Future Hunters

Cirio Santiago’s Future Hunters resembles some ancient horror buried for millions of years at the bottom of a pit beneath some black and unnamed ruin of a city comprised primarily of forms and colors that have no corresponding point of reference in our own universe. In fact, when first I purchased this movie on VHS, I ended up returning it as defective. I bought it used from a video store that was liquidating its stock back in 1995 or so, and a few days later I popped it in the VCR and set about watching it while I did some simple household chores. The film started out as a Road Warrior rip-off, with occasional Hong Kong action film villain Richard Norton tearing around the post-apocalyptic wasteland in a muscle car. Familiar enough territory. Then I got distracted, possibly by the discovery that our refrigerator had been leaking, and the leakage had turned into a putrid yellowish goo underneath the crisper drawers (man, talk about unspeakable Lovecraftian horrors). When I finished toweling up the gelatinous gloop and throwing the towel onto the roof of the credit union across the parking lot (I was young and punk then — take that, society), I returned to the living room and found that someone had recorded a different movie over the one I’d purchased. Because there on my massive ten-inch screen was a Bruce Le kungfu film, with the famous Bruce Lee imitator locked in mortal kicking combat with Hwang Jang Lee wearing a silver wig.

I took the movie back, told them of the error, and had my $3.00 returned to me. Oddly, a couple weeks later, I found the film for sale again at a different video store, and for some reason or other, I purchased it. It was like unwittingly being saved from purchasing some accursed item only to equally unwittingly acquire the item again. It was destiny. So once again, I went home and popped it in the VCR to watch while taking care of some chores. It was around this time that I discovered some hamsters had escaped their twisting tube universe and had gone feral, living in the walls of our duplex. This revelation came shortly after noticing that the area we used to clean out our various aquariums — a flower garden owned by the aforementioned credit union — had been turned by uneaten hamster trail mix into a garden of sunflowers and corn stalks, which we eventually harvested and ate while the poor guy in charge of that small plot of flora was wondering how the hell his flower garden turned into a corn field.

Anyway, after I gave up trying to corner one of the wily rodents and resigned myself at last to being the guy who destroyed the north Florida ecosystem by introducing wild hamsters into its delicate balance, I returned to the movie only to find out, son of a bitch! It was that damn Bruce Le movie again! Although I flirted with the idea that somehow the film had been purchased by someone who promptly resold it to a different video store that then put it on sale for me to end up purchasing a second time, the more logical theory emerged that this movie was just really schizophrenic, and what had started out as a Mad Max movie morphed at some point into a film about Bruce Le wearing a modern track suit and fighting a guy who looks to have stepped out of the Chinese middle ages. So I decided that I was going to have to sit down and actually pay attention to this movie if I hoped to ever unravel its tantalizing mysteries. What I discovered was even more bizarre than initially I suspected.

So as I saw the first time around, the movie opens in the near future. Society has crumbled and the earth has been ravaged by nuclear war which, in the 1980s, was as versatile an explanation for pretty much anything as “hacking” is today. Depending on the movie, nuclear war could turn the world into a desert wasteland populated by S&M punks or a lush jungle populated by Amazons, or it could somehow cause dinosaurs to come back. Similarly, if your movie requires someone to get some piece of information or control over some device they couldn’t possibly achieve, all you need to do is write the following line of dialogue: “If I can just hack in through the back door…we’re in!” then you can do pretty much any damn thing you want.

So it’s the future. A guy named Matthew (Richard Norton), is speeding around in the desert looking for the fabled Spear of Longinus, the weapon that pierced the side of Christ during his crucifixion. According to this film, the loosely-defined good guys of the future need the spear so they can travel back in time and prevent nuclear obliteration from ever having happened. Unfortunately, Matthew is pursued by the bad guys, lead by someone named Zaar (unfortunately not played by Robert Z’Dar), and where as Matthew has a cool car, awesome hair, and the same gun I think Richard Norton had last time he was a post-apocalyptic hero (that being in the film Equalizer 2000), Zaar has tanks and wears a gratuitous cape. They capture Matthew, bring him to within a stone’s throw of where he was going anyway then let him escape. Then they chase Matthew to some crumbling temple where he finds the mythical spear with relative ease, only to have the full brunt of Zaar’s armored divisions brought down on his head.

