Apocalypse POW!

A Quick Look at Some of My Favorite Retro Post-Apocalyptic Scenarios
March 21, 2011
"Perhaps in the World's destruction it would be possible at last to see how it was made. Oceans, mountains. The ponderous counterspectacle of all things ceasing to be. The sweeping wasteland, hydroptic and coldly secular. And the silence afterwards."

Cormac McCarthy The Road

Hullo again,Retrojunkies! I hope you're ready for another tour de force,cuz this one is a doozy. A big glowing radioactive doozy.

We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when
But I'm sure we'll meet again some sunny day...

During the earlier decades of the 20th century there were several pieces of fiction that dealt with the aftermath of the destruction and downfall of human civilization. Notable among these was the Final Blackout serial,a very gritty look at Europe after a devastating atomic and biological global war written (just weeks before Germany invaded Poland) by the same feller who invented Scientology.

But it wasn't until Hiroshima and Nagasaki went up in smoke that we started to see more and more not-too-peachy visions of the Future in mainstream fiction. Either by massively destructive war or by a grand planetary cataclysm,these glimpses of things to come (like On The Beach or Philip K. Dick's Deus Irae,for example) stated that our current civilization was doomed and whoever survived the devastation was in for one big shitburger.

Growing up,I absolutely loved these bleak visions of Tomorrow. I loved when Gil Gerard was attacked by mutants in the ruins of Chicago in the Buck Rogers in The 25th Century 70s TV series. And I loved when Spiderwoman time-travelled to the distant future to find it populated by...well,see for yourself:

Contained herein is a multimedia spectrum some of my favorite after-doomsday scenarios released between 1955 and 1990 (35 years being the minimum time for a nuclear fallout to dissipate). These are post-apocalyptic settings but not necessarily dystopic ones. In a future article I'll talk about my favorite futuristic dystopic societies in cinema.

So fire up your geiger counters,don your hazmat suits and load up the shotguns 'cause this one it's going to be a long trek thru the Wasteland and it ain't gonna be pretty.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

What can be said that hasn't been said about this Aussie classic? Almost 30 years after its release it is still the definitive Late Cold War Era vision of a post-nuclear armageddon Earth.The first thing that strikes you is the gritty opening narration,telling us thru the voice of a dying tribe chief how everything went to Hell:

I think the thing the I love the most in this film as a kid were the makeshift vehicles. It was so awesome to see rusty pick up trucks with air-gun turrets and dune buggies with scythed wheels. My personal favorite was probably Pappagallo's one-seater called The Lone Wolf (very aptly named since it later becomes Max's ride).

During the mid-80s Tonka released their Steel Monsters series inspired by the movie. Today they look rather hokey,but back then they were bloody awesome,mate!

But most memorable of all was perhaps the film's conclusion. Without a doubt one of the most haunting endings in cinema history.

Keep on trucking,Max. [insert Mel Gibson joke here]

Zardoz (1974)

Loathed by some,cult-followed by others,this tripfest of a movie has to be seen to be believed. The story take place in A.D 2293. Post-apocalyptic Earth is populated mainly by savages known as Brutals who worship the god Zardoz,a gigantic, flying,hollow stone head that goes around supplying the Brutals with guns and preaching the gospel of "The Gun is good. The Penis is evil". No,really...

Behind the artificial god are the Eternals,an small group of humans that has achieved physical immortality thru advanced technology and live their Eloi-like lives in perpetual boredom. Caught between them is Zed,a Brutal mercenary played by Sean Connery (In his first role after the 007 movies).

If you somehow get past the trippy visuals and the sets build by decorators clearly stoned out of their minds, you'll discover that this movie actually has a very deep science fiction plot. Director John Boorman said years later that his script would've worked better as a novel,since he didn't have the necessary FX tech to properly convey onscreen some of the concepts of the story. But even so,you have to admire the efford put on the production,even if some scenes look downright silly today.

So there you have it,Zardoz. It's trippy,it's freaky,it's symbolic (specially the ending) and where else are you going to see a ponytailed Sean Connery wearing a cod piece and hooker boots?

Yeah,this pic is so gonna haunt your dreams tonight...

Thundarr the Barbarian (1980-1982)

Good Lord,did I loved that cataclysmic opening as a kid. Science fiction deity Arthur. C. Clarke postulated in his Three Laws of Prediction that Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Now here's a setting that takes that statement to its most literal interpretation.

