From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Steve Barkett's The Aftermath makes up for its low budget with an engaging, original story that begins with three astronauts who have lost contact with their surface crews on Earth. After completing a year long mission, the crew is now attempting to come home. With no groundcrews to guide them, Captain Newman (Barkett) decides to crash land their ship a few miles off the coast of Los Angeles, California. Their descent destroys their ship and takes the life of one of the crew members. The remaining crew, Newman and Williams (Jim Danforth) wash up on the beach to find scattered remains of long-dead, sun-dried beach goers who appear to have been killed instantly by some form of cataclysm with no prior warning.
The pair of astronauts camp for the night with no knowledge of what has taken place on Earth during their absence. Not long after dark, they are attacked a small group of mutants although they manage to fend them off and survive until morning. As they cross over the hills into the city, the returning astronauts are greeted by a Los Angeles that lay in ruins. Buildings are completely destroyed and all life seems to have ceased. In an effort to determine what exactly has happened, Newman scales a hill on the outskirts of the city to enter an emergency service tower in search of survivors or at least information. He finds the building in an advanced state of decay. The corpse of a long deceased broadcaster lay near a recording device, which gives Newman an opportunity to enlighten himself on the world he and his partner have returned to. The broadcaster's tape (voice by Dick Miller) describes his last days on Earth, which has all but been destroyed through a culmination of both nuclear and germ warfare. The broadcaster ends his final message with a mention of being better off dying inside his station than being "out there with them." Newman's voiceover narration wonders who is being referenced by "them."
Cut to the survivors of the Apocalypse. The viewer is given a chaotic episode of chase where survivors are rounded up like wild cattle by a group of thugs. Chasing them through the Los Angeles hills in jeeps and roping them like steers, Cutter's (Sid Haig) band lines up its captives. After a brief inspection, Cutter instructs his men to kill the males (both adults and children) and then return the women to their camp. From the onset, Cutter and his men are shown to be extremely sadistic with no empathy for a civilization in its death throes. Their only intention for a future society is to capitalize on the current tragedy by taking full control of their surroundings using whatever means are necessary. Lawless seems to be the band's only creed.
Meanwhile, high above the city, Newman and Williams have restarted their life on Earth. Taking refuge in a large mansion in the hills above Los Angeles, the two men make themselves at home. After cleaning and rearranging their new home, the men begin to set themselves an agenda of foraging by day and conducting regular broadcasts to locate additional survivors. Barkett's script for The Aftermath, is highly concentrated on developing Newman's character (albeit the acting is somewhat stiff). In a conversation between Newman and Williams it is revealed that Newman's family was killed five years prior. He admits to Williams that he believed nothing would ever be that horrifying and even in the midst of what they are now experiencing that still holds true. Williams replies, "Look pal, it's been no big secret to me. You've hated the world in general for a long time. I understand why, the world lost a lot of its charm. We both grew up and saw a lot of the things that made life beautiful change and become plastic. You hated the plastic, and I didn't. Its that simple." Williams admits to Newman that he's hurting and he's scared. Williams adds, "I can tell by looking at your face that you love the way it is. No more taxes, no more red tape, no more government, no more ugly apartment buildings. You've given me the speech a hundred times on how great it's gonna be when all of this crumbles. Well, it did crumble. To me, it's not great; it's just scary." With this dialog, the viewer is given a good deal of insight into Newman's character. And, depending on the outcome, it provides some hope in a hopeless situation. If Newman is successful in surviving, he could potentially begin his own utopia. The sense that he has looked forward to a "world destroyed" places him in a world of opportunity and chance rather than in one that is stunted and utterly void of positive outcomes.
Shortly after, Newman leaves the compound to explore the city's ruins. After a radioactive rainstorm takes him by surprise, he takes refuge in a nearby building, which turns out to be the city's natural history museum. During the night he is startled by a noise, but is relieved when he discovers that the curator (Forest J. Ackerman) is living in the museum with a young boy he has rescued, Christopher (Christopher Barkett). The curator reveals that he is dying as a result of radiation exposure and passes Christopher onto Newman. The two become friends and Newman takes the opportunity to impart his wisdom to the young boy and to teach him skills he will need to know in order to survive in this new world. On one of there excursions, the two are attacked by a sniper. Sarah (Lynne Margulies) shoots at them from a nearby building. She has recently escaped Cutter's clan and believes Newman is back to claim her. He manages to breech her stronghold and after convincing her he has no affiliation to Cutter, she joins him to return to his compound. Although, this is after the three narrowly escape a small band of mutants who have gone after the boy.
