Future-Kill.
This lighting is typical of the last 30 minutes of Future-Kill.

We find out that Dorothy is luring her ex-friend? ex-lover? Splatter into this room so she can stab him with a trident and push him into some sort of chamber where he gets super-mutated and melted and stuff. I guess the building must be the Thompson Nuclear Meltdown Lab.

And finally, dawn breaks, just like at the end of Mutant Hunt. The frat guys are relieved. It’s all over. No! A mustachioed henchman jumps out of the building! It’s not over! But Steve, the muscle-bound frat guy (Clint is the dumb one, George is the dead one, Tom or possibly Jay is the rich one) grabs him and snaps his neck. It’s all over! It’s all over.

The director really did a favor for the guy who played Steve because there was no need for that scene, and there was certainly no need for his pre-neck-snapping one-liner “After what I’ve been through tonight, motherfucker… it’s over.” Sadly this is the only IMDB credit for the guy who played Steve. I wonder if this Austin-area personal injury lawyer (27 years of experience! Dating back to 3 years after Future-Kill came out!) is the same Wade Reese.

Cut to gloomy music over goofy credits.

They had fun filming this.
They had fun filming this.

So in summation, the movie is stupid, the gripping moments are also unenjoyable because they involve Splatter being a grumpy psychopath (I forgot to mention the scene where a prostitute comes on to him and he crushes her in corrugated metal siding), and there’s no memorable characters except the grumpy psychopath. But pn the other hand, you won’t find any other 80s sci-fi horror movies filmed at 3AM in Austin, Texas including a 25-minute frat party and a Pearl Beer lighting fixture hanging over someone’s bed.

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Rating: 4 out of 10 nuclear bonfires

Episode 19: Mutant Hunt (1987)

Great bad music. Great bad acting. Great bad cinematography (shot on the mean streets of NYC at 3AM). A Smithersbot, a bitchbot, and robots with gross glorping melting faces. A robot that looks like Matt Geiger. Listen and commiserate as MikeD is devastated by his 3 pals’ refusal to appreciate the inimitable greatness of Mutant Hunt.

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