Thundarr is a Robert. E Howard-type knockoff typical of the early 80s (I'm looking at you,He-Man!),but the post-apocalyptic world he roamed was fantastic. This is a cartoon series that could've easily fall into oblivion if it wasn't for the fact that the legendary Jack Kirby designed it. All the "sorcerers" (read: mad scientist),mutants and monsters looked great (even if the animation is dated as Hell now). And each episode you expected to see a ruined real world landmark in a fashion similar to what you see today in the Discovery Channel's Earth After People. The only think I really didn't liked much was Ookla,the growling mutant wookie.

Ookla's been spending too much time with them hairless humans...

I had several Thundarr merchandise back in the day,including a board game (we were board game freaks in my house). Sadly I can't even remotely remember how it played.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

^Japanese poster

Without a doubt my favorite of the Apes movie series. After the surprising ending of the original Planet of the Apes,it was impossible to think that there could be a follow up.

You maniacs! You let the Spaceballs move in!

Lo and behold,BTPOTA not only ties up the story nicely but actually expands it quite well. Now we know that the titular Planet of the Apes is in fact post-apocalyptic Earth and that the Forbidden Zone was ground zero for the nuclear devastation as we learn thru the eyes of the new protagonist,Brent. The best part of the movie has to be when Brent stumbles upon the ruins of a New York subway station and discovers the freaky-dicky psychic mutants living in an underground colony. If I live to be a hundred I'll never forget the scene of the Mutants worshiping their nuclear missile god.

The heavens declare the glory of the Bomb, and the firmament showeth His handiwork!

However,I think my first exposure to Planet of the Apes came from watching the animated version that came out in the mid 70s. That series' continuity was more faithful to the Pierre Boulle novel on which the first movie was based and the Apes possessed modern-day technology. The post-apocalyptic setting from the movies, however,remained the same.

There was even a POTA comic series that connected (sorta) the short lived 70s TV series with the first two movies.

There's a new Planet of the Apes "reimagining" coming this year with James Franco (because the Tim Burton abortion wasn't enough). Somehow I really doubt it'll have the same post-apocalyptic zeitgeist as the first movies.

Damnation Alley (1977)

This is one has to be hands-down one of the best post-apocalypse B-movies from the 70s. Though the intro feels more like something out of a 1950s drive-in flick,the movie kicks into high gear pretty quickly. The planet has been tilted off its axis by all the WW3 nuke detonations and the storm-ravaged surface is populated by giant radscorpions and flesh-eating hordes of cockroaches.

Two surviving Air Force officers (The A-Team's George Peppard and Airwolf's Jean Michael Vincent) are living in a missile silo pretty much waiting to die when one day they receive a faint radio signal. They decide to attempt driving across the desolate wasteland thru "Damnation Alley",a section of the continental U.S where the radiation is less strong. To do so they'd ride the coolest RV you'll ever see,the Landmaster amphibious armored personel carrier:

They don't make 'em like that anymore...

Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, (1972-1978)

One of my favorite comics growing up,this Jack Kirby opus told the adventures of Kamandi,the last human male on Earth after a cosmic upheaval called the Great Disaster (that may or may not have been caused by DC villain Darkseid) that not only wiped out all civilization but also forced the evolution of many animal species into sentient creatures.

The pace of most of the comics were incredibly trepidating. It was a rollercoaster of a plot where every page had a new twist, and many of them come out of the blue. Kamandi is a short-fused hero who's constantly going from one death-defying situation to the next. But best of all was the world itself,the bizarre New Earth ruled by all manner of awesomely cool mutants.

Much to my chagrin,the comic was canned just as I was really getting into it,and older issues were damn near impossible to find. Kamandi was rebooted by DC in 2007 and -while a pretty decent comic- it doesn't have the same Kirby magic from my childhood.

Gene Roddenberry's Genesis "Trilogy"

These are three pilot movies that represent three versions of a same story. Roddenberry was fascinated with the concept of a man from contemporaty times waking up in the far future and he wanted to create an entirely new TV series that would be the Star Trek of the 70s. This theme was first explored by H.G Welles in his novella "The Sleeper Awakens" and had been explored in the early 70s by Woody Allen in his hillarious movie Sleeper. But Roddenberry wanted it to be the preamble of a grand story arc that would eventually take Man into the stars.

Genesis II (1973)

In the first treatment of Roddenberry's concept,an astronaut called Dylan Hunt (played by Alex Cord) is taking part in an experiment involving cryogenics conducted deep underground in the Carlsbad Caverns when an earthquake destroys the facility and Hunt is left in a permanent state of suspended animation.

