The Day The World Ended Review
It is said that when Samuel Z Arkoff, for whose American International Pictures Roger Corman wrote, produced and directed a number of films, including this one, saw some of the film footage, he called Corman, who, even then stuck to notoriously tight budgets, to say, "Roger, for chrissake, hire a couple more extras and put a little more furniture on the set!" Bear this in mind when watching The Day The World Ended and note the absence of furniture as well as personal effects, cast members, extras and anything else that might indicate more than a couple of thousand dollars was spent on the entire picture. Given his penny-pinching, it should hardly be a surprise then that this, Roger Corman's first science-fiction film, should be about five survivors of a nuclear holocaust.
Opening ominously with the legend, "Our story begins with....THE END!", The Day The World Ended sees five strangers take refuge house owned by Maddison (Birch) and his daughter Louise (Nelson), which is situated in a valley sheltered against the nuclear fallout following TD, or Total Destruction, Day. Joining Maddison and Louise are small-time crook Tony (Connors), his girlfriend, Ruby (Jergens), geologist Rick (Denning) and local farmer Pete (Hatton), who shows up with his donkey, Diablo, in tow.
Rick, however, has rescued a radiation-scarred man, Radek (Dubov), who not only makes it through the first night in Maddison's house but recovers sufficiently to make it outside. As Rick and Maddison follow his tracks, they find that Radek has joined a number of radioactive mutants, created as a result of the fallout, who now infest the valley
Anyone who has ever sat through one of Roger Corman's less entertaining films, such as Bloodfist IV: Die Trying, may have wished that the director/producer had pursued a career outside of filmmaking but to base an opinion of the man on his later works is to do him a disservice. Many of those films he directed in the fifties and early sixties were incredibly inventive little shockers or, in the case of his Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, artful horrors but this 1956 movie, made for less than $65,000, is a cracking example of what Corman could be capable of.
As ever with this type of film, the title gives it all away - something has triggered a nuclear war and most of the civilised has been destroyed, shown here by having the five visitors to the valley walking through a dust storm as Maddison and Louise sit within their modern bungalow listening to white noise on the radio and watching a Geiger counter. As Louise, contrary to Maddison's rather sensible advice, lets the outsiders in, beginning with the hot-tempered and gun-toting Tony followed by the well-meaning but ultimately dull Rick, the scene is set for the two Alpha Males to butt heads over which one gets to start rebuilding the species with Louise. However, once Radek starts making midnight small talk about how cereal and soup won't be enough to sate his hunger for red meat, Rick's thoughts of procreation get put on hold until he figures out what became of the local wildlife. Maddison, on the other hand, is seen standing in his living room staring off into the distance and muttering that the girls, "...should bear children as soon as possible!" Clearly not even a nuclear holocaust is capable of shifting Maddison's brain out of his pants.
Given the lack of real information on the effects of a nuclear explosion - this was some time before the early-eighties paranoia of Threads - it is left to Maddison to explain what might happen. Helpfully, he was present on a boat close to Bikini Atoll at the time of the first H-Bomb test and managed to sketch the mutating effects of radiation on a chipmunk, a jackal and a monkey. Whilst the first two appear to have done little more than grow horns and longer front teeth, the monkey, of which one assumes there were a plentiful number living wild in Maddison's valley for this movie to work, has grown a third eye, stubby arms out of its shoulders and armour plating in addition to the horns and long teeth. As Maddison holds up his sketch, drawn as though he was about six when he visited Bikini Atoll as part of a US Navy contingent, it looks for all the world like the 'creature from Hell' as shown on the front cover of the DVD case. Hmmm...
When a mutant finally begins making an appearance, it initially only skulks behind the vegetation in the valley, watching Louise and Ruby take a swim in Maddison's pool and although it is clearly taking an interest in carnal matters, one suspects that Maddison would be slightly outraged that an irradiated monkey, rather than Rick, had set its sights on his daughter. Next up is the discovery of a skull stripped of flesh, before which Maddison exclaims, "Radek ate him...the scavenging ghoul!" and promises to kill him but a later discovery indicates that something else got there first. After that, the mutant continues its habit of hiding in the bushes until curiousity over womenkind gets the better of it and Louise is grabbed and taken into the woods. As Louise awakes to find the radioactive creature gazing down at her, she stands firm on her earlier point to Maddison that, "There'll be no marriages this week" and rejects the advances offered by the mutant. As Rick - his age permitting - races to the scene, will Louise be found safe or will Maddison have horned, scaly grandchildren? Will he care, given that at the very moment his daughter is in grave danger, he once again returns to his radio? And what will happen to Diablo The Donkey? All of these questions will be answered should you choose to purchase this heartily recommended DVD.
The Day The World Ended has been transferred in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and, aside from a fair amount of camera wobble present in the original print, it looks fine. Despite there being a colourised still on the back of the DVD case, the film is presented in its original black and white but the image is not awfully impressive - certainly it's not the best black and white you'll ever witness - but given the lack of budget afforded the original production, it's as good as can be expected.
Unexpectedly, The Day The World Ended has been released with a Mono soundtrack, which is perfectly acceptable given the type of film this is. Aside from a slight hiss throughout, the voices are clear, as is the sparse music used intermittently, and the soundtrack is suited to the film.
As with the other entries in this series of DVD releases, including War Of The Colossal Beast and The Spider, The Day The World Ended has been released with a set of trailers from the Samuel Z Arkoff collection and an interview with the producer. Please see Mike Sutton's reviews of these films for a review of the extras.
The Day The World Ended is great fun, with Corman showing his ability to structure a film even at this early stage. He would get better, reaching a creative peak around the time of his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations with Richard Matheson, but this demonstrates Corman's ability to crack on with a story, cut padding to a minimum and entertain the audience as he goes. Sure, the actual monster is quite incredible but anything else would be missing the point - simply enjoy the ride and keep in mind that the three-eyed, four-armed mutant is considerably better than the crab monsters in Corman's 1957 movie, Attack Of..., where the feet of their human operators can occasionally be seen under their outfits.