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

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