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 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.