Then we cut to 1986, where college student Michelle (Linda Carol) is randomly poking around the ruins of the very same temple of the future with her boyfriend, Terminator 2 (Robert Patrick) because her “big exam is coming up.” As always, I have to question the colleges attended by people in B-movies. In what class can you prepare for your test by driving out to an old church frequented, as we will soon learn, by rapist biker gangs, and looking at it with no real defined purpose? And if it’s archaeology or art history or something, wouldn’t other members of the class be out there as well, or at the very least, shouldn’t you be doing something a little more scientific than wandering aimlessly while a Terminator 2 sits on the steps and complains about being bored and needing to get back to town so he can kill John Conner? Or shouldn’t the professor at least have warned his female students that the deserted site is routinely patrolled by vicious gangs of rapists? This is as unacademic as the classrooms in movies like Gor where the entire curriculum seems to be based around listening to a professor make random proclamations about some ridiculous pet theory of his, or the grad student in Cannibal Ferox whose thesis was “Cannibals don’t exist any more” when everyone else had to write thesis papers like “Aspects on Process Engineering in the Finnish Pulp and Paper Industry.”

Michelle’s investigative archaeology is accompanied by that 80s direct-to-video action film music that is so hard to explain yet so familiar as soon as you hear it. It’s a playful little number, and the sound isn’t straight synth nor is it a mimic of the piano, exactly. But in pretty much every 80s direct-to-video action film, they used this style of theme for the “makin’ love” scene or the “just horsin’ around” scene. I’m a bit surprised that there is no Future Hunters soundtrack on Varese Sarabande, as “Soundtrack on Varese Sarabande” is the single most repeated phrase in the entire Psychotronic Video Guide. The world is a darker place for not having a CD quality recording of “Love Theme from Future Hunters.”

After this goes on a spell, Michelle and Terminator 2 are randomly attacked by a biker gang who, for some reason or another, like to troll the ruins of middle-of-nowhere churches looking for loving young college couples to terrorize. I guess they didn’t realize they were messing with Terminator 2, who I assumed would instantly turn his pinky finger into a long silver spike and stick it in someone’s shoulders (a painful sensation not unlike the one you’ll feel watching most of this movie), then follow it up with that very determined “running after the vehicle” shtick all Terminator 2’s are wont to do. But then this was 1986, and we were barely done with Terminator 1, so I guess Robert Patrick didn’t have his Terminator 2 powers yet (though later in the film he does do a determined run after a jeep in a scene I’m sure he included on his highlight reel to get the T2 job). As a result, he gets his ass kicked and is forced to soothe his bruised ego with the knowledge that it won’t be too long before he’s strong enough to beat up the gaunt, corpse-like Edward Furlong, who would achieve the dubious honor in his twenties of looking less vital and more deathly than Peter Cushing (whose picture is in the dictionary next to the word “gaunt”) did a month after he died.

Michelle is about to be on the bad end of an 80s action film style raping when Richard Norton wanders up out of nowhere and beats the tar out of the bikers before getting shot and handing the Spear of Longinus over to Michelle, stammering that she must use it to prevent the apocalypse. So I guess the time travel thing works, even though they later explain that the spear can’t possibly work unless you have both halves of it (the shaft is elsewhere). He also stammers a few names, all of whom, conveniently, are related in some way to the community college (Touro, most likely) Michelle attends. And then Matthew dies and goes off to get more use out of his costume in Equalizer 2000.