Flash forward to the year 2133. The third World War has ravaged the planet and civillization has split into two groups: the technologically advanced noble citizens of the city-state of PAX (pictured above) and the Tyranians,sexy mutants with two navels. You can probably guess who the bad guys are. Into this brave new world,Dylan Hunt awakes like a post-apocalyptic Rip Van Winkle.

Planet Earth (1974)

Though Genesis II managed to garner some critical and fan interest,the CBS executives just weren't convinced that it could fly as a regular TV series. Roddenberry went back to the drawing board and reworked the concept to present it to ABC.

Dylan Hunt (now played by John Saxon) was now more of a Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers hero type and PAX was now an organization working to restore civilization to a savage post-WWIII world populated by Klingom-like mutants (called The Kreeg) and slaving Amazons (The Confederacy of Ruth). This one is arguably the best of the three pilots as the setting is much better fleshed out and the supporting characters (like Baylok the Savage or Marg,the Amazon leader) are more memorable.

Strange New World (1975)

For all its strengths, Planet Earth failed to earn a series commitment from ABC (they chose to produce instead The Six Million Dollar Man). Gene Roddenberry called it quits and opted out of the production. As a result, the character names, as well as some of the main plot points were altered in order to avoid any potential litigation (that is the reason why all three movies have never been packaged together).

Dylan Hunt was now Captain Anthony Vico (once again played by Saxon),leader of a team of astronauts working in an space station. A swarm of asteroids is discovered to be heading towards Earth so the groundside scientists of PAX (now a NASA-like government agency) set the station in an orbit that would return the cryo-suspended crew 200+ years later. Once the crew awakens and take a shuttle back to Earth,they find that the surface devastated by the asteroids' multiple collisions and they set out to find the other members of PAX that might be cryogenically frozen.

Like the other two pilots,Strange New World failed to find a network that'd air it. Most of the episodes that Roddenberry had developed went unproduced (one of them did eventually turned into the script of Star Trek: The Motion Picture) and that's shame because it's clear that he had deviced a grand tale of Mankind overcoming its flaws.

Wasteland (1988)

Long before Fallout,there was Wasteland. In this groundbreaking roleplaying PC game you controlled a party of Desert Rangers,mercenary remnants of the United States Army based in the deserts of the Southwestern U.S. that survived the fall of the nukes. After you created your party the game tossed your non-mutated ass into a gun toting, marauding desert gang-ridden, excessive leather-wearing, hot and dirty post-holocaust USA.

Though thegraphics and the RPG mechanics of the game are pretty archaic by today standards the game is still incredibly immersive. It was one of the first games with a persistent world and also one of the games were you really gave a damn about your party of desert wanderers.

A Wind Named Amnesia (1990)

When thinking of a post-Apocalypse anime for this piece,this is the one that first mushroomed into my head. Based on a novel by Vampire Hunter D author Hideyuki Kikuchi and with characters designed by Yoshitaka Amano, A Wind Named Amnesia present us a rather unique End-of-The-World scenario.

One day,a mysterious wind appeared out of nowhere and swept away all of mankind's memories and knowledge. Everyone forgot their previous lives, language, and culture. All civilization vanished overnight as most humans forgot how to use tools and Humanity was then reduced to the most base barbarism.

Two years after the Wind blew a wheelchair-bound genius called Johnny,one of the very few humans that wasn't affected (because of his cybernetic brain), saves and re-educates a young man whom he names Wataru ("traveller" in Japanese). After a time,he sets Wataru on a journey thru the U.S to find out what exactly caused the planet-wide phenomenon. On the road,Wataru meets Sofia,a young mysterious white-haired woman who isn't what she appears to be. Together they head to New York in hoping to find answers to the mystery of the Amnesia Wind.

Thunder Road (1985)

Oh Hell yeah! This was a board game that if you found four people to play it could go on all night. You played basically on this never-ending post-apocalyptic road rage and you had to attack other players (either by ramming them or using weapons) and while avoiding incoming dangers like radioactive wrecks,The Thunder Chopper and being outrun by the other players.

If there was ever a board game made to be played while listening to AC/DC is this one...

A Boy and His Dog (1975)

Oh boy... This is one of those films that could've only been made in the 70s. Based on a novella by Harlan Ellison (who wrote some of the most fantastically f-up science fiction short stories ever),this movie takes place in an alternative timeline where JFK wasn't assassinated and a golden age of scientific research in genetics and robotics began. Cold War tensions,however remained past the turn of the millenium and WW3 finally exploded in the year 2007.

