Sunday, January 26, 2014

Today's Mini-Review: Day the World Ended

Rating: ***/*****, or 7/10

Starring: Richard Denning, Lori Nelson, Mike ConnorsDirected by Roger CormanUSA: Golden State Productions, 1955

Truth is, few of the films from Roger Corman's early days of directing schlock movies for a dime are 'good' in the usual sense of the word. In fact, most (if not all) of them are cheap exploitation quickies shot for next to nothing so they could do nothing but make a profit in drive-in theaters screaming for content to cater to teenage love birds more interested in each other in the dark than in the goings-on present on the big screen in front of them. Flicks like The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), Swamp Women (1956) and It Conquered the World (1956) nowadays are interesting only to geeks revelling in bad taste or film students exploring the fringes of acceptable study material. Still, the occasional sort-of decent film can be found among Corman's early work for those with enough patience and the stomach for digesting campy creature features from the Fifties. Day the World Ended I count among these very few.

Stories about man's inability to coexist in peace with his fellows, even when such cooperation would be to both parties' mutual advantage in the struggle for basic survival, have often resulted in fascinating pieces of audiovisual excitement studying the human condition and continue to do so to this day even when you thought little more could be added to the subject, except for different, usually interchangeable threats. You think people watch popular shows like The Walking Dead only for the excessive gore and neat-o zombie make-up? Think again: they watch it for the gripping human drama involved in living together under extreme circumstances. Corman applied the same formula to this post-apocalyptic tale of tragedy almost sixty years ago, as he tells the story of a small band of survivors who seek refuge in the same remote mountain location when the bombs finally fall, a typical fear of the Fifties where such an occurrence never seemed so unlikely. Among those that would live are a survivalist, his pretty daughter, a geologist, a loudmouth crook, his slutty girlfriend and a man with a terrible secret. Of course tension quickly mounts between these disparate people over the usual things, like who's in charge, who rations the food and who ends up dating the daughter. Most of the film consists of people arguing, but fortunately the movie only lasts 79 minutes and the man with a secret mutates into a horrifying monster (read: guy in a silly suit) to spice things up a bit. Corman proves quite adept in suspensefully paving the way for the creature's first appearance between all the petty bickering. And even though you know the actual monster isn't gonna succeed in living up to this buildup to his rampage, if you know and accept what type of movie you're watching before you start, you might be able to get a kick out of this film regardless of the total lack of production values, even if only for laughs (who ever said Corman made serious movies anyway?). Aficionados of Fifties' Sci-Fi films will also be grateful to see Richard Denning star as the handsome scientist and noble man of action, as the actor is almost a staple of the science fiction films of this era, starring in genre pieces like the classic Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and less well remembered pictures like The Black Scorpion (1957) and Target Earth (1954).

The dystopian themes of Day the World Ended, effectively underscoring that man is his own worst enemy (hardly a novel notion in 1955 to begin with), have since been addressed in other films and television ad infinitum (compare various episodes of the different Twilight Zone series, as well as recent films like The Divide and The Mist for example) yet continue to fascinate and appeal to people, who cannot help but wonder if this was really what it came down to when the world went to hell. Corman crafts a fairly entertaining film out of the subject matter, which remains one of his best, though that is hardly saying something. Though I wouldn't exactly recommend this type of film to anyone, I can honestly say that if you ever fell the need to go sit and watch an obvious cashgrab B-movie from a master in creating such fare the likes of Corman, it might as well be this one. You could do far worse and really, really waste your time.
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