I understand that if you’re the last man on earth and your survival necessitates that you make a feature film for some reason that you’re going to have do all of it – writing, editing, producing, working the casting couch and all the rest of the drudgery associated with making a cheap sci-fi movie, no matter whether you are actually talented enough to do it well.
But as far as I know, back in 1982, there was no apocalypse that would force a guy to write, direct and produce a movie about his post-apocalyptic life whose chief attribute was its nonstop use of annoying background music that made me think I was watching a glorified silent movie. A silent movie with mutants and Sid Haig as a sadistic thug to be sure, but it wasn’t like they were the stars.
Unfortunately, the star was Steve Barkett. He was also the writer, director and producer. That you’ve likely never have heard of him really tells you right away that The Aftermath isn’t announcing the arrival of a multi-talented force both in front of and behind the camera.
His character, Newman, saves kids and rescues women, falls in love, is appropriately haunted by the death of his wife and child from years before and talks of dishing out justice to the scum who invaded his house and killed the women and children he stupidly left behind when he went out on one final supply run. (It’s always those last supply runs in these movies that bite you in the ass.)
He even gravely announces that he doesn’t want live in a world where baby killers walk around unpunished! Exactly! Once you find water and food that’s safe to consume, fight through the hoard of mutants infesting the countryside, and avoid the radioactive fallout that keeps falling from the sky, you can finally set things right in this apocalypse by bringing a few thugs to justice! It’s clear then that Barkett’s heart is in the right place.
The idea for the movie – astronauts return to Earth only to find it’s been nuked – isn’t that bad. After all, the same idea was used to much more entertaining effect a few years later with Def-Con 4. The problem though is that if The Aftermath is Barkett’s personal vision (and with his credits on it and the fact that he also cast his family in various parts it seems clear that it is), the end result leaves you wondering whether his vision wasn’t clouded by nuclear explosion induced cataracts.
The story was threadbare even by the relatively low standards set by a genre whose plot is usually some variation of “hero wanders wasteland, fights bikers with spiked shoulder pads.” After crash landing off the coast of L. A. and battling some mutants, Newman and another astronaut set up shop in a house. (Director Barkett outdoes himself with a laughable montage that includes shots of them putting a bust back on its pedestal and cleaning out the entryway to the home. First rule of a post-apocalypse movie is never show your Mad Max clone doing interior decorating and sweeping!)
In one of the movie’s other outstanding bad sequences, he gets a tour of a museum from Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman who starts waxing philosophically about the irony of man being wiped out by small particles. And to add insult to injury, Forry dumps a kid on Newman because Forry got a dose of the rad poisoning! (The kid is played by Steve’s real life son and unfortunately he got all his dad’s acting ability, handling his impression of a three foot tall mannequin, mechanically delivering the stiff, unnatural dialogue his dad wrote for him like a real trooper!)
One thing you can’t fault Barkett for is understanding that after the world ends, the chances for decent guys to get some tail go way up. It’s only natural that a gal is going to be attracted to a guy who isn’t knocking old men’s teeth out, shooting kids and trying to rape her.
So it comes as no surprise that he hooks up with a babe who just escaped from the clutches of Cutter, the local evil thug. And it’s no surprise that after she says there is still a woman and little girl being held hostage there that Newman is planning an assault on Cutter’s compound. What is a surprise is that he builds a laser weapon and only uses it as a distraction! Honestly though, who needs to rely on a laser weapon in a pinch when Newman has been training little Chris in the art of shooting stuff at close range?
Everything goes according to plan until Newman amateurishly lets Cutter escape. This sets up the inevitable revenge attack by Cutter and Newman’s final confrontation with the gang.
In addition to a dull, predictable story, the film is afflicted with the usual problems that beset do it yourself productions. Watching Barkett perform in front of the camera is like watching your emotionally crippled dad try to act, the editing seems haphazard at best (no explanation for where the laser gun comes from, how Cutter found Newman’s house so fast, a scene solely consisting of Newman finding a Geiger Counter and saying it might come in handy later, silly narration dubbed in of Newman talking and then at the end of the film of Chris talking) and the action scenes (which the movie depends on, especially at the end) are singularly unimpressive, looking overly staged and not that well thought out.
While I’m sure Steve Barkette busted his ass to get this movie made, the audience is not some sort of forgiving family member who has to say nice things about your passion project. Viewers deserve to be entertained, but The Aftermath is executed in such substandard fashion throughout, that you can’t help but alternately cringe and giggle at what is going on. Even worse for both us and Barkett, the cringing usually wins out.
© 2016 MonsterHunter