Once back at the compound, the group takes on a somewhat normal way of life. Newman and Sarah become closer and with the addition of the young boy it appears that Newman has once again regained the family that he lost. Over time, Sarah pleads with Newman and Williams to free her friend from Cutter's camp who also has a young daughter. Although risky, they hatch a plan to invade the camp and spend time performing drills and preparing themselves for the challenge. Once initiated, they successfully bring back the pair. As a bonus, they also take Cutter as a captive however no clear intentions for him are given. En route to the compound, Cutter escapes and disappears into the night.
The following day, Newman ventures out one last time to appropriate as many supplies as he can find. The group plans to flee Los Angeles for safer ground away from Cutter and his henchmen. When Newman and the boy return to the compound, Cutter and his men have already paid a visit. Williams was knocked unconscious in the attack and both Sarah, her friend, and the daughter are brutally killed. The loss is too much for Newman to bare. With his patience pushed over the edge, he sets out to return to Cutter's camp to enact vengeance for the murders. Williams is unsure and pleads with Newman not to go saying, "You just want to indulge in revenge, don't you?" Newman replies, "No not just revenge...justice." This ultimately sets Newman's character as the "good" versus Cutter's "evil."
The film's finale follows Newman as he rushes Cutter's camp with a surprise attack involving grenades, Molotov cocktails, and a barrage of bullets. Just when Newman has been cornered by Cutter's men, Williams shows up to cover him. Shortly after he enters the scene, Williams is shot and killed. After Newman takes out the majority of Cutter's men, his second in command flees via jeep into the city. Newman pursues and catches him on a rooftop, which leads to one the best fight scenes in the film with a very brutal outcome. Newman misses the opportunity to take out Cutter as well, but flees to the compound to take Christopher out of Cutter's reach. As they stop on the outskirts of the city to run a quick check of equipment and supplies, Cutter surprises them and the outcome is...well, watch the movie.
What can be said about The Aftermath's ending (without spoiling) is that it is one the most creative endings to be filmed within the Post Apocalyptic subgenre. To some extent, most Post Apocalyptic films are built around the challenges of confronting a world destroyed by traumatic global events. The characters and themes typically involve the ways in which people or groups are forced to cope against the astronomically low odds of survival. While regeneration of society is a necessary element, the focus is more often about the unraveling of the previous one. For The Aftermath, Barkett managed to take this scenario and capitalize on the aspect of opportunity and chance rather than on decline. In the end, The Aftermath appears to be more about the beginning of a new world rather than the death of an old one. Even though Barkett's film destroys the majority of its heroes and villains, it supplants this void with a new, unlikely character to carry on the values imparted through the experience of the main players. Although this film's outcome is somewhat improbable from a survival standpoint, it remains refreshing as an attempt to provide an ending that is somewhat unexpected throughout the entire film. As cryptic as this description of the film's conclusion may sound, it is quite surprising that Barkett never followed up The Aftermath with a sequel.
From a production standpoint, The Aftermath may turn average viewers away while true fans of the subgenre are more likely to enjoy it. Despite the low budget effects, D-I-Y stunts, and the marginal acting throughout the film, there remains more to this film than meets the eye. Sid Haig plays a phenomenal villain. His utter lack of concern for the environment in which he finds himself compounded by the cruelty he enacts on unsuspecting survivors (while laughing) provides Cutter with an ambiance of pure evil. Newman, on the other hand, continually strives to do the right thing. Even after his disdain for the modern world is realized, the viewer is shown that his common values remain in tact. His movement is not driven solely from a moral standpoint, but from a more heroic set of principles. For the boy and Sarah, Newman serves as the epitome of honor, valor, and integrity. While he admits that he hated the "plastic modern world," even in its absence he continually strives to construct his new world on historic values rather than on his own selfish interpretation.
It's important to note that while the acting in this film is not the greatest, Barkett expresses Newman's thoughts and attitudes with voiceover narration throughout the film. While this can take away from a film in some cases, The Aftermath benefits greatly. It is through Newman's conversations with himself that the viewer gains more insight into the theme of this film. Without it, this film would most likely suffer. The incorporation of a few extremely gory scenes and mild nudity successfully wets the pallet for exploitation fans. The nuclear landscape throughout the film is somewhat impressive. Dennis and Robert Skotak are credited for the visual effects in The Aftermath, which began filming in 1978. They would go on to ply their skills in films such as Roger Corman's Battle Beyond The Stars (1980) and John Carpenter's Escape From New York (1981). The brothers would also win awards for their special effects work in several mainstream films including Aliens (1986), The Abyss (1989), and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991). Other notable cameos include the legendary Forest J. Ackerman as the curator. Ted V. Mikels also signed on to The Aftermath as co-producer. Aside from the film's overall arc, The Aftermath is well paced with plenty of action thrown in. While it provides a solid entry into the Post Apocalyptic subgenre, it carries a strong theme that balances exploitation cinema with an intriguing, thought-provoking outcome.
Reviewed by Texploited