Written by: Harold Hoffman
Directed by: Larry Buchanan
Starring: Paul Petersen, Quinn O'Hara, and Charla Doherty
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďYes, I'll tell the girls the first thing in the morning."
"Yes. They should bear children as soon as possible."
"Yes. They should bear children as soon as possible."
If youíre cynical about Hollywoodís tendency towards recycling itself these days, then you might have been apoplectic back in the 60s, when AIP (never one to miss an opportunity to cash in on, well, anything) decided to get into the television distribution business. However, instead of shipping its sparse catalogue of mostly black-and-white films to air on color TVs, the studio decided to remake some of its output from the previous decade with little to no change, save for their color makeover. One of its targets was Roger Cormanís Day The World Ended, which became In The Year 2889 with Larry Buchanan at the helm and doing little more than a copy and paste job.
Despite the title, the film doesnít actually appear to be set that far off into the future, as everyone involved must have assumed that the late 60s represented the height of human civilization because thatís exactly where the film plops us, more or less. More specifically, the world has been reduced to a post-apocalyptic wasteland after mankind set off all of the nukes, apparently. A handful of survivors remain in a small basin that was left unscathed due to its convenient location. The ever prescient (and, as it turns out, completely insane) John Ramsey (Neil Fletcher) scouted it out years in advance and set up the nicest doomsday bunker that the 60s (or 50s, given the filmís history) could imagine. Along with his daughter Joanna (Charla Doherty), he plans to hole up in his abode to ride things outóat least until a group of other survivors descend on the place, much to his dismay.
The parade of interlopers sounds like the setup to a joke: ďa bootlegging cowboy (Bill Thurman), a stripper (Quinn OíHara), and her manager (Hugh Feagin) walk into a doomsday bunkerÖĒ Thereís no punch-line though, unless you count the filmís utter badness as a particularly cruel one. Itís not like the film is desecrating some sacred textólike a lot of early Corman efforts, Day the World Ended is charmingly creaky, but itís hardly something that couldnít have been improved with a second pass. Neither effort nor improvement seem to have been much of a priority here, as the film trudges through its motions, many of which only feel especially stale because so many other films riffed on its formula. When a bunch of disparate, bickering survivors descend upon a lone outpost to ride out an apocalyptic threat, itís hard not to think about Romero, who would refine this recipe over the next couple of decades.
In Buchananís hands, itís just a deathly, tedious bore that certainly lacks any sort of immediacy as its survivors generally loll about and discuss the implications of this terrible new world (itís not unlike an especially bad episode of The Walking Dead, actually). All the drudgery comes at the expense of a pretty cool, monstrous concept: it turns out that the place is actually being stalked by a fellow mutated survivor who didnít quite escape the fallout. As a result, it receives both some good news and bad news about its accelerated evolution, as itís been granted telepathic abilities and cannibalistic cravings for human flesh. Even worse, it may be joined by one of the guys dwelling in the house; when he (Max W. Anderson) and his brother (Paul Petersen) first arrive, heís on the edge of death due to apparent radiation poisoning. A few days later, he makes a miraculous recovery but suddenly has the urge to eat raw meat.
With his behavior becoming increasingly erratic, he threatens to join the looming threat skulking about the house, the film doesnít lack opportunities to at least be a decent (if not completely low-rent) monster movie. Instead, it hammers home the point that Romero would patent by insisting that the groupís in-fighting and drama will be its undoing. Most of it is centered on Joanna, who might be the one of two girls left in the world alongside the stripper. As sheís the younger of the two, sheís a more attractive prospect for the sleazebag manager, who spends most of the movie hitting on her in an attempt to trade up from his more banged-up, older model. Speaking of which, the dancer spends her time either bemoaning this fact, chilling in a bikini with Joanna, or knocking back hooch with the mountain man; at some point, she also puts on a show for the rest of the crowd, a routine that draws the absolute fury of Ramsay.
The cantankerous old coot is certainly the most interesting thing about In the Year 2889, if only because heís such an awful protagonist presented without the least bit of irony. Whereas Romero would at least be aware of (if not overtly critical of) his charactersí follies, this film makes it clear that itís Ramsayís way or the highwayóheís sort of like Cooper from Night of the Living Dead, your overbearing dad, a frontier sheriff, and a complete sociopath rolled into one. Thereís no problem he canít solve through utter pragmatism. When Andersonís character begins to exhibit strange symptoms, Ramsay is quick to suggest that they kill him even though (as the manís own brother rightfully points out) thereís no real reason to do so just yet. Similarly, he begins to have delusions of grandeur once he realizes that his lone outpost might represent both the end of humanity and its new beginning, so he schemes to hook his daughter up with the nice, uninfected brother in the hopes that theyíll start making babies post-haste (nevermind the fact that sheís grieving the loss of her presumably dead fiancť). Heís basically a complete lunatic that only doomsday paranoiacs would find appealing, and the film completely vindicates him. Chalk one up for old, white patriarchy.
If the filmís sympathies werenít problematic enough, itís also just dully made; all of its turns are wooden, and Buchanan mostly breaks out a paint brush to color over a movie from the previous decade. Even the filmís monster is somehow more laughable with its dime store get-up than it was in Cormanís cheapie (not that it ends up mattering since the filmís melodrama overpowers whatever scares it might have). More than anything, In the Year 2889 just represents a totally bizarre moveóitís a film that could have easily made for an easy update with just a modicum of effort. Instead, itís just a complete retread without an ounce of ingenuity. Thatís a criticism youíll see leveled a lot of studio efforts these days, but itís especially apt hereóeven Gus Van Sant would probably be baffled by this one. As you might expect, this one has shown up on some public domain sets, though it is worth noting that Image paired it with Itís Alive, another Buchanan effort from a couple of years earlier. Appropriately enough, I caught In The Year 2889 on Sony HD, where it had been inexplicably restored quite nicely, a fact that's almost amusing as anything in the film itself. Trash it!
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