Thursday, January 20, 2011

Radioactive Theatre: The Aftermath

I apologize for the quiescence this week. I’m going through one of my periods where I wish sleep was a choice rather than a biological need. Projects, plans, and general stuff to be done is accumulating like the snow that keeps falling on my little island home. I’ll try to do better next week.

One of the things on my “get it the hell done” list is to clean out all the pieces of obsolete technology that I’ve manage to accumulate over the last decade and a half. Most of this stuff is going straight to the local tech recycling place, but before I do so, I need to make sure that I’ve gotten all the files I might find a use for off those machines. That’s not so easy when you’re talking about transferring files off of a 12-year old bondi blue iMac onto a cobbled together PC. Talk about an epic adventure…

Despite the hassle, the transfer is now completed and I’ve discovered a vast gold mine of intellectual riches that I’d forgotten about. Most of the stuff is in a half-finished form and pretty rough to begin with, but there are some tiny diamonds amongst the stones. My never-completed post-apocalyptic website is one example.

Some years ago, I decided that I was going to embark on an odyssey through my local Mom & Pop video store’s PA movie collection, documenting the journey with reviews of the movies as I went—very similar to what I was doing with Gamma World inspirational media a few months ago. I’ve since found a handful of those reviews and I’ll be posting the better ones here. The titles are pretty obscure, but the reviews have a sense of humor I hope you’ll find amusing. So, as I go back to the teetering pile that is my in-box, let me leave you with a decade-plus old review of the 1982 film, The Aftermath.

The Aftermath (1982)

Cast: Steve Barkett (Newman), Lynne Margulies (Sarah), Sid Haig (Cutter), and Christopher Barkett (Christopher)

Setting: Recent Apocalypse. If we were lucky, it would have been before this film was made.

Violent Mutants Present: Yes

Plot: Three astronauts return to Earth to find it in ruins. A warlord named Cutter and his gang of bandits rules Los Angeles. When one of the astronauts shelters an escapee from Cutter’s camp, the bandits and survivors face off to see who will survive.

Rating: Toxic Waste

Every now and then in Hollywood, there comes along a man or woman with a vision. They have a dream to make a film, a film unlike anything Hollywood has seen. They pitch it to the studios, but the studios laugh at them and say that no one would want to see such a film. But the dream refuses to die. They decide to prove the studios wrong. Gathering their friends and family as cast and crew, hitting up Uncle Sal for a loan and a producer credit, and making sets and props out in the garage, they set out to create the film that they dreamed of. In the end they prove one thing; they prove that the studio was right—no one wants to see this film.

Aftermath (or The Aftermath depending on who you want to believe) is one of those films. Watching the opening credits, I was surprised that the production company wasn’t “Nepotism Pictures Limited.” I think the entire Barkett clan is involved in this picture in one form or another. That’s always a bad sign.

The plot falls into the classic PA trope “Astronauts Return To Find Earth in Apocalyptic Ruins” or ARTFEAR for short. Believe it or not, this can be a good genre. Just look at The Planet of the Apes. Aftermath is not one of the good ones though. At the start of the film, we find three astronauts returning to Earth from some long mission. When they fail to receive any radio traffic from old terra firma, they begin to get suspicious. During these early minutes of the film, keep an eye out for any scenes that involve shots of the pilot. He’s supposed to be at the helm of an advanced space ship, but instead it looks like he’s flying the ship from an empty closet.

The film just goes downhill from there. Steve Barkett wrote, did half the direction, and starred in this piece of radioactive slag. He is also the reason to rent this film. Get a bunch of your friends together, grab the beverage of choice, and make fun of Steve. His (and to be fair, everyone else’s) acting is wooden enough to outfit the Dutch Olympic Clog Dancing Team. He wanders through the film with his shirts open to the belly button, exposing a forest of chest hair and a bulky, beer-swilling torso. Imagine that your Dad decided to become an action-hero. That’s Steve.