As is often the case with these types of films, I realize that I’m straying a bit too far into the realm of plot synopsis, but once again I feel it’s justified, as there’s not much hope otherwise of explaining just how cracked in the head a film like Future Hunters can manage to be. Because before too long, Michelle and T2 are on the run from a secret society of Nazis who want to get the Spear and use it to cause the apocalypse we saw before the credits. Which is kind of odd, as they couldn’t possibly have possessed the spear the first time they caused the future apocalypse — which is the first and only time I’ll mention the underlying stupidity of the entire time travel plotline. For starters is gets dropped almost immediately, but mostly because no one should bend themselves out of shape worrying about shoddy time travel threads in Future Hunters, a movie that, soon enough, will present us with everything from an impromptu kungfu film to an army of stone-age midgets to a secret society of Filipina Amazons.

Also, if Matthew retrieved the Spear from it’s ancient resting place half an hour outside of Los Angeles (how the hell did it get there?), then traveled back in time to that same location, isn’t the 1986 Spear of Longinus still in the temple? Maybe the Nazi bad guys should just use that one instead of the future Spear of Longinus.

Michelle and T2, whose name in this movie is actually Slade (and I mention this only because Robert Patrick and Richard Norton appear together in Equalizer 2000, where Norton’s character is named Slade — Santiago apparently has a fetish for the name) must find the elusive Professor Hightower. Doing so leads them to Hong Kong. I guess her big test wasn’t that important after all. Also, I guess she’s incredibly rich to be able to close up her crappy desert diner and fly to Hong Kong that same day. But then I expect no less from a naive young college girl who for some inexplicable reason is able to outdrive, outfox, and outshoot the various trained killers sent after her. Robert Patrick spends most of the movie being believably beaten up, on the other hand. I hope you like the sight of him lying on his back with a dumb look on his face, because you’re going to get it a lot.

T2 has a friend who is a taxi driver in Hong Kong, but more importantly, he has a friend who is a taxi driver and is also Bruce Le, though as was his lot in life, he’s often miscredited as Bruce Li. Because a random taxi driver in Hong Kong will obviously be in tune with rumors surrounding missing anthropology professors from small American colleges, he informs our duo that Hightower’s last reported location was at the Forbidden Pagoda, a tourist attraction which no one is allowed to enter lest they incur the wrath of high kicking kungfu warrior Hwang Jang Lee, dressed like he just came from the set of the latest Seasonal Films production, or possibly from a kungfu film themed amusement park. When T2 tries to enter the pagoda, he gets whupped, which leads to a lengthy fight scene between Le and Hwang, complete with the sudden introduction of kungfu film sound effects. When the monk is finally dispatched — not via the fight, but because a sniper attempts to kill T2 and kills the monk instead — Le and T2 enter the pagoda, look around for for a few seconds, then testily proclaim, “Nothing!” Then they walk away. Shouldn’t they report the murder to the police or something? Worst tourist attraction in Hong Kong!

Oddly, this isn’t the first time Bruce Le has found himself randomly inserted into a film for a gratuitous if not unwelcome fight scene. A while back, I was wondering if Bollywood, always quick to exploit a trend, had ever produced any Bruce Lee exploitation films (films that cast someone with a similar name or haircut in an attempt to sucker people into thinking they’re going to see the real Bruce Lee). Eventually, I came across Katilon Ke Kaatil starring Dharmendra and featuring a scene were he randomly walks by Bruce Le — who hasn’t been in the film before and won’t appear again — and a fight breaks out. I mean, I assume that if Dharmendra and Bruce Le swagger by each other, a fight is going to break out, but it had nothing at all to do with the rest of the movie. I guess there was a period in the 1980s when directors in need of some extra action and running time could put in an order for Bruce Le, and they’d just ship him from Hong Kong in a wooden crate to wherever they needed him. Today, he remains in a huge warehouse full of crates like the one in Indiana Jones, stored alongside the likes of Sho Kosugi, patiently meditating until the day their services are once more required.

