Apocalypse, '80s Style!
By Wil Forbis
Few things convince me more that we are a nation of pussies than the mewing and whining I hear outta people over the news that the North Koreans have a couple missiles pointed at us. If you're shitting your pants over that, you must've been asleep during the 80’s when RUSSIA had fucking thousands of those high flying, penis shaped WMDs pointed right at the cereal bowl of every decent American in Anytown, U.S.A. I'm supposed to get my panties in a bunch because some mad scientist in the Pacific (North Korea is in the Pacific, right? I'm too lazy to Google.) has managed to cook up enough nuclear material to take out of few 'merican towns before having his country promptly turned into a sea of radioactive lava? I think not my friend. I THINK NOT!
But, apparently, I'm the only one around here who thinks so. (Or, thinks not so.) Turn on the news these days and your bound to catch some peabody moaning about countries like North Korea and Iran (Where's Iran? Iran... so far awaaaayyyyy!!!*) getting the big one. And I'm amazed at these yahoos. If you're under 15, maybe you have an excuse - you didn't live through one of the darkest periods of global relations that man has suffered through - the 80's. But if you had even minimal consciousness during that decade, you should be ashamed of yourself. Every waking moment was spent with the realization that the atomic missiles could be coming across the skyline without a warning. One minute, you're listening to AHA or watching an episode of SMALL WONDER, the next your flesh is melting off your bones and your entire neighborhood is incinerated. (Actually, that was still preferable to an episode of SMALL WONDER.) The only thing that kept the leaders of both superpowers from frying us all was M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction – it’s not as happy as it sounds) – the theory that “if you fuck with us, we’ll fuck you up worse!”
* A little 80's humor for you folks. If you didn't get that, you are a homosexual.
If you need further convincing about how dreary was the decade of darkness, take a look at what Hollywood was throwing our way in the 80’s. Every film dealt with the unspoken acknowledgement that our lives could be wiped out with push of a button. Every movie had at its heart, the affirmation that nuclear energy could be man's ultimate undoing. What do you have these days? Films like THE HULK, about a man who become a half-crazed beast after being exposed to gamma radiat... hmmm, maybe this section of my argument isn't gonna work out.
But trust me, kiddos, if you wanna grasp the gagged up paranoia of the 80's, you only need look at some of the key cinema of the Reagan era. These movies expressed just how pent up we were about the upcoming apocalypse. Some of them embraced our ultimate demise with a comical wink. Some castigated man for his stupidity. Others still, tried to offer a noble warning that humanity should change its course. Did it work? Fortunately, the commies folded like a bunch of cheap bitches, so we never had to find out. Not yet anyway...
But check out:
Boo-Yaahhh! How about a game of global, thermal nuclear war? Albeit an essentially upbeat and mainstream film, “WarGames” is probably one of the most intelligent films to tackle the subject of nuclear annihilation and the threat of the military industrial complex. Pre-Ferris Bueller Matt Broderick stars as a studly computer nerd, Ally Sheedy is his all-American quasi-girlfriend. (For some reason I had it in my head that it was Jamie Gertz, but whatever... those hos are interchangeable.) Thinking he’s playing a computer game, young Matthew accidentally (and improbably) taps into the NORAD defense system that monitors nuclear threats to the United States and proceeds to set in motion events that could lead to WWIII. In order to stop it all, he has to evade Federal authorities and track down a reclusive scientist who has resigned himself to mankind’s destruction.
Despite being a film for the whole family, “WarGames” was one of the scariest of these apocalyptic films just because it made apparent how a simple technological mishap could cause an atomic nightmare. (Something that came quite close to happening in reality according to various declassified documents.) I think the scene that sticks in everybody's head is the famous intro, where two military technicians buried in a silo are ordered to "turn the key" (e.g. let fly their nuclear payload.) One of them can't do it, even when his partner admonishes him at gunpoint. In the "us versus them" reality of the 80's, this always came across as a very touching scene to me, arguing that the one weakness of the whole M.A.D. theory was our own humanity.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Of course, mankind's humanity has all been wiped out in 1981's "The Road Warrior," the definitive post apocalyptic film of all time. But it's been replaced with the next best thing: chainsaw wielding maniacs! Mad Max, the character that rocketed Mel Gibson to fame, returns after a nuclear war has ravaged his native Australia. (Interestingly, it doesn't look all that different.) Humans gather in medieval tribes and shelter themselves in the bombed out wreckage of former buildings. Gas is like gold, as it can be used to power giant trucks, helicopters, and most importantly, chainsaws! Max travels alone, an atomic high plains drifter, kicking ass and serving fools who don't understand that he means bidness! Gibson delivered the quintessential 80's anti-hero, a vigilante performing good deeds only when they fit in with his own purposes. (He softened up a bit by the time the the third entry, “Mad Max: Beyond ThunderDome,” came around in 1985.)