Steve Barkett is also the “Caucasian Jackie Chan”. He does all his own stunts in this film. Of course, most of them involve him jumping over a jeep’s roll bar into the driver seat, or floundering around in the California surf. But, to give Steve credit, he does leap from one building to another…over a gaping two-foot chasm.

I had bigger hopes for this film at first. In the beginning, there is a special effects shot that reminded me of some of Tom Savini’s early work on the Dawn of the Dead. But I think they blew most of the special-effects budget on this one scene. Nothing else even resembles that shot again. My hopes were raised once again by some realistic looking radiation-fried corpses, but that was until the camera got the close up shot. Then, they looked like mannequins covered in gray Play-Doh.

This movie has so many strikes against it that it’s hard to point out all the bad things. One minor saving grace is the presence of Sid Haig. Audiences may recognize Sid from the countless appearances he’s logged on TV and B-movies over the years. Usually, Sid gets the stereotypical Biker or Psycho role. He plays the heavy in Aftermath; a vicious warlord named Cutter. Sid portrays Cutter as just slimy enough that we hate him, but given the choice between hanging around in his camp of cutthroats or moving into Barkett’s manor in the Hollywood Hills, I think I’d go with slimy.

1) Steve is so easy to make fun of in this picture. Perfect for those seeking to parody their first film or give it the old MST3k treatment.
2) Oh. My. God. There is a scene in this film where Barkett’s character takes shelter from Cutter’s gang in a shack. In true Hollywood fashion, he breaks out a pane of glass in the door to shoot out of…despite the fact a pane right next to it IS ALREADY MISSING!

1) Planet of the Bra-less Women. I know that this film was made in the early Eighties, but is the Aaron Spelling Jiggle Style of Film-Making really needed? The three women in this film all go without under-wire support.
2) “A planet where man evolved from paper-mache dinosaurs?” At one point, Barkett enters a museum. While exploring the place, he comes across “The Hall of Fossils.” Either these are dinosaurs made from clay and super-imposed on the screen, or the crew built three half-sized dinosaurs out of chicken wire and newspaper. It is hard to tell since the scene’s shot in the dark.
3) Now it’s in ruins, now it’s not. During the film, we keep seeing a model of ruined Los Angeles. They cut to this miniature every now and then to remind us that we’re still in The Aftermath. But, during other scenes, we catch glimpses of buildings in the background and they all look just fine.
4) Breaking of the Cardinal Rule of Narration. In order to avoid such think like character development and decent dialogue, Barkett is heard in narration throughout much of the film, often speaking in the past tense. We later learn that this is impossible. I won’t spoil it for you, but I’m sure you can figure out why this later becomes unrealistic.


John B said...

I thought I was the only person to have ever witnessed this great cinematic dump. This one's so bad it's hard to even appreciate it ironically.

I plan to have a bad movie night sometime soon, and this is now on the list.

B. Portly Esq. said...

I have two boxes of post apocalyptic films I bought or dubbed. All of them are from mom and pop video rental places and most of them cost 99 cents. A lot of them are spaghetti apocalypse films from the eighties.

In my quest to see every po-ap film ever made, I have actually watched The Aftermath. ARTFEAR is a popular trope of the po-ap genre It's up there with CFS (cryogenically frozen scientist). Sid Haig is great in this. There is also the weird Forrest J Ackerman cameo as some sort of archivist or museum curator (of the Ackermansion I assume).

I'm looking forward to more of these unearthed reviews. There is a great book of essays called Apocalypse Movies: End of the World Cinema by Kim Newman, you should check it out.

M.P. said...

Well, speaking of post-apo games, check out the Clanarchy: Dark Fantasy Roleplay official web site:

In a brief, I can say that's a marvelous game which reminds Beowulf movie with Christopher Lambert.

I'd say that it has a pulpy feel also.

Michael Curtis said...

One thing I should add about Aftermath is that I have no memories of the film at all as of now. It's that kind of movie. Had I not rediscovered this old review, I could have probably watched the movie again at some point completely unaware that I had already sat through it once before.

Always the mark of quality.

Pontifex said...

rofl. Hilarious review