So having now seen exactly how the film suddenly becomes a kungfu film for ten minutes, it still doesn’t make any more sense than when I thought someone had mistakenly recorded Eagle vs. Silver Fox over part of Future Hunters. I mean, all that for absolutely no reason? I was about to swear that this whole film was assembled piecemeal out of other equally bad but less nonsensical films, but that isn’t the case. I mean, I saw Hwang Jang Lee and Robert Patrick in the same shot together, and this was before the world possessed the technology to digitally insert Robert Patrick into every movie ever made, which I assume we’re eventually going to do.

And even though I knew it wasn’t the case, the rest of the movie caused the same feeling of being assembled piecemeal, Godfrey Ho style. Things get no less logical when Michelle and T2 follow the trail to South Asia with a band of Nazis hot on their trail. There, in the jungles, they encounter a tribe of stone-age midgets who aid them in their quest to recover the shaft of the spear, which is in a cave guarded by a n army of scantily-clad Amazons. When one of these movies ends up in an Amazon city, you know you’re going to get at least one really awkwardly staged catfight. In the end, an earthquake happens for no reason, foam rocks bounce harmlessly off people who show up bloody and dead in the next shot, and Michelle randomly holds up the spear, causing all the midgets to cheer and the film to end.

Before we go much further, like talking about how the Spear doesn’t even do anything in the end, let’s discuss the career of one Cirio Santiago, the Roger Corman of The Philippines — though I suspect them of actually being the same man. Understanding a film like Future Hunters may be as impossible as understanding the full implications of quantum mechanics, but understanding a little about Santiago might help us at least grasp a film like this on some elementary, superficial level. Future Hunters and the many films like it bearing Santiago’s name are lasting monuments to nepotism. Santiago is the son of a studio founder, which might help explain how Santiago got his first jobs. And those jobs were as producer on a film called Cavalry Command in 1963 and as director of 1964’s Darna and the Tree Monster, an entry in a popular pulp superheroine adventure series.

It was in the 1970s, however, that Santiago really came into his own. Roger Corman, always on the prowl for ways to save money, hit upon The Philippines as the ideal location for many of his productions. The sprawling island-nation has long been and continues to be the stand-in for a variety of places populated by chubby guys with thick mustaches and Hawaiian shirts. It was the go-to place for any film set in Vietnam or Cambodia, at least until Thailand became a more viable option. Future Hunters is one of the few movies to actually attempt — and fail — to pass the streets of Manila off as downtown Los Angeles, but hey, you gotta respect the moxie. Corman most famously produced a series of sweaty, lesbian-filled women in prison films in The Philippines, and it’s probably around this time that he struck up his relationship with Cirio Santiago. Although he still produced and directed local fare during that time, Santiago became the go-to guy for American co-productions slumming it in Manila. He produced and/or directed a number of blaxploitation films throughout the 70s, and in the 80s he split his time between cheapjack action films — mostly set in Vietnam — and cheapjack post apocalypse scifi, almost all of which got distributed by one Roger Corman company or another in the United States, much to the delight and puzzlement of people like me who prowled video store shelves in search of anything with a title like Machete Maidens of Mora Tao.

Future Hunters may be his crowning achievement, a film of such stunning incompetence, with such total disregard for making even the least bit of sense, that one can hardly process it. Seriously, by the time ancient Mongol horsemen attack the 1986 Nazi camp in The Philippines, you’re not even going to care any more. This film contains more individual movies and genres than most Bollywood films. All it lacks is a song and dance number, but what it lacks in terms of item numbers by Helen it more than makes up for with shots of young Robert Patrick lying spread eagle on a bed in his tighty whities. By the time we got to the end and realized that the Spear of Longinus serves no purpose whatsoever, all I was capable of doing was lying in the corner, giggling uncontrollably and scrawling esoteric runes from floor to ceiling on every wall in my padded cell.

Seriously, what the hell were we thinking in the 1980s? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy that amazingly freakish crap like this got made, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wonder how the hell it happened. Cirio Santiago has, in his career, flirted with competence; Future Warriors doesn’t even flirt with coherence. This film simply shouldn’t be, and like I said, even though the footage is original, it feels like the entire movie was pasted together out of other shot-in-The-Philippines movies. Both the Amazons and the midget tribe ideas would return in Warriors of the Apocalypse, directed by Bobby Suarez, who on some days I would swear is just the third part of the unholy trinity formed along with Corman and Santiago. Richard Norton driving around in the post-apocalyptic wasteland would show up again in Santiago’s own Equalizer 2000.

