Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Overlooked Movies -- Panic in Year Zero

Long ago, I read a short story by Ward Moore. "Lot" was the title, and I think it appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Wonderful end-of-the-world stuff. There was a sequel, "Lot's Daughter," which I also read, but I don't remember liking it quite as much. The two stories are the basis for this movie, though it was "novelized" by Dean Owen for book publication under the title The End of the World.

I don't know what critics thought of this movie, which came out in 1962, but I remember it as the essence of low-budget film-making. I didn't know at the time that it was Ray Milland's directorial debut, and I probably wouldn't have cared if I'd known. (And Walter Satterthwait has informed me that it wasn't. So that takes care of that.) I did know that Milland had won an Academy Award, though. He's the star, but Frankie Avalon was probably the draw for any teen girls who went to see it. He's not as bad as you might think, but he was no threat to Milland.

The movie itself is a hardboiled tale of one family's search for safety after the collapse of civilization and of Milland's determination to keep them safe. It was pretty shocking in 1962, as I recall. There's rape and killing and a notable lack of sentimentality. Milland is definitely not a likable guy as most protagonists in horror movies were.

Naturally there are others out on the road after the apocalypse, and some of them are typical '50s delinquents. They may seem quaint to an audience today, but they were plenty scary in the long ago. If Milland is full of single-minded selfishness, so are a lot of the people he and his family meet, and their ends are a lot less noble than his.

A lot of people thought Cormac McCarthy's The Road was a wonderful book, as if it had never been done before. Check this movie out and you'll see that it had. Maybe not the same way, this is a road movie with a determined father. So there's that. Have a look at the trailer posted below, then check out the movie if you ever get a chance.


Todd Mason said...

Right on F&SF, but the first story was just "Lot"--Tachyon has a slim collection of "Lot" and "Lot's Daughter" available.

Bill Crider said...

Thanks, Todd. The old memory ain't what it used to be. I'll make the correction.

George said...

I haven't seen PANIC IN YEAR ZERO or read "Lot." Time to hunt them down.

Deb said...

I didn't know about this movie or its source material, but I do remember reading No Blade of Grass (aka, The End of Grass) and thought The Road was a bit of a rip-off of that.