The Most Expressive Cold War Flick


This forgotten, saber-toothed 1962 AIP cheapie might be the most expressive on-the-ground nightmare of the Cold War era, providing a template not only for countless social-breakdown genre flicks (most particularly, Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf) but also for authentic crisis—shades of New Orleans haunt its DVD margins. Far from a thriller, the film forthrightly pits civilized conduct against violent take-all survivalism: The camping vacation of a family of four (led by scowling Ray Milland) is interrupted by a full-on nuclear attack on distant cities; the ensuing debate about how quickly and thoroughly to abandon law and order in order to stay alive troubles the clan, even as Dad begins to loot, terrorize, and indulge in vengeance killing. Gracelessly directed by Milland himself and choked both by a finger-snapping beat-jazz score by Les Baxter and the presence of Frankie Avalon, the movie is nevertheless an anxious, detail-rich essay on moral collapse. Featured on the same double-feature disc is The Last Man on Earth (1964), an Italian-made (and deplorably dubbed) adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, in which a weary Vincent Price goes about the sorry task of killing zombie-like vampires by day and drinking himself into depression by night. The sobering flashback visit to the burning mass grave to retrieve a young daughter’s corpse more than makes up for the crude filmmaking. Between them, the lone supp is an interview with an avuncular Matheson, detailing his work on, and dissatisfaction with, the latter movie.