But perhaps weirdest of all is that a few years after this, Robert Patrick would appear in another “time travelin’ to save the future” movie, albeit one with a considerably larger profile. I can only assume that young James Cameron was sitting around one day and, much like me, popped a copy of Future Hunters into the VCR and, mere minutes later, thought to himself, “I have to get this guy to be the terminator in my next movie!” But as the guy who plays the king of the caveman midgets wasn’t available, Cameron did the next best thing and cast the annoying redneck prone to lying around in his man panties as an unstoppable killing machine from the future. Sound unlikely? Well, maybe, until you remember which skinflint director-turned-producer was Cameron’s first boss and mentor.

Patrick’s performance, like that of his co-star Linda Carol, consists entirely of plaintive whining. “We have to protect the spear!” “Aww, dang, Ah don’ wanna protect tha spear!” “Oh come on! Help me protect the spear!” After spending a few minutes with them, nuclear apocalypse is suddenly looking like the preferable choice. When watching the endless banter, when watching him get beat up by Hwang Jang Lee, when watching the T2000 buffalo shots, remember that this guy somehow, despite being in Future Hunters, went on to star in not one, but two of the hugest franchises of all time, although one of those came after the characters people actually gave a damn about had already left the show.

Still, the rest of the cast wasn’t nearly as lucky. Well, except for Hwang and Le, but I’m pretty sure they’re only in this movie because Cirio accidentally stumbled onto the set of a film they were already filming and decided to work it into his own movie. I mean, you never really need an excuse to pad your film with a fight scene between Hwang Jang Lee and Bruce Le.

Linda Carol had a smattering of film and television appearances of little consequence, the highest profile of which was the women in prison spoof Reform School Girls. Everyone in that movie had the misfortune of having to compete with half naked Wendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics as she howled like a banshee and rode a school bus to hell, so it’s hard to remember anything but that. Everyone else in Future Hunters had solid careers in TV shows you only pretend to like but never actually watched (I don’t care what they say on VH1 specials or what the camp appeal of William Shatner may be; you did not watch T.J. Hooker) and films like Bloodfist VI. They must all be watching Robert Patrick in Terminator 2 and thinking, “Holy cats, I once hit that guy with a floor lamp while he was in his underwear.”

Of course, the end of the day means admitting that the individual pieces of this film are far more entertaining than the whole. For every minute we spend with bikini clad Amazons and warrior midgets, we spend twice as much time with Slade and Michelle as they bicker with each other. Still, this movie is just weird enough to make it fascinating so long as you are a viewer possessed of some high degree of constitution. It’s no Roller Blade, but where else are you going to get a movie where a guy time travels back to 1986 to give the spear of destiny to Terminator 2 so he can show it to Bruce Le while running from Nazis who get attacked by Genghis Khan’s hordes while they are surrounded by caveman midgets and Filipina Amazons? I’m a sucker for movies like this, and Future Hunters won me over.

Oh, and what ever became of ol’ Cirio Santiago you may ask? Well, in 1995 he was appointed by none other than Filipino President Fidel Ramos as head of the Philippines Film Development Fund. The Fund’s purpose?

“To improve the quality of Filipino films.”

Release Year: 1986 | Country: United States | Starring: Robert Patrick, Linda Carol, Ed Crick, Bob Schott, David Light, Paul Holmes, Peter Shilton, Ursula Marquez, Elizabeth Oropesa, Bruce Le, Hwang Jang Lee, Richard Norton | Writer: J. Lee Thompson | Director: Cirio Santiago | Cinematographer: Ricardo Remias | Music: Ron Jones | Producer: Anthony Maharaj | Alternate Titles: Spear of Destiny; Deadly Quest