Future Zone (1990)

Night and day, my friends. In between 1989’s “Future Force” and this, David Carradine either stopped drinking or found some better drugs, because he actually appears to be enjoying himself, not walking zombie-like through proceedings. In fact, more energy is on display from everyone here, making it moderately enjoyable to watch!

For those of you not present yesterday, “Future Force” is a cop thriller set in a future which looks remarkably like our present, and has two differences with our time – one, the police force has been privatised, and two, David Carradine has a super-glove which can fly through the air and choke people, as well as attaching to Carradine’s arm and firing lasers.

“Future Zone” is quite different. Although Carradine still has the glove, he uses it even less than he did in the first movie (and both my wife and I were shouting at him to save himself the effort by using it more, then); and while there’s still privatised police, it looks much more like a normal police force. Also quite importantly, despite both movies sharing a main character who does the same job, with the same ludicrous prop, this definitely isn’t a sequel. The sets are different, the outfits are different, the whole feel of it is different.

Absolutely no attempt whatsoever is made to set this movie in any sort of future, but the name is approached from a different angle. Early on in proceedings, there’s a beam of light from the sky, and from it emerges…Ted Prior!

Yes, Ted, star of most of his brother David A’s movies, is the co-star here, and he’s Billy, a cop from the future who’s come back to help Tucker (Carradine) solve a dangerous crime, or something. I was trying to hide the big reveal, although it’s painfully obvious from the first time you see them both together; then I noticed that IMDB spoils it in their synopsis so I don’t feel bad now. Billy is Tucker’s son from the future, although both Tucker and his wife look a little too old to be having children, given they’ve not had any yet (Carradine was 54 at the time of filming, Gail Jensen – who played his wife – was 41). You can tell Billy is from the future due to his incredibly sweet mesh shirt, which is never referred to by anyone but is magnificent.

The plot of this is so inconsequential as to barely be worth bothering with – a huge shipment of cocaine is brought into town, the bad guys kill the dealers…

ASIDE: This is classic Bad Guy Economics. Who will ever trust you enough to sell you drugs after you kill your previous dealer?

…and then blow up the ship it came in on. They really blow it up as well, despite it looking like a huge old rusted hulk and not a ship that anyone has used in decades. Kudos to them for finding a city that was going to do some demolition and getting permission to film it, I guess. Anyway! Tucker stops the shipment and confiscates it, then the bad guys want it back, Tucker and his son have a big “They Live” style fight in an alleyway and at the end of it are friends, you know the routine.

David A Prior was not, I suppose, a stupid man. So when he slips certain little lines in, one must assume he knew exactly how odd they were and was doing it for a laugh. When asked about how he came to be from 30 years in the future, Billy just casually says “some friends of mine built a time portal”. Wait, what? Your friends built a time portal but didn’t use it for anything fun like going to the first ever Beatles gig, or sharing a bottle of whisky with Ernest Hemingway? Nothing serious like killing Hitler? Nope, they decided to send their friend back so he could save his Dad’s life! They must really have liked Billy (or really wanted to get rid of him).

As well as a much brighter performance from Carradine, Prior is on good form too, and there’s some decent supporting turns, such as Charles Napier as the corrupt police chief. Well, as they sort of ignore the privatised thing, it’s difficult to say exactly what his job is. Prior’s budgets means he never had to scrimp on his casting, and it’s a plus here as it is in most of his movies of the AIP era.

What I’d like to think is that Carradine went to Prior after the first movie, and a stint of sobriety, and apologised for the cruddy performance in the first one and offered to make another, and this time he’d really try. But there must have been some argument about the glove – imagine Star Wars where, in the final fight, Obi-Wan just decides to fist-fight against Darth because the lightsabre would be too easy? Why even have it as a thing in the movie if you’re not going to use it? Or comment on it? Argh

So, much better than the previous Future movie, and a fitting end to our mini-series of reviews. If you have any other equally silly ideas for sorts of movies for us to cover, please leave a comment!

Rating: thumbs up

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Future Force (1989)

Welcome to the end of one review series, and the continuation of another. Picked pretty much at random was “movies whose titles begin with the word Future”, and as I was scanning IMDB to find the ones I wanted to tell you about, I noticed that our old friend David A Prior – see his reviews HERE – made a couple of “Future” movies, and in our on-hiatus series of his stuff, we’re nearly at the right time (there’s two other movies from 1989 of his we’ve not covered yet, but it’s not always easy to track this stuff down). I like a bit of dovetailing!

