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

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Final Equinox (1995)

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I know there’s a tendency for bad movie lovers to overhype some obscure piece of garbage that only they’ve seen, but this is straight up no fooling one of the most incomprehensible, bizarrely acted, shot and edited movies of all time. A grin spread across my face from five minutes in as I knew I was in for a treat, and if you can track it down you should – I’m delighted I picked this as the last in our long-running series on Joe Lara.

 

Where to begin? A guy doing an archaeological dig armed with little more than a shoe-brush finds, in a few inches of sand, a weird alien artefact that looks a bit like a sawn-off baseball bat painted silver. Then, after a caption which reads “in the not too distant future”, we meet Lugar and Piper (Lara and Robin Joi Brown) coming back from a vacation in outer space, seemingly happy, only to get back to their rather nice-looking home and immediately break up. She keeps making references to him being “dark”, and the “darkness” all around, despite that not really being a thing that people say to each other. Well, she might have explained herself but the background music drowns out bits of dialogue – a problem we’ll have throughout.

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Some sleazy bad guys led by Torman (Martin Kove, never without a massive cigar, apart from, I notice, the picture used immediately above, annoyingly) steal the artefact relatively easily and want to sell it. They’re not bothered about who – they’re happy to sell it back to “Central Intelligence” but if they don’t come through will take it overseas. Lugar, it turns out, is a cop so we’ve got the evil Torman’s gang, the moderately evil Central Intelligence, and the miserable drug addict Lugar (he’s seen puffing on some apparently narcotic inhaler at regular intervals) as our three main groups. Oh, and David Warner, during his wilderness years, shows up as a homeless super-genius who used to work on the artefact before he went mad.

 

That’s your plot, pretty much. Sort of standard, sort of dumb, just every now and again they’ll drop in some reference to them being in the future, like a box that can identify someone immediately by a  strand of their hair or something. It’s everything else that conspires to make this a so-bad-it’s-good classic, and first up is the way it’s shot. Now, this will take a bit of explaining, so apologies if you already know this.

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The way conversations are normally filmed is what’s called shot-reverse shot. It’s simple – one actor is shown in the first shot looking to the right of the camera, and the person they’re talking to will, in the reverse shot, look to the left. They’re not actually looking at each other, but it’s a visual trick and works. This movie occasionally does that, but right from the beginning it has two actors looking the same way, which irritates the brain – plus, all the angles are way off, so it never looks like two people who are feet apart are in the same room. It’s an elementary mistake not even made by  the lowest-budget filmmakers, so for writer-director Serge Rodnunsky (who’d been making movies for five years by this point) to do it over and over again is just a head-scratcher.

 

The use of sets is another winner! Best guess is Rodnunsky or one of his producers loved hunting, as Lugar’s home is covered with hunting trophies, including a gigantic set of tusks dominating his living room. There’s also what is I think supposed to be a strip club later on in the movie? Anyway, it looks like another room in Lugar’s house – mounted animal heads all round, and ugly curtains covering whatever else was on the walls. It’s not just sets that were probably owned by one of the producers, though, it’s moving between them! A fight breaks out in the strip club, which spills outside…the outside of this club being a completely nondescript office building, which then within seconds leads to a large multi-storey car park.

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It doesn’t stop there. “Central Intelligence”, presumably a big deal in the future, have as their main base a similar (perhaps the same) nondescript office building, and the boss of CI’s office looks like a low-level drone’s workstation – example? The only two books he has are a dictionary and a secretary’s handbook.

 

Before we get onto the home stretch, a few more of the gems you can expect from “Final Equinox”. An onscreen graphic talking about a space-particles of some sort is shown in shot for quite some time, but spelled “partical”; and, while discussing the artefact, one of the baddies said it was found in an underground cave, when we see at the beginning it being discovered out in the open. We’ve also got a love scene between Lugar and Piper, when she comes back and they make an attempt to patch things up, but Lugar is covered at all times whereas Piper…isn’t. Not unusual in and of itself, I’m sure you’ll agree, but when the shooting makes it look like they’re having sex in a tiny closet and has them in contortions no-one would be able to manage, purely to cover up as much of the man’s flesh as possible, then it becomes a bit more up our street.

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“Final Equinox” sort of forgets David Warner is in it for a good long while, but he shows up at the end, re-stealing the artefact which he tells us is actually an alien bomb designed to instantly terraform a planet (which is how we started, apparently, only the aliens accidentally left a spare behind). The big battle between the three groups at the end reveals more of the director’s mastery of all things confusing, and I’d bet good money on most of this movie being done in reshoots, like they added in a subplot when they realised it would only last 70 minutes. It becomes apparent when you see David Warner and the CI guy have a fight, but they’re never in the same shot, and the lighting looks completely different for both of them – in fact I wonder if all the sci-fi trappings were added in at the last minute, because they add absolutely nothing and aren’t referenced by anyone else.

 

THIS MOVIE IS AMAZING! It takes a real effort to make something this bad without listening to any of the presumably professional crew telling you “hey, director, shooting these scenes in this way makes absolutely no sense”. And the ending? Skip to the rating at the bottom if you don’t want anything spoiled, but wiping out the entire human race and just leaving Lugar and Piper alive, two people who the movie has shown repeatedly are wildly unsuitable for each other, is a bold move.

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I would love it if “Final Equinox” got discovered by the bad-movie elite and brought to a wider audience, because I want everybody to see it. It’s rare to see a film with every sort of incompetence on display, but we’ve got it here! And it’s a fitting end to our Joe Lara season. All the rest of his movies look like boring action dreck, so I don’t think I can be bothered to sit through them, but he can be remembered for some of the funnest sci-fi B-movies of the 90s, and this.

 

Rating: a million thumbs up