In the Year 2889 (The Cornfield #22)

The number 2889 shall henceforth measure the distance between resonant childhood experience and cold-eyed adult perspective on a movie. I recently re-watched In the Year 2889 for the first time since seeing it at age twelveorwhatever, and the effect was having a movie-memory full of mystery and magic brought crashing down to earth.

I had a feeling that would happen. In the Year 2889 is a 1967 American-International picture directed by Larry Buchanan, whose name has come down to us as the trashmeister of Mars Needs Women and Zontar: The Thing from Venus. Its title and plot are both second-hand: the title is derived from a Jules Verne connection, and the story remakes Roger Corman’s 1955 film The Day the World Ended.

I didn’t know any of this when I saw the movie as a child, had no idea Buchanan would later become a camp figure for connoisseurs of bad cinema. Probably hadn’t seen the Corman film at that point, either. I simply watched the movie unfold in some sort of hushed late-night-TV situation and was enchanted by the premise: an isolated house located in a geographical anomaly that would keep the a nuclear holocaust’s radioactive vapor from drifting into its vicinity. Here a group of survivors hunker down to wait out the worst of it, with the usual bickering and goo-goo eyes, including one guy who got affected by the radiation and seems to be turning into a mutant. (It is not set in the year 2889. Given the turtlenecks and the hair length, it might take place ten years ahead of the year 1967, at the outside.)

Being a sucker for end-of-the-world scenarios and fantasies of complete independence (every kid should read My Side of the Mountain at a vulnerable age), I liked this very much. The house was buffered by thick forest and hillside, offering a cozy sort of Eden, while the possibility of scary mutants added just enough menace to keep things lively. Nobody knew the mysteries that lay beyond the hills, or what might happen in the future.

(Speaking of what lay beyond the hills, one of my favorite scenes in Corman happens in The Day the World Ended: the mutant comes back to the house from one of his wanderings – he’s like an outdoor cat that disappears at night and shows up at the backdoor the next morning, having seen unthinkable things during his nocturnal prowl – and dreamily describes the new society that is being formed out there among the evolving race of mutants. Partly of the old human world, partly of the new, he’s a strangely haunting figure, even within the B-movie environs.)

So I watch this movie now, because Scarecrow Video actually stocks a copy on its shelves. And it takes almost no time for the mist of childhood memory to clear. In the Year 2889 is terrible. To be fair, this DVD copy of the movie is atrocious, seemingly a dupe of a dupe of a 16 mm. print or something; the movie probably won’t ever look as good as it did when I saw it on TV in the early Seventies. And the soundtrack makes Chimes at Midnight sound like Dolby digital. Fine, one makes adjustments for those sorts of technical shortcomings. But it’s still a crummy film on every level, even with the sturdiness of the Corman picture serving as its understructure.

The timing is completely off, and the acting wooden. The name in the cast is Paul Petersen, who achieved youthful popularity on “The Donna Reed Show” and, as the next Ricky Nelson, scored some pop hits. (His single produced by Brian Wilson, “She Rides with Me,” is something to savor.) There’s also Bill Thurman, who beefed his way through a few B-character roles (and The Last Picture Show), doing a tiresome bit as a boozer who hides his jugs of moonshine on the property. It must be seriously potent hooch, because the two jugs last for weeks. Everybody’s pretty bad.

All right, so that memory is affected, although in the month or so since I watched In the Year 2889, I think the old memory is coming back and crowding out the recent re-viewing. I hope so. Now the question is, do I dare watch The Monitors again?

Paul Petersen’s “She Rides with Me,” here.

2 Responses

  1. I bumped into The Cinema of Larry Buchanan about a decade earlier, when his Free White and 21 (1963) came to my college town wafting promises of something racy and forbidden. Racy was bound up with racial: the black manager of a Texas motel was on trial for raping a Scandinavian blonde who’d rented one of his rooms. The promotion for the movie emphasized that the audience would deliver the verdict, and when the minimalist proceedings were approaching an end, the screen was filled with a timer. The shot held for three (3) full (i.e., excruciatingly empty) minutes as the hand crawled around the dial while, presumably, we responsible citizens considered the case. No one polled me; no one else was there, except maybe a ticket taker looking on from the lobby. The timer shot mercifully ended at last and the (a?) verdict was announced. Were there perhaps alternate final reels to be used at different shows? On second thought, no, that would have broken the budget.

    Incidentally, the black defendant was played by Frederick O’Neal, an actor who turned out to have an estimable history on stage and went on to become a president of Actors Equity. So there was life after Larry Buchanan.

  2. Sorry your childhood remembrance of 2889 was damaged! I first saw this film in ’68 just after it was released straight to television, on our Chiller creature feature which came on Saturday nights at around 11, or whenever the local news decided it had bored its citizens long enough. It terrified me, and to this day I cannot watch this film at night without getting chills…why? It is obviously not the story line. Nothing happens! Couldn’t Buchanan figure out that if he simply added a couple of bloody monster attacks he would have doubled the value of this talky movie? Apparently not! Except for Paul Peterson, the acting is atrocious, so there is no character I really cared about (except the poor alcoholic stripper)…no, in the end it was three things. The mutant, whose paper mache mask I still find unnerving today, the creepy setting in the woods, where deadly mist separates the protagonists from a monstrous new world which they can only imagine, and last but not least, that never-mentioned-by-critics completely horrifying music. If I run that music through my head it creeps me out on even the most sunny of days! For such an awful movie to have such a powerful effect on me, I have to say, “Bravo!”.

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