Okay, that’s quite enough of that. You don’t care about my thought processes, you care about knowing which terrible movies you’ve never heard of are worth watching, if you’re – for some reason – stranded in a VHS shop with a gun to your head, told you have to pick a good one or else you’re dead. I have no other reason why anyone would want to read this site.

Along with David A Prior, we get David Carradine! Even though David Carradine died in 2009, movies he worked on are still being released (most recently, “The American Connection” in 2017). In this movie, he just looks like he wishes he was dead, and plays Tucker, a cop.

Well, he’s sort of a cop. In this heady far off future, which coincidentally looks exactly the same as the ugly parts of LA looked in the late 80s, law enforcement has been privatised. C.O.P.S., which the beginning of the movie says stands for “Civilian Operated Police Incorporated”, but a sign hanging above their dingy office claims the last word is “Systems”, is a force of…about 8 people? All the guys have mullets, all the women have big ol’ perms, and everyone has a denim vest with a “C.O.P.S.” badge on.

Head of the force is Captain Adams (William Zipp, a Prior regular and a surprisingly good actor, although he’s not trying very hard here), who, accompanied by goon Becker (Robert Tessier, who was a goon in pretty much every TV show of the 70s and 80s) wants to take over the streets. Quelle surprise! Who’d have thunk a privatised police force would be susceptible to corruption? Anyway, a TV reporter has footage of them not upholding the law, so Adams places a fake charge of treason on her file and all the cops try and hunt her down. No-one says “seems a bit unlikely that this TV reporter would be guilty of treason, seems more likely the cops are guilty and trying to kill her”, but Tucker figures it out quite quickly and it’s the two of them against the world; even more so when C.O.P.S claims Tucker’s guilty of murder too.

There’s a stupendous amount of padding in “Future Force”. Every car journey is shown in excruciating detail, almost – almost – to the point where you wonder if it’s a joke. Surely just watching this pre-release must have clued him in to how boring those segments are? It’s 84 minutes long and could have comfortably trimmed 15 off that (although I guess there’s a low limit to what can be sold as a movie for TV stations wanting a two-hour block with adverts).

We’ve not discussed something very important in this movie from 1989, set in the impossibly distant 1991. This is no surprise to those of you who’ve bothered to look at the front cover art above.

DAVID CARRADINE HAS A POWER-GLOVE AND BARELY EVER USES IT

Imagine you’re a cop in the lawless lands of the future. You have a weapon so powerful it pretty much guarantees you’ll come out on top in any confrontation, so what do you do?

a. Use it all the time to ensure your victory and survival?

or

b. Leave it in the back of your car and use your crappy old six-shooter all the time?

I presume they mentioned how he came to own such an amazing piece of technology in one of the lines of dialogue I wasn’t listening to (he does have a tech genius assistant, I suppose) but that really ought to have been more central to things. It’s the only remotely futuristic thing in the entire movie! It’s even remote controlled and beats up the last two bad guys for him while he lays down! Why are you so against using it! Okay, I know the actual reason is it was too expensive to do the effects for, for a low-budget organisation like AIP, but even so.

It’s a weird film, this. It’s relentlessly ugly, filming in the parts of LA that most movies don’t use, with good reason. Just endless concrete vistas with squat, broken down industrial buildings – it may well be what the future looks like, but I hope not. Zipp and Tessier relish their opportunity to be OTT bad guys; but Carradine is so comatose that it’s a real surprise he lived for 20 more years after this, and (Tarantino appearances notwithstanding) never really appeared in anything good ever again. He reminds me of Eric Roberts, who also largely stopped appearing in good things, with the difference being Roberts appears to enjoy his life and relishes appearing in dozens of movies a year. Do you think Carradine enjoyed any of the…15 movies he’s credited for in 1989?

Of interest to:

  • Carradine completists (I’m sure there are some)
  • Prior completists (welcome, friends)
  • “Person with a super-powered glove” movie completists (this, Laserblast, and…?)

Rating: thumbs down

EDIT: The chaps at Rifftrax have covered this, so head on over to rifftrax.com for some comedy good times.

Future War (1997)

When I saw this in my “list of future movies”, I got quite excited – a cyborg master race from the future! Dinosaur trackers! Human slaves! The battle taking place in modern day Los Angeles! But something was nagging at the back of my mind.

