Mutant War (1988)

Last week, I checked in on site favorite Norman J. Warren.  This week, it’s time to check in with another favorite of the site, Brett Piper.

Toward the end of 2019, I wrote about his fun, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, alien invasion flick Battle for the Lost Planet from 1985.  This time around, let’s look at the 1988 sequel – Mutant War.  Whereas the first movie finds our hero Harry Trent first remembering a series of events that started with him hijacking a space shuttle to being stuck on a pre-planned, five-year course to finally returning to Earth to discover that aliens have landed and more or less messed things up pretty bad.  It made for a nice little movie that, at times, gave me real classic Doctor Who vibes.

As was the case with his later film, Drainiac, and, to a certain degree, They Bite, I appreciate the spirit in which Piper works with and his general effort he puts out for the movies.  I truly do get the feeling that Piper just likes making movies and he doesn’t take himself too seriously.  Good on him.  In truth, he mostly just likes doing effects and creatures, which is obvious in his movies.  That said, sometimes, you just need these little types of movies that don’t take themselves very seriously and just wants to entertain.

With Mutant War, Harry Trent is back, still played by Matt Mitler, and he’s roaming the wasteland.  Battle for the Lost Planet mentioned mutants, but we didn’t get too see too much of them.  This time, we get a whole movie of them!  The landscape is littered with mutants, monsters, and human tribes.  He comes across a young lady who needs help saving her sisters from an evil white slaver (I mean… aren’t they all evil?) who deals in ladies for breeding purposes.

Considering our bad guy’s name is Reinhart Rex, I feel like this is either Brett Piper’s legit attempt at copying the Mad Max sequels, or Reinhart Rex was ripped off by George Miller and used as the basis for Immortan Joe and his shenanigans with ladies he kidnaps and breeds with.  I’m 100% certain it’s the latter.  I’m onto you George Miller…

I’m sure you stole something from Piper when you made Babe as well!

The movie’s credits start up and I appreciate that the movie is produced by “Chapter Two Enterprises”.  I have to believe that was a company specifically put together to actually make a sequel to Battle for the Lost Planet.  Bravo.  It’s the little things that make me happy.  However, it’s the big things…

That make me ridiculously ecstatic.

The movie opens in a destroyed city and Harry Trent telling us that what led to this will be a story for later.  He finds a bottom of Seagram’s Seven and some titty mags on the street that are drinkable and still readable, respectively.  I appreciate that this movie isn’t overloading us with bullshit back story and exposition.  Didn’t see the first Harry Trent film?  No big deal!  You can still play along with the second!  While he’s drinking and looking at titties, he’s rudely interrupted by a giant monster!

Much like the first film’s creature, the giant monster is a stop-motion treat.  The skyline for the city when we see it in pretty bad shape is a model with a little bit of matte painting.  The big laser gun Harry uses to kill the monster is a Maglite stuck at the end of some sci-fi bits on top of his station wagon.  This is the shit that I appreciate in low budget movies.  Piper is, again, showing heart by combining all these elements available to him.  Know how to do stop-motion?  Great.  Get working on a monster.  Know how to do some models?  Get to work on a wrecked city.

It’s charming as all hell.

The next day, we get our exposition.  Trent, in film noir style narration, explains he was one of the heroes that stopped the alien invaders with the Neutron-90 bomb.  That was great to cause all the pig alien creatures to melt, buuuut it unexpectedly unleashed radiation that messed up the ecosystem but good.  This kept the world from returning to normal.  Cities are gone, there is no law or governments.  It’s not a great place.

While playing his harmonica and just chillin’, Harry sees a young woman run by him.  He tries to get information from her while she hides from him.  However, he’s soon confronted by one of those roving mutants that litter the world.  Realizing the mutant is chasing the girl and clearly up to no good, Harry shoots the mutant.  He thinks the mutant is dead, but she says the he probably isn’t.  Sure enough the mutant gets back up.  After shooting the mutant several more times, it gets back up again.

After he finally kills the mutant with his laser Maglite, she tells Harry her name is Spider and that she escaped the mutants, but her sisters are still with them.  I think she says the mutants are named “mooks”.  I’m pretty sure that’s what she says, but even if she didn’t, I’m calling them that.  He agrees to help her find her sisters.

Meanwhile…  Out around Neptune, an alien spacecraft is on its way to Earth.