It's 2024 and we meet Vic, a 17-year old boy (played by a young Don Johnson) who wanders the lonesome highways of the Wasteland alongside his dog Blood. Except Blood is not really a dog but a superintelligent telephatic transgenic creature...that talks.

Having spent all his life outside of civilization, Vic is completely devoid of all morals,though Blood tries to act like his mentor. And when they're not looking for food and healthy women for Vic to rape,they spend their days trying to find a fabled place called "Over The Hill" that hasn't been touched by nuclear radiation.

Parts of this movie where among the inspiration for the game Fallout 3. I recommend you watch it,if only to ponder on the completely out-of-left-field ending.

2019: After the Fall of New York (1983)

Ah,Italy. You have provided us with some of cinema's greatest directors. Sadly,you also provided us with some of the worst cinema rip-offs ever. During the 80s there was a metric ton of Mad Max copies produced in Italy. I could make a whole article (and I probably will! :D ) on all these radioactive residues. Out of all of those,After The Fall of New York (Dopo la Caduta di New York) is probably the one I like if only because it's so bad. Not Powerglove bad,but really,REALLY bad.

Witness the horror of bad miniature camera shots

Our tale of wonder and amazement concerns an Snake Plissken lookalike called Parsifal who is hired by a non-descript group of rebels to rescue [cue dramatic plot music] the last fertile woman on Earth from a group of e-veel baddies called The Euraks. The rest of the story goes pretty much as you'd expect. Asses get kicked, damsels get rescued and pointless exposition about the inherent violence of the human race gets yapped about followed by all the good guys in the World taking off in an spaceship... Wait,what?

But,you know what's funny? I always felt that this flick's basic story got copied years later when Cannon Films made their Van Damme flick Cyborg.

So did a rip-off got ripped off? You be the judge...

Freeway Fighter (1985)

"Devastated by a killer virus,the world you once knew is a wilderness. Life is lawless and dangerous. Survivors like you either live in scattered, fortified towns, or roam outside as bandits. YOUR mission is to cross the wilderness to the far-distant oil-refinery at San Anglo and bring vital supplies back to the peaceful town of New Hope. Even in the armed Dodge Interceptor you are given, the journey will be wild and perilous. Will YOU survive?

Yeah,that prologue pretty much says it all. This was one of the few Fighting Fantasy Choose-Your-Own-Adventure gamebooks I ever read,but it was damn good. The story takes places in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic U.S (though the country or region is never explicitly stated), dominated by heavily armed bands of lawless nomads.

Once you start reading you create your own stats as well as the stats for your car when vehicle combat would come into play.You had to manage your fuel while searching various areas and deal with several shady characters that might yield something that could provide you an edge later in the book. There's even an exciting final boss fight at the end.

Looking back,I wish I had gotten more of those books. Sure,there were mostly generic fantasy,but they had kickass cover art and were pretty entertaining.

World Without End (1955)

Though considered a 1950s B-movie by most critics,this movie actually has an intricate science fiction plot and the dialogue doesn't have too much of that distinctly cheesy flavor that all 50s sci-fi flicks suffer from.

Four astronauts returning from a Mars-orbiting expedition find Earth completely in ruins. After some exploring they find out that a great,Final War broke out in 2188. They theorize that the near light speed engine from their rocketship had caused a time-dilation that had hurled them into the Future. Now time-trapped in 2508,the crew of astronauts must face the dangers of giant spiders,mutant cavemen and other stuff worthy of a Futurama episode.

It's interesting to note the similarities with Planet of the Apes,though this movie came out 13 years earlier. I saw this movie on TV when I was very young and I remember being scared by the one-eyed mutant troglodytes that besieged the astronaut heroes.


And now for a musical interlude

The Wild Boys (1984)

Holy Wow,I remember being 12 or 13 when MTV debuted this videoclip and it blew my mind. The post-apocalyptic visions of mohawked mutants dancing intrincately savage choreographies,freaky monsters emerging to devour Simon LeBon's head and the grim gestalt of the video were forever irradiated into my mind.

Moving on!

Delicatessen (1991)

Who says you can't have humor in Post-Apocalyptia? This gem comes from the creative team of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (director of Amelie) and Marc Caro,who'd later bring us The City of Lost Children. The story takes place in France sometime after the Third World War. Civilization is barely holding together as everyday people try to go on with their lives among the urban ruins. Basic services like water, electricity and even television are still around,but just barely. However,food is very scarce to the point that grain is used as the common currency.