This film seems to be in the science fiction section of every video joint I've ever been in, so a couple months ago, I decided to give it a shot and discovered that it's not a half bad WWIII flick with a unique angle. The movie starts out onboard a three-man U.S. satellite that's orbiting earth. As its inhabitants watch, Russian and the U.S. go at it, resulting in the destruction of most of civilization. Months later, their satellite is pulled down to earth, killing two crewmembers in the process. The lone survivor finds the typical "devastated earth" scenario - flesh eating zombies, gun toting survivalists and power mad zealots. The film quickly descends into b-movie hell, but stands as an excellent archetype of the genre.
Night of the Comet
“NOTC” isn't an official nuclear apocalypse film, since it's actually a wayward radioactive comet that wipes out 90% of the earth as opposed to an atomic holocaust. But refined viewers will see that comet for what it is - an allegory for nuclear devastation. However, this film makes the argument that surviving an apocalyptic scenario might be a helluva lot of fun. We follow the adventures of two sisters, Regina and Samantha, (played by two no-name actors) as they wander about the now empty suburbia they grew up in, blasting zombies with automatic weapons and engaging in crazed shopping sprees while Cyndi Lauper "Girl's Just Want to have Fun" plays in the background. Eventually some bad guys show up, but you know it's all going to work out in the end. “Night of the Comet” was a remarkably effective film in the sense that it actually had me hoping there would be some sort of world wide apocalypse (assuming I could survive it.) I wasn't the only one with this fantasy - As I recall, my friend Robert once turned to me and said, in all seriousness, "Wouldn't it be cool if everyone on earth except for us and some of our friends died?!"
Return of the Living Dead
It may be a stretch to tie this film in to the apocalypse genre, but a careful reading can dissect and strong anti-war and anti-nuke message. “ROTLD,” directed by one time John Carpenter compatriot, Dan O'Bannon, offers itself as a quasi sequel to the zombie movie that started it all, “Night of the Living Dead.” As one of the characters explains, that movie was based on real events where the dead came back to life due to some new fangled military experiment. (Hey - that's where our tax dollars are going!) One of the zombies, neatly quarantined in a mysterious canister, manages to escape, thereby releasing a strange, zombie-producing gas that travels up to the clouds and then gets rained down onto a nearby graveyard. Throw some punks rockers in the mix and you've got one helluva great zombie film.
But where's the apocalypse? Well, aside from the message inherent in the film, that the military will be the death of us all (Isn't that their job?), “ROTLD” has one of the all time great horror endings. (SPOILER ALERT) Right when the zombies are about to close in on the surviving punks, a army general decides to solve the whole problem by sending a nuke over to whatever American city the zombies have risen from. In the final scene, a mushroom cloud envelopes the area, presumably spewing the same zombie-creating fumes across a everything within a hundred miles
http://www.houseofhorrors.com/return.htm (This page has a couple video clips.)
I've covered Alex Cox's “Repo Man” extensively in this piece, but one thing I missed was the director's professed, hidden meaning for the film, as revealed in this interview, when he answers the question, "What was 'Repo Man' really about?"
Nuclear War. Of course. What else could it be about? And the demented society that contemplated the possibility thereof. Repoing people's cars and hating alien ideologies were only the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg itself was the maniac culture which had elected so-called "leaders" named Reagan and Thatcher, who were prepared to sacrifice everything -- all life on earth -- to a gamble based on the longevity of the Soviet military, and the whims of their corporate masters. J. Frank Parnell - the fictitious inventor of the Neutron Bomb - was the central character for me. He sets the film in motion, on the road from Los Alamos, and, as portrayed by the late great actor, Fox Harris, is the centrepoint of the film.
When the Wind Blows
If anyone ever tells you animated flicks can't depress the hell out of a person you should force them to watch this 1986 fable about an elderly British couple who live through WWIII, only to slowly decay during the resulting nuclear winter. Then you should take that person and kick the shit of them while screaming, "Now do you admit you were wrong? DO YOU???" In a way, the fact that these are cute animated characters wasting away makes the story all the more disturbing. It's like watching an episode of the Flintstones where Fred and Wilma go hungry during a great famine and end up eating Dino. If that's not depressing enough for you, Roger Water pens the soundtrack. I'd empty the house of sharp objects and sleeping pills before viewing this one.
The Day After.
Oh man - this is the biggie. Wanna know how fuggin' scary this 1983 made for television movie was? A couple days before it was going to premiere, my elementary school sent all us kids home with a note telling parents they may want to consider whether they should let the young 'uns watch. Fortunately, my mom was probably passed out on vodka and Quaaludes so when the showing came around I was there front row and center. “The Day After” is a sort of soap opera that follows the intertwining lives of several characters in Kansas both before and after a nuclear attack. There's no face melting zombies or chainsaw wielding maniacs, just real people watching everything they ever knew shattered in a single moment. If “The Day After” makes one thing clear, it's that the people who are instantly killed by a nuclear bomb are the lucky ones.
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Wil Forbis is a well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the world's most beautiful women. Together with his partner, Scrotum-Boy, he is making the world safe for democracy. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Wil's web log, The Wil Forbis Blog, and receive complete enlightenment.