Then I remembered. “Mystery Science Theater 3000” did it. Their last season, admittedly, when they weren’t exactly firing on all comedic cylinders any more, but still their writers are probably better at their job than I am.

The basic gist of things is a Nun accidentally runs over an escaped slave from the future, and helps him in his battle against not only the dinosaur trackers, but the cyborg super-race who “created” them both. Now, it’s shown early on that our hero Daniel Bernhardt (who was in the “Bloodsport” sequels before appearing in lots of fairly big budget things in small roles – he’s a goon in “John Wick”, for example) is really good at kicking ass, so you’re presented with the “why aren’t the cyborgs much stronger than the humans?” conundrum right from the beginning. It wants to confuse you! That the cyborgs are schlubby looking guys with mullets and raccoon-eye makeup is just par for the course here.

Anyway, not too much sense going on about this one. The experts have covered this ground, but I wanted to refresh your memory, in case you wondered why I’d ignored such a (relatively) well-known addition to the “Future” canon. Or, indeed, an entry in the respective filmographies of Bernhardt and the late, great Robert Z’Dar, who’s also a future cyborg but annoyingly eschews the makeup.

Rating: thumbs up

Future Fear (1997)

Neither of them dress remotely like this at any point

Welcome, dear reader, to the heady far off days of 2017 as imagined in 1997, which even though it’s a dystopia is slightly less hellish than the actual 2017 we all lived through. If only you knew how badly it could get messed up, children of Blair and Clinton!

Anyway, it’s 2017 and a comet, last seen in 1997 (based on Hale-Bopp, which showed up then and was perhaps the brightest comet of the 20th century) is coming back round for another pass, and because there’s signs of alien life on it, a probe is sent out to have a look. The probe, on its way back to Earth with real genuine alien RNA on board, crashes in Africa and the plague unleashed from there wipes out almost all the human race.

The guy doing the voiceover – yes, a B-movie which needs to explain its central plot at length in the first five minutes is probably going to be tough going – is anti-establishment genetic scientist Dr John Denniel, who we meet in a helicopter, being chased by a red helicopter, piloted by his wife, who’s now his most hated enemy, Anna. Couple of gems of casting – Anna is played by Maria Ford, who’s a bit of a B-movie legend (we’ve met her before in “Deathstalker 4” and “Future Kick”); and John is the great Jeff Wincott. Because he’s a legit martial artist, he’s done a bajillion straight-to-video martial arts movies, but he’s also an actual actor and won awards for his TV work (“Night Heat”). We love him here at the ISCFC, and have covered his work in the “Universal Soldier” sequels and “Prom Night”, and it appears that while making this movie no-one ever thought to tell him to dial it down a little.

There are three things to note if you’re thinking of embarking on an evening of “Future Fear”. One is the title doesn’t really match the action – it’s being set in the future is never referenced and there’s not so much as a whisper of any cool future tech. Two – it’s 75 minutes long, and doesn’t waste a second of it, jumping between times and plots with reckless abandon. Three – it’s produced by Roger Corman, and don’t let the fact that Corman produced 17 other movies that year (!) convince you of its lack of quality.

I want to leap around a little less than the movie does. Stacy Keach, who must have owed someone some money, is the main US Army guy, until it’s revealed he’s actually a Nazi whose plan to wipe out the human race apart from the pure Aryans works perfectly (he crashes the satellite into Africa deliberately). John and Anna try to come up with a cure, fall in love, get married, then almost immediately turn to murderous rage towards each other – she gets pregnant and he suggests abortion, as bringing a baby into this world is sheer folly; then their solution to the virus is some embryos of animal-human hybrids with natural immunity, and she sees them as her children, he sees them as sources of valuable genetic information. And thus lies what might charitably be called the plot.

The first half gives us four timelines simultaneously – the early happy relationship of John and Anna; the miserable breakup time; the bit where he’s still trying to save humanity but she’s actually a secret recruit of Stacy Keach; and then the bit where Anna is trying to kill John. The second half of the movie is pretty much entirely their fight through the corridors and air ducts of their research base, with lots and lots of “hey, I caught you! No, you escaped really easily!” moments; and because “Die Hard” cast a long shadow, John has a friend who he only communicates with via radio, who’s trying to help him.