In this scenario we meet Louison,an unemployed circus performer who comes to work for a grumpy butcher as handiman in an apartment building occupied by a troupe of completely wacko tenants. Unbeknownst to Louison is the fact that the Butcher and the tenants share a very dark secret,and he is the main plate in an upcoming feast...

This movie has a pretty dark sense of humor,but it never feels oppresive or gritty. And in spite of the grim setting,the movie is absolutely beautiful,as are all Jeunet-Caro movies. It's like being inside one of those dark Roald Dahl tales. I highly recommend it to both cinema fans and cult movie watchers.

The Salute of the Jugger (The Blood of Heroes in the U.S) (1989)

Though it may look like yet another "me too" Mad Max clone from the 80s at first, this rather under-rated film (directed by the screenwriter of movies like Unforgiven and 12 Monkeys) can be considered more like an underdog sports movie. Sorta like Hoosiers mixed with Mad Max.

Set in a future where "the World has been dead for a long time" and the past is long forgotten,the humans that remain live in dusty colonies called "dog towns". An small number of priviliged few live in large underground enclaves known as the Nine Cities. The only form of entertainment is a brutal sport known as The Game,which can be described as football with Thunderdome blunt weapons. The trophy for winning a match is a dog's skull...don't ask me why.

Enter Sallow (Rutger Hauer),the brooding leader of a rag-tag team of Juggers,as the players of the Game are called, that go from town to town collecting the local dogskulls. Their winning streaks get noticed by the League of The Nine Cities,where they are invited to play. Soon they'll discover that they will need to fight for their very survival.

It's interesting to note that this movie inspired the birth of a real sport known as Jugger. There are leagues in Germany,Australia and here in the U.S. Sadly,they don't permit weapons...

Ark II (1976)

I bet few here remembers this one. Ark II ran on CBS in the mid 70s and briefly on syndication in the early 80s. it had a surprisingly bleak and grim premise for a Saturday morning children's television series. A scientist couple and their younger trainee (and a "super-intelligent" monkey) roamed the Wasteland in the titular Ark II trying to civilize the few remnant humans after some vague catastrophe destroyed civilization.

The mobile laboratory carried some pretty cool gadgets such as a jetpack and smaller 4-wheel ATVs. It's a shame the series only lasted 15 episodes,but thankfully they were released on DVD some years ago.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Like pretty much everyone outside of Japan during the 80s,I saw the (much maligned by anime fans) abridged version of this Hayao Miyazaki anime feature titled Warriors of The Wind in the U.S.

At the time,I didn't know that 26 minutes had been edited from the original film and that some names had been altered. All I knew is that I LOVED Warriors of the Wind. Miyazaki's vision of Earth -devastated long ago by a planetary holocaust known as the "Seven Days of Fire"- with its ecosystem mutated into lethally toxic woods, inhabited by huge insects was just astounding.

Some years later VIZ released a manga called Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and when I read it I was like "The Hell?! This is Warriors of the Wind! Why are they calling Princess Zandra 'Nausicaa'?"

Little did I know that I'd have to wait until 2005 (when Disney released it on DVD) to see the full 116 minute version. But I think deep in my heart I still love the Warriors of the Wind cut. Hell,I think I still have the VHS tape somewhere in the cavernous depths of my basement.

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987)

I'm gonna make this one short and sweet. There are horny humanoid mutant frogs with three genitalia and there are exploding codpieces. If you haven't seen this Roddy Pipper classic,you don't know what you're missing. Now,go. Rent it,Netflix it,scour every bargain bins until you find Hell Comes to Frogtown. The future of Mankind depends on it...or not.

And now I want to finish this tour thru the Wasteland,not with a bang but with a whimper. Or a prayer if you will. This is the first post-apocalyptic scenario I ever saw. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera directed this MGM animated short based on a previous 1939 short film. It's the tale of the last days of Man and those inherited his legacy.

Good Will to Men (1955)

The Post-Apocalyptic genre is still as alive today as it was in the 70s and 80s with books,comics,movies and videogames. We can only hope -specially after witnessing recent disasters like the Japan tsunami- that visions like the ones we have seen here remain well within the realm of fiction.

Well Retrojunkies, I hope you enjoid this looong walk thru the Wasteland. Remember to decontaminate your suits properly and wash your skin with a Silkwood showerhead. And if you find yourselves one morning with an extra limb...well,there's always the circus.

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