There’s nothing like a theme week — in this case, another “Apoc Week” — to expose us to a filmmaker that we’ve never heard of, well, at least not moi. Now, you know all about the B&S love for all things SOV, especially when it comes to the resumes of ’80s direct-to-video purveyors Dennis Devine and Brett Piper. (Why else do you think we dedicated an entire Drive-In Friday feature to both of their careers?) And with the advent of digital technologies, we now have a new guard of shot-on-digital filmmakers that are just as prolific as Dennis and Brett. And one of those filmmakers is Providence, Rhode Island-based writer and director Richard Griffin. During his now 20-year career, Griffin’s produced 29 feature films and 13 shorts in the horror genre. He’s the kind of filmmaker who can pinch out three films in a year without breaking a sweat. And, from what I can see, he’s never not been able to secure worldwide distribution for his product. I bet, if I go to Walmart right now, I’d find a couple of his films in the Wallyworld impulse-buy barrels in the electronics’ aisle.
I have to admit, after looking at over his resume, with retro-inducing titles such as Raving Maniacs (2005), Beyond the Dunwich Horror (2008), Atomic Brain Invasion (2010), Frankenstein’s Hungry Dead (2013), Seven Dorms of Death (2015), and Flesh for the Inferno (2015), I’m diggin’ the Griffin-vibes. I’ll have to see how many of his films I can exhume from the net’s digital coffers for a weekend of couch-grazing. And, as you can see, Richard Griffin loves his horror flicks. But how does he fair in the sci-fi genre?
Let’s fire up that retro-VCR for his lone — so far — sci-fi adventure, Future Justice.
So, since we are in a digitally-based retro-land, the tentpoles on Future Justice are, of course, the earth-based, ’80s Italian ripoffs of Mad Max and Escape from New York, with a smidgen of George Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead and soupçon of that other Carpenter film (that J.C keeps remaking to lesser and lesser effect, i.e., the utterly shitty Ghosts of Mars), Assault of Precinct 13. And Carpenter’s pre-Assault film comes to play: Dark Star (more on that later). And keepin’ that Carpenter vibe going: you’ll see a touch of Luc Besson’s blatantly plagiarist Plissken romp, Lockout. And since we’ve got a maniacal ex-military man hellbent on ruling the Earth, we’ve got a little of Kevin Costner’s The Postman. But since we are in low-budget land: I’ll take the retro-vibes back a bit further . . . with Invisible Invaders, the 1959 John Agar-starring film that everyone seems to forget inspired George Romero’s zombie romp, which plays a sci-fi angle (of alien spirits possessing dead humans) in lieu of Romero’s later horror angle. And instead of Costner’s apoc-romp, we’ll evoke the cheaper, 1984 Canadian apoc’er Def-Con 4, with that film’s Earth-fallen astronauts besieged by a self-appointed, maniacal ruler run amok in the woods of Nova Scotia.
Now, if you’ve seen Lockout — or any of the countless “space prison” flicks released over the years in the wake of David Fincher Alien 3 (another of this film’s influences; also Fincher’s Pitch Black with its Riddick character comes to play) — then you’re up to speed in the Griffin-verse as we meet the solar system’s most infamous criminal: Python Diamond (screenwriter Nathaniel Silva). After serving out his five-year cryo-sentence on the prison moon of Titan, he’s now ready for transfer back to Earth to complete his sentence. And in mid-transport . . . the five-man military police crew in charge of our reluctant hero loses contact with Earth . . . and comes to discover a nuclear war has devastated the planet.
Of course, with these space marines, Semper Fidelis isn’t their motto: they need Python Diamond on their team — and they’ll see to it his faux-Plissken-ness gets a Hauk-esque full pardon for helping out. And, with that, our Magnificent Six fight their way through the anarchy and come to defend a group of scientists in a warehouse bunker laid siege by the Earth’s now crazed, radiated survivors. Oops, they’ve just lead the paramilitary crazies right to the very scientists trying to save the Earth.
I know, I know. Where’s the logic with these “space prison films” shipping the Earth’s malcontents to the Saturn’s moon to freeze them, then defrost them and ship them back? Hey, don’t blame Griffin: he’s homaging the films that came up with the ol’ prison freezing snafu in the first place. (And don’t get me started on my disdain for Demolition Man and its prison-freeze tomfoolery, which is only matched by my acid-refluxin’ for Starship Troopers . . . and upchuckin’ for Carpenter’s Escape from L.A., but I digress.)
Look, are these apocalyptic proceedings a wee bit plastic and cardboard in appearance? Is the thespin’ wooden to manically over the top? Is the embattled group of outsiders battling against overwhelming odds in a cramped space a bit trope-laden? Of course it is. And you’d be remiss to expect otherwise. However, my jam on this film is that it looks awesome during its time in space, as the in-space set (that’s where the Dark Star comparison comes in) is pretty impressive, considering the film’s reported $20,000 budget. And the CGI, while obvious, is equally against-the-budget impressive than most of the CGI fails of today’s indie streamers. The costumes — especially the black-clad military gear of our space cops — looks good, too (dig the insignias). And the soundtrack by Daniel Hildreth is pretty fine and oh, so very Carpenter-esque evoking.
Is this all as good as Steve Barkett’s and Chip Mayer’s respective, somewhat similar astronaut-returns-to-a-nuked-Earth apoc-romps The Aftermath (1982) and Survivor (1987)? Eh, depends on how far your nostalgia miles may vary.
Then, after those first 12 minutes are over and everything falls to Earth . . . everything falls apart (at least for moi), as we end up with just a whole lot running around an old warehouse and make-piece paramilitary dolts in fatigues and hockey gear. Granted, kudos are given for Griffin securing a pretty impressive, out-of-commission warehouse — that makes me think of the past inventiveness of Sergio Martino using an abandon yogurt factory for his Eurac headquarters for his not Plissken-romp, 2019: After the Fall of New York. Truth is: Future Justice, if under the thumb of Martino, would have worked great as the further adventures of Parsifal sequel.
That’s not saying the rest of the not-spaceship bound Future Justice is awful, as the film would play nicely on the SyFy Channel or even work wonders in filling up a two-hour block on the national cable channel Comet. I was just left so impressed by Richard Griffin’s inventiveness with his interior spaceship designs, I just wished this was retooled to remain on the spaceship or ended up on a space station-cum-prison. In the end: Griffin does a good job in stretching the most out of his budget and seamlessly mixing practical effects with CGI. If you’re burnt out your re-watches of the apoc-romps of old and you need a new film to watch, you’ve done worse on the scorched plains of the post-apoc terra firmas.
You can watch Future Justice as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi. We’ve also found an authorized upload — just released on February 14th — courtesy of my You Tube rabbit holin’ on Sci-Fi Central‘s web-channel. There’s a lot of interesting stuff to stream on that Australian-based page, so check ’em out. The DVD release of Future Justice also includes the 2010 short Mutants of the Apocalypse, which apparently served as the test film in creating Future Justice, as well as commentary tracks from the director, cinematographer, and some of the cast.
Shameless plug review piggy-backing alert!