I remember trying to read TS Eliot’s The Waste Land in high school without knowing anything about it. It proved a disappointing experience when I never got to any part of the book containing a muscle-bound man with a magnum revolver and a metal helmet leading an army of motorized desert trash against a group of holdouts being stingy with their oil well. This was not the wasteland I was looking for.
So where to go to get my fix of post-apocalyptic movies back in 1987? I had seen the 1981 George Miller film The Road Warrior twice. The stuff that happens after the balloon goes up and the world goes down was so much more interesting than the movies where the climax is the big disaster or its aversion. I had also reread Larry Niven’s Lucifer’s Hammer which gets to the good stuff right quick after a comet clobbers the Earth and gives California the inner sea it always deserved.
This doesn’t mean there weren’t attempts by filmmakers in making pictures that fit the genre, but a brief perusal of the entries made back then reveals that much of it was crap that barely satisfied viewers even if they had a healthy appetite for camp and cheese. Still, there were a few standouts.
The Terminator (1984 Dir:James Cameron) is not a post-apocalyptic film but has Kyle Reese’s flashbacks that show a horrible robot-dominated future nightmare where humans have to scurry about like rats to survive. We’d have to wait until some of the less-than-stellar installments of the franchise came out to to see more of this world.
The Planet of the Apes (1968 Dir: Franklin J. Schaffner) fits the post-apoc bill, but (spoilers ahead) the viewer doesn’t know this until the twist at the end. Jerry Goldsmith won an Academy Award for the score, and Morton Haack won for Best Costume Design. The world feels fully realized and Taylor’s (Charlton Heston) situation is engaging and frustrating. There’s also some allegorical social commentary, but the film can be enjoyed at face value. Subsequent entries in the series have their moments and are worth a watch.
Zardoz (1974 Dir:John Boorman ) deserves to be here because watching this movie when young resulted in such a big “huh?” You get Sean Connery running around in a red mankini. There’s a floating stone head that barks orders. The movie is deep, nutty, visually interesting, and some folks love it. I have a friend who wrote his film thesis on Zardoz.
On the Beach (1959 Dir:Stanley Kramer) A radioactive cloud is circling the globe, and Australia is the last to be hit. This is a bleak look at a total global disaster where all humanity is already dead or will be soon. The main characters get into an American submarine to investigate a mysterious message from the U.S. The cautionary tone is strong as the remainder of humanity can do nothing about their imminent doom but make themselves comfortable. Not a cheery movie.
A Boy and His Dog (1975 Dir:L.Q. Jones) Here a young Don Johnson makes friends with a telepathic dog. It wants to help him have sex with a woman through force if necessary. It’s worth remembering as an important post-apoc film for its gonzo everything-but-the-kitchen-sink world of mutants, vaults of sex-starved survivors, and a blasted wasteland. The last scene and line are notorious and dark, but I won’t spoil them here.
Next time I’ll talk about some noteworthy post-apocalyptic books.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback!
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