Monday, July 9, 2018

"Conquer the World! That's Me!" - Mutant War (1988)

Having already discussed Battle for the Lost Planet (1985), let us move quickly into a discussion of its sequel, Mutant War (1988), an equally astute investigation of the post-apocalyptic world with even more stop-motion monsters, and this time featuring the great Cameron Mitchell.

The film begins with Harry Trent, played again by Matt Mitler, scrounging through city streets for useful items like bottles of liquor and Playboy magazines. He is stalked and attacked by a giant, wonderfully animated stop-motion monster.

He defeats the monster, not unexpectedly, by shooting it with an electricity gun mounted on a car.

The next morning, Trent drives his car through empty fields, reminiscing in voice-over about the events of Battle for the Lost Planet (1984). After those events, it was discovered that the Neutron-90 bomb released a new type of radiation that, inconveniently, created monsters.

He drives his car through a forest that must be only yards away from the Evil Dead cabin.

Trent meets a teenage girl named Spider, who is running from a mutant. Trent kills the mutant, then for unknown reasons pulls an overcoat over his leather jacket. Spider is looking for her sisters, who were kidnapped by people she calls mooks.

While looking for gasoline at a gas station, Trent and Spider run across another stop-motion monster--this one quite similar to a monster Trent defeated while nude in Battle for the Lost Planet--which they set on fire. Fortunately, the fire has no effect on the gas station.

Trent drives Spider to a wrecked building where they see mooks, the mutants that kidnapped Spider’s sisters for reproductive and cannibalistic purposes.

After some comical references to Gillian’s Island and the Three Stooges, the two dress up like mooks and infiltrate the building, which Spider says has miles of underground corridors. They go underground in search of Spider’s sisters, only to find the mooks are being bossed around by Cameron Mitchell wearing a black Nazi helmet.

(I feel I must repeat the fact that this film features Cameron Mitchell wearing a Nazi  helmet. If the critics who fail to appreciate the brilliance of this film are not convinced by that fact, then nothing can save them.)

Trent and Spider rescue a woman from the mooks, but their escape is obstructed by an adorable stop-motion monster under a bridge.

Fortunately, the heroes do not continue their ruthless vendetta against stop-motion monsters, and the creature is allowed to live.

Once back in the woods, our protagonists are assaulted by a group of men in nice plaid shirts. Not unpredictably, the men are actually good guys, searching for the kidnapped women of their village. “I got news for you,” says Trent. “They got a leader, a human leader. And they’re building real weapons.”

Meanwhile, we see a spaceship approaching Earth from the outer reaches of the solar system. This ship is chasing the Ya-ee-zags from Battle for the Lost Planet, but it has apparently arrived one movie too late.

In his car, Trent takes a few newfound friends to look for reinforcements in order to mount an assault on the mutant base, but the group is quickly ambushed and taken prisoner by another group of humans, these modeled after juvenile delinquents of the fifties, with touches of punk and New Wave. They give Trent a drink with a halluinogenic powder in it, which gives him, in a manner reminiscent of a sequel to The Boogeyman (1980), visions of the previous movie.

While Trent and his friends are being kidnapped on their side of the woods, Spider finds herself kidnapped by the mutants on the other side of the woods. Fortunately for the audience, Spider is brought underground to none other than Cameron Mitchell, wearing a white turtleneck with his Nazi helmet.

Attempting to rescue Spider, Trent comes across a rusted school bus full of kidnapped women, but Spider is not among them. (The doors to the bus were unlocked, suggesting that the women did not escape on their own for some reason.) Trent tells them they can escape if they want, and he continues looking for Spider.

Back outside, the juvenile delinquents encounter the spaceship searching for the Ya-ee-zags.

The alien cyborg piloting the ship turns out to be a munitions salesman from outside the solar system, who has come to Earth either to sell weapons to the humans or perhaps to the Ya-ee-zags. In a montage, he gives them a demonstration of his products. The delinquents offer him a drink, presumably with a hallucinogen in it so they can steal his weapons.

Back at the rescue attempt, Trent is kidnapped again by the mutants, who take them to Cameron Mitchell. “Don’t tell me, I can guess,” Trent says, “You’re assembling an army of mutants, and then you’re gonna spread out and conquer the world.”

“What a perceptive young man,” Cameron Mitchell replies. “Conquer the world. That’s me!”

He adds, “If my army is going to be effective, I’m going to need men like you.”

In order to provide more information about the job offer, Mr. Mitchell takes Trent on a tour. “Then I’ll kill ya,” he says, if Trent does not accept the offer.

The tour includes a frozen giant in a display case. The tour also includes Spider being chained to a wall for ambiguous reasons, so Trent punches Mr. Mitchell in the gut and rescues Spider. Of course, the frozen giant comes alive to menace Trent and Spider. (It must be noted the giant is a tall human actor rather than a stop-motion creation.)

“Kill him, monster! Kill him!” cries Cameron Mitchell.

The fight with the monster is intercut with the juvenile delinquents raiding the building with weapons they stole from the cyborg arms dealer.

Eventually, Trent kills the monster with a piece of glass. They are rescued by the delinquents, who shoot Cameron Mitchell. He dies tragically without having conquered the world, though the mutants have constructed a nice giant bust of him in one of the ruined buildings.

Even more tragically than his death, the delinquents blow up Mr. Mitchell’s bust.

After it is all over, Trent gets in his car to leave. “You could stay with us, help us rebuild,” offers Spider’s older sister.

“No thanks, I got hero stuff to do,” he replies.

Driving away, he encounters Spider sitting beside a dirt road. He tells her he’ll be back, and he drives away into the afternoon.

While Mutant War features less of the profanity and none of the mild nudity of its predecessor, it is an improvement based on the quantity of stop-motion monsters as well as the presence of a villain, in that it has a main villain as opposed to an entire species as the villain. Though Cameron Mitchell is only in the film for a brief amount of time, his professionalism and ability to make the villain villainous is greatly appreciated in Mutant War.

Perhaps the only point of confusion in the film is the status of firearms. In Battle for the Lost Planet, firearms shot laser beams, but they shoot traditional bullets in Mutant War. Perhaps Brett Piper is making a comment about the reversal of technological innovation, indicating that as the post-apocalyptic world unfolds technology will continuously decline.

No matter whether civilization and technology decline, however, we can be assured there will always be a roguish thief named Harry Trent driving a car with eyes painted on the headlights. And for that, we must be forever grateful.