What a pair of movies this turned out to be. Day the World Ended is an early Roger Corman flick from 1955, while In the Year 2889 is a made-for-TV remake from 1969 that used an almost identical script. Only the names were changed to protect the innocent.
Written by Lou Rusoff, that script tells the story of a small group that survives a nuclear apocalypse. World War Three has ravaged the world, silencing the cities of Earth and bathing the planet in radioactive fallout. But not in an isolated patch of rugged Southwestern landscape. Former Navy officer Jim Maddison (Paul Birch) has spent the last decade preparing for nuclear war. He has built his house nestled in between hills containing lead ore, which helps block radiation. Winds sweep through nearby canyons, creating a cushion of air that fallout can’t penetrate. I don’t know if any of this holds up to scientific scrutiny, but considering this is a 1950s sci-fi b-movie, I doubt it. It doesn’t matter, anyway.
Maddison is joined at his home by his twenty-something daughter, Louise (Lori Nelson), and a gaggle of survivors who wander onto his property, fleeing the holocaust. They’re about as motley a group as one could expect from the clean-cut 1950s. There’s tall and handsome Rick (Richard Denning); wannabe gangster Tony (Mike ‘Mannix’ Connors); his aging showgirl lady friend, Ruby (Adele Jergens); lonely prospector Pete (Raymond Hatton); and Radek (Paul Dubov), an unfortunate soul suffering from radiation poisoning.
That’s seven people, sheltering in a place that Maddison only set up for three. Food and water are limited. There is potential for quite a study in tension in this flick. But, no, we don’t get that. We get a Roger Corman cheapie.
Corman was the right person for quick turnaround. He shot the movie over ten days on a budget of around 96,000 bucks. With that kind of schedule and limited resources, viewers shouldn’t expect much. The entire film was shot at some poor sap’s house, with a little further location work at Bronson Canyon and Griffith Park in Los Angeles. This was one of the films that established Corman as a ‘one-location wonder.’
Russoff’s script had the cast get shouty with each on occasion, to the point where Maddison and Tony pointed pistols at each other multiple times, but nothing of consequence comes from these conflicts until the final act. The movie being only 79-minutes long, viewers don’t have to wait long for denouement.
Oh, and there’s a monster! It’s easy to forget, since it’s peripheral to the plot, but there is a classic Corman monster roaming about in this film — a human mutated by radiation. Designed and portrayed by regular Corman collaborator Paul Blaisdell, the monster is very much kin to the most ridiculous getups one will see from the ’50s. Truth be told, it’s the most interesting thing about this dog, even though this isn’t exactly a monster flick.
Day the World Ended was made for a quick buck, and it’s obvious. In the Year 2889 was even more shameless.
Besides being an early Corman flick, Day the World Ended was also an early flick from legendary distributors of shit American International Pictures, then known as American Releasing Corporation. They still had the rights to the story, and in the late 1960s decided they wanted a remake for television. So, they blew the dust off of Rusoff’s script, handed it to Harold Hoffman for some very light rewrites, and Larry Buchanan to direct. The title comes from a Jules Verne adaptation that AIP never got around to making, and has zero relation to what was actually filmed.
The movie Buchanan delivered is identical in plot and tone to Corman’s flick, but lacking in the professionalism of the original. Missile Test has given Corman a lot of grief in the past, but his picture is miles ahead of the remake in quality.
The characters are more or less the same, only with 1950s stuffiness replaced with 1960s youthfulness. Character names are changed, and that’s about all the effort Buchanan and company put into making their film unique. In some scenes the dialogue is the same as in the original. The worst part about this, is that Lou Rusoff’s name is nowhere in the credits. That’s some bullshit, especially considering Rusoff was brother-in-law to AIP’s founder and owner, Samuel Z. Arkoff.
Anyway, In the Year 2889 stinks. The filmmakers took a week film and managed to make it worse. That’s quite an achievement, even before viewers get a look at the sorry excuse for a monster in this version.
Day the World Ended is not a good movie, but it is a piece of Corman history, and we like a shitty Corman flick here. It takes over the #194 spot in the Watchability Index from Pick-Up. Not great, but not unwatchable. Meanwhile, In the Year 2889 falls way down the list, entrenching itself firmly in the ‘stay aways’ at #362, displacing Driven. I can’t think of any reason to seek out this low-down dirty dog for anything other than curiosity.