Amazon Prime has a problem with dates on some movies. For films that have been re-released with a restored print or new cut, it’s not uncommon for them to use the date when the new print was released, rather than the year the film originally premiered. This caught me out with The Aftermath, which, according to Amazon, was released in 2018.
The print on Prime is close to pristine. Other than occasional pops and scratches, the picture is sharp and the colors are vibrant. Because of this, and the 2018 date attached to the film, I at first thought I was watching something fairly new. And it was a riot. From the cheap model work, the period costumes, the color reminiscent of a retro digital filter, the analog technology used in the sets, to the music and the cinematography, I thought I was watching a very clever recreation of a 1970s cheapie sci-fi flick or tv movie. Something inspired by Dark Star or any random Italian ripoff. Then I noticed Sid Haig, who plays the bad guy, and realized there was no way this movie was made in 2018.
Haig died in 2019, and was 80-years old. But, in this film, he was clearly a man in his 40s. All of a sudden, all that cleverness I had imagined evaporated, and I was left watching just another shitty sci-fi flick from the 1970s. A good thing, then, that it turned out to be a shitty magnum opus — an inspired work by a shitty filmmaker whose vision was beyond all reach of skill and financing, but which he saw through to the end, and gifted to you and me and all the other world’s shitty movie fans.
Released in 1982, but with much principal photography completed years earlier, The Aftermath is producer/writer/director/star Steve Barkett’s passion project. He had a vision of a post-apocalyptic America, ravaged by nuclear war, and one hero’s fight to bring a little civilization back into the world. Along the way, he would confront the twin evils of nuclear mutation and rampant, animal savagery. Indeed, the character he plays, the mononymous Newman, is the sole beacon of hope, the last man with strong morality and the will to fight for it, left in the world. He is a savior with a small focus, but he never hesitates to follow up on what he believes is right, no matter the risks.
The first act follows Newman, accompanied by two other astronauts, Mathews and Williams (Larry Latham and Jim Danforth), as they return to Earth after a year-long deep space mission. When they try to communicate with Earth, they receive no response. Somehow this leads to them having to crash their ship in the ocean off of Los Angeles. Williams is killed, but Newman and Mathews survive, only to discover that World War Three has been fought while they were away, and civilization is no more.
Horrible, mutant zombies, hungry for human flesh, wander the land searching for prey. As if that isn’t bad enough, a group of bandits, led by the evil Cutter (Haig), is also terrorizing the former Los Angeles, hunting down and capturing other survivors to make their slaves.
Along the way, Newman rescues a young boy, Christopher (Newman’s real-life son Christopher), and an escapee from Cutter’s clutches, Sarah (Lynne Margulies). The menace and danger of the new world these characters inhabit is never far away, as papier-mâché-faced zombies abound, and Cutter is looking to regain his lost property.
There isn’t a large amount of death in this flick, compared to many other similar films, but Barkett chose to use horror flick amounts of gore when characters lose their lives. The second scene of the film makes its mark in this respect, as, although Barkett and company used rock-bottom effects, we see Cutter order the disposal of some prisoners with shotgun and large-caliber handgun. It’s shocking only because, at first glance, this does not appear to be the type of film with such a heavy tone, despite the subject matter. But, Barkett doesn’t pull very many punches in this film. His screenplay is very dark, and he only gives the audience a break when he makes sure the children his bad guys kill are wasted offscreen.
There is nothing in this flick approaching realism. Its scope far outstrips its reported budget of $250k. It’s Barkett’s vision for this film that makes it stand out from other similar dreck. Despite the cheapness, the general bad acting, and all the other hallmarks of bad cinema, Barkett crafted a wonderful shitty movie watch. From the perspective of both a shitty movie fan and a horror fan, my only criticisms are that Sid Haig was underused, and that this film was somewhat masturbatory. Other than that, The Aftermath is required viewing for the dedicated shitty movie fan. As such, it shoots into the top half of the Watchability Index displacing Leviathan at #47. Check it out.
Of final note, keep an eye out for science fiction legend Forrest J. Ackerman in a short role, and see if one can spot Dick Miller’s work.