But let’s get a look at Spider, shall we?  Look at that hair.  God, she’s like a late 80s Senior Class photo come to life, isn’t she?  Poofy as all get out.  Crimped and teased.  I don’t know how she found enough Aquanet to make that work in the post-apocalypse, but I salute her.  To some of you too young to remember the 80s, this shit was real man.  This isn’t just a thing that movies did as a way to poke fun at the decade or something.  People really wore their hair like this.  And yes…  PEOPLE.  It wasn’t just the women.  Fuckin’ look at album covers to groups like Poison, Mötley Crüe, Warrant, and Ratt.

Anyway, while Harry and Spider go to get more gasoline for his car, another monster attacks!

Goddamn these monsters are brilliantly charming and adorable.  I like that Harry keeps trying to shoot these monsters but it doesn’t do anything.  Spider gets the bright idea to toss the gasoline on the monster and Harry lights that bitch up.  In all this action, the creature scratches Spider and she gets super sick, but it’s only for the night.  The next day, she’s all better.

After they gas up, Spider takes them where she was kept.  They see a bunch of mooks outside.  She says that the mooks are all men.  There are no women of their kind.  They are dying out too.  So they take these human girls and try to mate with them.  They also eat them too.  Yikes.  Harry says he’ll go down and take a look, but Spider demands to come with him.  They fight about it, but smash cut to…

Spider winning the argument.  What’s great about this is not just the simplicity of the disguises.  She’s kind of grinning in that picture right?  At first, I thought that was just her being a little smug in a nice way that she talked him into bringing her along.  It’s more than that.  He pulls up a scarf to hide her completely normal human face.  She breaks character a little bit and you can tell she’s nearly laughing.  It feels… natural.  I love that sort of stuff when it helps to build that these two characters like each other.  I think this is going to blossom into a father-daughter kind of dynamic.  Harry even mentioned earlier that he didn’t count on having to take care of a kid.  It’s kinda sweet.

Goddammit, Brett Piper, I do enjoy your movies’ characters.

I guess this is the bad guy’s home base because they have a giant stone head of Cameron Mitchell on top of a building and it is fantastic.  They walk into the camp and try to blend in as best they can.  The mooks seem kind of dumb, or maybe mostly blind because they can’t seem to clearly see that Harry and Spider and pretty normal looking people, but I digress.  They see a new woman being brought in and Spider says they should follow them to see what they do with the lady to see if that gives any clue to what happened to her sisters.

They follow the mooks and their lady captive into the building.  We hear someone who sounds an awful lot like Cameron Mitchell speaking to the two mooks about making sure they do a thing right because the survival of the whole race depends on it and stuff.  He walks away and the mooks take the girl to a room where they tie her to a table.  It seems like she’s about to get raped and Spider busts in and shoots the mooks and free the woman.  When they are curious why no one is following them after shooting the place up, they soon learn why…

They’ve stumbled into the lair of an adorable stop-motion monster.

I’m digging this movie’s formula.  Harry Trent does a thing, adorable stop-motion monster, Harry does another thing, this time with Spider, adorable stop-motion monster, mooks, Spider does a thing now with another lady and Harry, adorable stop-motion monster.  Rinse. Repeat.

Harry, Spider, and our new character lady escape by making it seems like Harry and Spider are transporting a prisoner, but, once clear of the mooks’ camp, they get attacked by other humans.  Turns out these people thought that the lady, Beth, was legitimately in trouble.  Harry explains everything, and these guys are all that’s left of their village after the mooks took all their lady-folk.  Harry comes up with a plan…  Get a bunch of weapons, more people, and come back and wipe out the mooks’ base and their seemingly human leader.

Also, that spaceship we saw earlier out by Neptune is getting closer.

Harry, Beth, and the other guy with them get ambushed by archers.  Human archers.  This is a punk rock group of humans.  They wear leather and some have nose rings and they all look like a shitty combination of The Warriors meet The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Their leader has a unibrow, a wimpy Bronx accent, and says with a car they are the big shots around here!

This guy reminds me of one of Billy Joel’s friends in the “The Longest Time” video.  Like this is what would happen if one of those doo-wop friends of his somehow survived the apocalypse and took over a gang of shitty punk and goth kids.

