This is the twenty-ninth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 29 is called "'70s Sci-Fi Week".
Science fiction films of the late 1960s lit the fuse for the boom that was '70s science fiction. Maybe people were sobering up from the drugs and ready to express themselves. Maybe the political landscape of the time was the inspiration, or perhaps some just wanted to tell cool stories. However they came to be, they are apart of a huge wave of sci-fi that would go on to shape the future of the genre forever.
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen science fiction film made in the 1970s.
I admit in advance that I didn't realize I'd chosen a TV movie. Where Have All the People Gone? was part of the NBC World Premiere Movie, which featured movies made for television. As such, it was more representative of made-for-TV films than it was the kind of movie that made up "the boom that was '70s science fiction". We're not talking Westworld or Soylent Green.
The movie begins with an inexplicable solar flash. Oh, it gets explained by the teenager/scientist who has a year of college, but it made no sense to me. Part of a nuclear family (dad, son, daughter ... mom left earlier) are all that is left. They head back to home (Malibu) and meet a few other survivors along the way, including one played by Verna Bloom, who later played Dean Wormer's horny wife in Animal House. Eventually we find out that after the solar flare a virus broke out that killed most of humanity. (Yes, this hit close to home.) The end finds our plucky survivors headed to Northern California, full of the inspiration that apparently comes from surviving. It's an open-ended finale that was a bit anti-climactic, but apparently there was hope it would become a series (it didn't).
I was reminded of other movies that, if not better, were at least more interesting. My beloved cheapie Robot Monster also featured a handful of people in a post-apocalyptic nightmare, and while that one gets my vote as the worst movie of all time, it's still endlessly watchable, which can't be said for Where Have All the People Gone? Closer was Panic in Year Zero!, a low-budget "classic" that featured Frankie Avalon as the young man. At least that movie had Les Baxter's intrusive music.
There was some talent involved. Peter Graves, who had been making this junk for 20 years, and who had just finished Mission Impossible, played Dad. Future Oscar nominee Kathleen Quinlan played Daughter. Lewis John Carlino, another future Oscar nominee, was the co-writer. John Llewellyn Moxey, who has his fans and who directed a billion TV episodes, was in charge. Despite all of this, Where Have All the People Gone? is pretty bad. And it didn't help that the Amazon Prime print was crappy, with bad color and lots of scratches. At one point, Son/Scientist uses a Polaroid camera to test for radiation, saying if the air is radioactive, a Polaroid photo will show spots. I guess his experiment was a success ... it was hard to tell, since the entire scene was filled with spots on the print.