The horror genre is rife with cult films, from the work of Frank Henenlotter to slasher films like Sleepaway Camp (1983) and horror comedies like The Return of the Living Dead (1985). However, an underseen film recognized by a small microcosm of horror fanatics was around long before any of those graced the silver screen. It goes by the name End Zone 2 (1970).
Never heard of it? That’s because it’s a faux exploitation movie. However, The Once and Future Smash, directed by Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein, who co-wrote the film with Brian W. Smith, would have you debating whether that’s true in this mockumentary that pokes fun at horror franchises, convention culture, and watershed films.
The film documents the fictitious history of the End Zone franchise. The debut of the original movie in 1965 — which, due to the loss of the film reels, resulted in the first thirty minutes being played twice in a row to fill the one-hour minimum timeslot requirement of drive-in theaters. However, it primarily focuses on the sequel, which had the last 30 minutes missing from all screenings under mysterious circumstances. It discusses the franchise’s effect on the horror community, including interviews with filmmakers and actors from horror films of the 80s and 90s. Naturally, everyone’s favorite Lloyd Kaufman appears.
The film simultaneously chronicles the lives of Mikey Smash (Michael St. Michaels) and William Mouth (Bill Weeden). Both are credited in End Zone 2 as playing Smash Mouth, the deformed football player and villain of the franchise that inspired Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)...allegedly. The story follows their rivalry, which comes to a head when they share a table at a horror movie convention, and how Mikey’s unpaid intern AJ (A.J. Cutler) becomes roped in the middle.
Where the film shines is its tongue-in-cheek humor. It’s a film made by horror fans who love cult films and those who make them. The Once and Future Smash is at its strongest when detailing the history of the End Zone movies. Cacciola and Epstein play the material straight, and the humor derives from the seriousness of the discussions on how influential End Zone 2 was for both its fans and the horror genre — as if it were the slasher equivalent of Citizen Kane (1941).
An early indicator of the film’s sense of humor is a scene when actress Melanie Kinnaman states her distaste for the excessive kills in End Zone 2. That’s when a chyron appears, crediting her as Pam in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning — arguably the franchise's most violent and gratuitous entry. The Once and Future Smash is splashed with humorous horror nods like that throughout, with people in the horror community self-deprecating. It also makes fun of Hollywood franchises. At one point, it’s announced there will be an End Zone 3, titled End Zone, to lure people with nostalgia.
The film loses steam as it focuses less on End Zone 2 and the people influenced by the film. It instead turns its attention to the personal dynamics between Mikey, Bill, and AJ. The performances are well-played, and it’s pretty entertaining to watch the ego of the actors and their poor treatment of AJ, but the joke slowly wears out its welcome.
While far from perfect, The Once and Future Smash is a genuinely amusing look at the detailed mythology of a completely materialized franchise and the mania a cult film can conjure. It’s funny, self-aware, and full of fun nods to horror genre trends — historical and contemporary, both factual and fabricated.