Another great thing in this movie is that whenever Harry Trent introduces himself, someone always says, or tries to say, “I’ve heard of you!”  It’s a nice running gag.  When he gets picked up by the punk group, he tells them who he is.  This time, the leader of the group says, “Never heard of ya.”  This confuses the hell out of Harry.  It’s one of those great little things.

Harry cuts a deal with the punk group.  Let them go, and he’ll take them to where they can get more supplies like what they are planning to take from him.  They give him some sort of drugged drink and he, like a dummy, drinks it.  He has a freak out where we recap the first movie.  Meanwhile, back at the camp, mooks attack and kill all the guys and steal Spider back.  Billy Joel’s high school buddy, Harry, and Beth are headed to the mutant camp, but when they see what the mutants did to Harry’s friends, punk leader decides he doesn’t want any of this business.

At the mutant camp, we finally see Cameron Mitchell in all his glory.  He’s a little bit George Washington, Henry VIII, and Darth Vader all rolled into one.  He comes in and wants Spider to talk but she doesn’t.  He calls her a bitch and says she better damn well produce.  Outside, Harry and Beth arrive to save Spider.  We see all the ladies that the mooks have taken are kept in a bus.  Harry more or less frees them after learning that Spider was taken just a few minutes before he got there.

Harry works his way through the camp, killin’ mooks and savin’ ladies.  However, he gets overpowered and taken captive.  Outside, the punks are brooding over not having any weapons to do anything.  They watch the spaceship that has been slowly heading toward Earth this whole time land nearby.  Out comes… a cyborg.  This guy looks a little like a male version of SheBorg.  Er…  I guess a HeBorg then.

He’s a weapons dealer.  He’s come to sell humans weapons to fight off the pig face aliens.  He doesn’t know they were already defeated.  The punk gang is able to barter with the HeBorg by giving him the drugged drink.  So now the punks have a bunch of weapons and ready to join the fight Harry wanted them to join.  However…  I’m not so sure I like the idea of giving a group all in favor of anarchy all the weapons.

Harry meets Reinhart Rex.  Rex offers Harry a job to be a lieutenant in his army because his mutants are a little too dumb to be able to carry out his plans.  Harry refuses, so that means that Rex will kill him.  First, though, he wants to take Harry on a tour to show off his stuff.  This allows for the punk gang to arrive and storm the place with Beth.

Rex shows Harry a new version of the mutants.  He thinks the combination of the new mutant and Spider being a younger partner to breed with, finally he will be able to get his creations to breed.  Harry tries to save Spider, but the new mutant is even stronger than the older models.

I wonder if he kept that helmet… Oh, who am I kidding? Of course he kept the helmet.

While Harry gets tossed around like a ragdoll, the punks attack the base.  I like that the punks are using this high tech laser weaponry, but the mutants are just using their bare hands.  It seems hardly fair.  The punks finally get inside Cameron Mitchell’s House of Horrors, but Harry gets the upper hand on the new mutant and uses a piece of glass to kill him.  Rex orders his mutants to kill Harry, but just then the punks show up to start blasting everyone and everything to shit – including Rex.  They help Harry and Spider out of the base, and everyone is happy and the world is… saved?

Maybe it’s saved.  I dunno.  Harry says goodbye to Beth and the head of the punks and refuses an offer from Spider’s sisters to stay to help rebuild society.  He finds Spider playing his harmonica on the side of the road.  Spider wants to go with Harry, but he refuses that too.  He promises he’ll be back and leaves Spider on the road with his harmonica waiting for his return someday.

This is a goddamn charming movie.  Admittedly, there’s not much of a plot here.  It’s a much smaller scale sort of movie compared to Battle for the Lost Planet.  In that, there’s a whole world invasion that has to be dealt with.  Reinhart Rex’s big plan was to breed his creations, but it felt more like a local skirmish.  Harry did grow a bit of a heart for Spider, and that’s both sweet and a way to further his character.

Overall, it was a fun movie to watch.  Charming ass monsters, every mutant looks different, Matt Mitler seems to have a lot of fun playing Harry, and Cameron Mitchell…  Is there anything else you could possibly need?

I didn’t think so.  Next week, we’re goin’ to prison for the first chapter in the Martel “Too Sweet” Gordone saga – Penitentiary!  You know where to be and when, so with that, I’ll be seeing you then.

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