Celebrate Roger Corman's Honorary Oscar with the Crapocalypse Landmark Day the World Ended
This weekend sees a planetary alignment that even the ancient Mayans couldn't have predicted. First, their misinterpreted calendar becomes the "basis" for 2012, which will surely sweep the box office like a five-mile tsunami over the Himalayas. Second, the high priest of Hollywood schlock, Roger Corman, will be inducted into the Academy pantheon with his very own honorary Oscar. When he's formulating the outline for his putative TV follow-up, 2013, Roland Emmerich could do well to pay heed to this synchronicity -- and then send himself off to mine Corman's first take on the apocalypse, 1955's Day The World Ended.
That's because no matter how successful 2012 is, the fact is it still cost in the vicinity of $2m a minute to put on screen and market. Emmerich's TV show will be priced at a fraction of that -- and that means... it'll have to... God, the horror... focus on the characters and how they relate to each other. And while Corman's name calls to mind monsters and modestly priced mayhem, his low budgets actually dictated that the majority of his screen time was given over to people talking to each other, albeit about what to do about said creature/apocalypse.
Day The World Ended -- which cost about $96,000 and was shot in nine days -- uses a voiceover and some Pacific atoll atomic stock footage to tells us the Earth has suffered "T.D. Day" -- as in "total destruction". Well, not quite. Reprising the scenario from 1951's Five, the first-ever post-nuclear war flick, this has seven survivors at each other's throats in a hideaway that's been spared the blasts and the worst of the radiation.
But where Five was meant as a serious statement, Corman -- then only in his second year as a filmmaker -- smartly opted to add in a mutant threat to spice up the melodrama. Even then, we don't see actually get a good look at the horn-headed and three-eyed creature until about 70 minutes in. When we do, he's totally susceptible [spoiler alert!] to the same threat that killed off the baddies in The Wizard Of Oz and Signs. No matter, though, because his presence -- occasionally signified by theremin, a lobster-like claw or spiky shadow -- is enough to keep us and the characters believing he's out there.
Emmerich could so do this; after all, massive tectonic shifts and walls of water must have busted up -- or triggered -- tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, right? So we've every reason to expect -- or even demand -- that the survivors are going to have to grapple with some of their number becoming radioactive mutants. In lieu of every episode ending with an expensive 9.4 quake, it's a low cost way to keep the stakes high.
And Emmerich could do worse than to riff on Corman's characters, too. Jettison 2012's pinch-mouthed dad, bland mom and hand-wringing scientists and politicians; I'd rather see a lead like Paul Birch's Jim, the dad whose Bronson Canyon bunker-bungalow becomes the last refuge for humanity. The dude's a total hard-ass, with his every line as laughable, say, as 2012's already famous "California is going down!" and soon-to-be-celebrated "No more pull ups!" From "There is no San Francisco," "This place is cursed" and "Sometimes I have a feeling of doom," old Jim is reliably po-faced. His gravitas, see, has a lot to do with the fact that he knew this day was coming ever since he was involved in an A-bomb test that turned a bunch of animals into vampire-fanged freaks. Because the budget was only stretching to one very modest creature costume, Corman cuts corners by having Jim draw these monsters in a moment that suggests he might be Napoleon Dynamite's grandpappy. But Jim's best bit comes when he tells handsome survivor Rick how the future's going to play out: "I'll talk to the girls in the morning -- yes, they should bear children as soon as possible."
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