Wincott really goes all out here, enjoying the chance to do what appears to be intentional comedy. He quotes from “Alice In Wonderland” throughout, which is an interesting touch but not one which really goes anywhere, like an earlier draft made it part of the plot but they forgot that bit and left the quotes in anyway – sadly, they never quoted a very important line, “it would nice if something made sense for a change”. There’s a fight scene where John uses a toilet plunger, which is stuck to the wall – some of my fellow reviewers don’t seem to have a sense of humour and treat it like it’s intended to be serious. Come on!

What you’ll notice most obviously, though, is how disjointed it is. As well as the classic Corman touch of splicing in scenes from other movies he was making at the time, to save money, the editing is so offputting that I wondered if it was deliberate – probably not, is the answer. There are a few scenes that feature a ticking clock graphic at the bottom, but what that time is counting towards is never revealed. Good old Roger Corman!

This does break one of my most treasured movie rules, though – never directly remind someone of a more fun movie they could be watching instead. As he escapes one trap, John quips “I feel like I’m in a poor man’s version of Raiders Of The Lost Ark”, and while it’s more a very poor man’s Die Hard, just don’t draw attention to it!

I’ve been a little harsh to “Future Fear”, but – puzzling editing aside – it’s a fun little movie. OTT performance from Wincott, cheap and cheerful, rips along and is so puzzling, you’re unlikely to be bored at any time.

Rating: thumbs up

Future Shock (1994)

Sadly, this isn’t the documentary about the legendary British comic “2000 AD”, released under the same name in 2014 – I don’t think I could watch that and not just spend several thousand words gushing over how important it was to a whole generation of British nerds – but an out of time example of the anthology movie.

Anthology movies enjoyed a period of popularity in the 80s, with stuff like “Creepshow” and “Cat’s Eye” giving us three or four short horror tales (based on short stories, usually). Then, they had another brief renaissance in the late 00s, as low/no budget horror companies discovered they could package short films they’d been offered into these sorts of products, like “V/H/S”, “Hi-8” and many many others – they did pretty good business for their distributors.

And then there’s this (okay, I’ve obviously left loads out, but I’m trying to make a vague narrative here). I’ve really got no idea why it was made or for whom, and the best guess is some enterprising company was given a short film, had absolutely no idea of what to do with it, then the anthology movie idea popped into their head.

Today, this is probably only of interest to fans of the work of Matt Reeves, who directed “Cloverfield” and has done the most recent two “Planet Of The Apes” movies; this represents his first job of any sort, as he wrote and directed the third segment (which, honestly, isn’t even the best of the three).

The wrap-around is therapist Martin Kove, who has a virtual reality machine in his office which he uses to help his patients, or something. Well, it looks like a painted plasma ball with some mesh round it, but never mind that right now. The first segment involves a housewife whose paranoia involving the rampant levels of crime in LA manifests in her being attacked by a pack of wild dogs (while in her house, so they really just run round until a series of stupid events forces her to go outside); the second segment is a nebbish-y student who needs a roommate because he can’t pay his bills (the roommate being played by Bill Paxton, sort of channeling the unhinged character he did so well in “Near Dark”); and the third is about a guy who has a near death experience, then becomes obsessed with figuring out how it could have been avoided. Or something.

As well as Kove and Paxton, we get a very small appearance from James Karen, best known for his OTT performance in “Return Of The Living Dead”. We also get a scene where the housewife watches “Return…”, and I’m sure like everyone else who saw this, my primary thought was “I wish I was watching that movie instead of this”. Brion James, ISCFC Hall of Famer, pops up in a very out-of-character role as the dull businessman husband of the lady from part 1.

According to the trivia I read, there’s a cut scene from the beginning which actually explains the plot, so rather than being left in the dark for the first thirty minutes for no good reason, you might have had some interest. But then, I suppose they’d have needed more of a reason for the wraparound segment to exist, and it doesn’t seem like anyone was bothered about that. It’d have been cool for Kove’s machine to have had some reason to exist, I suppose? It did feel a little bit like Kove should have sat down at the beginning and gone “here’s just one wacky day in the life of a psychiatrist with a magic machine”, as he seems like a good guy, or that they were going to do an anthology TV series with him as the main character, but then got bored after three episodes and decided to make it into a movie.

I’m just making things up. Sorry, reader, but this was really pretty dull and I feel it can’t be recommended, even if you’re on some odd quest to watch every movie with “Future” as the first word of its title, or every anthology movie.

Rating: thumbs down