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The Aftermath (1982)

VCI Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/23/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/5/2018

I've mentioned in the past that I'm not a film historian, but I do like to think that I know quite a bit about movies, especially genre films from the 70s and 80s. However, it was not until this week that I heard the name Steve Barkett. Barkett acted in several direct-to-video and late-night cable films (we all loved his performance in Bikini Drive-In), but he was also a DIY, jack-of-all-trades filmmaker who helmed two movies, apparently enlisting everyone in his family to help him. The first of those films, The Aftermath (AKA Zombie Aftermath) has been released in various formats over the years and is now making its Blu-ray Disc debut. Is Barkett a long-forgotten auteur who deserves to be re-discovered?

Newman (Steve Barkett), Matthews (Larry Latham), and Williams (Jim Danforth) are astronauts who are returning to Earth after a long mission. When they can't contact anyone on the ground, they assume that their equipment is malfunctioning. However, following a crash landing, they discover that some sort of cataclysmic event has taken place during their absence. They don't see any people, but they do observe violent mutants in the streets. Newman takes up residence in a hilltop mansion and begins to plot his new life in this post-disaster world. Meanwhile, a villainous man named Cutter (Sid Haig) is leading a gang of thugs across the landscape, murdering men and taking women and children hostage. When Newman learns of this evil thug, he decides that he must help those in need.

In the extra features included on this Blu-ray Disc, we learn that it took Writer/ Director/Producer/Actor/Editor Steve Barkett and his crew three years to finish the film. I mentioned family earlier and if you look at the credits, you will see a lot of Barkett's listed, including Steve's son, Christopher, who also acts in the film. So, clearly, this was a labor of love. They are also up-front about the fact that this was a low-budget effort, which is readily apparent when watching the movie. The film's production started in 1978 and it finally saw the light of day sometime in 1981. Therefore, I'm sure that there are those who would herald the film as being ahead of its time, as it was released before things like The Road Warrior.

Well, ambition and a supportive family can only get you so far, as The Aftermath is an odd turkey of a movie. If you want to say that the premise is "groundbreaking", that's fine, but the problem here is that the story doesn't go much farther than the basic plot. The astronauts crash on Earth, something bad has happened and there aren't many people, a bad guy is hurting those who have survived, and one of the astronauts decides to be a hero -- that's about it. There are no plot twists, save for some surprising deaths, and there is no character development. Barkett uses voice-over during many scenes, which harkens back to low-budget films of the 50s and is a dead give-away of two things - 1. Little money and 2. Little story.

The lack of a deep script is further hampered by the overall shoddy nature of the movie. The opening sequence would have probably looked cheesy at any time in history, but in the post Star Wars-era, it's clear that we are looking at a toy spaceship which is taped to the camera. The optical effects which portray a radioactive (?) storm and the aura which surround Newman's house (for some reason) look like something from a Sid & Marty Krofft show. The masks on the mutants are clearly papier-mache. Despite the fact that The Aftermath was made in the late 70s, the entire thing has the look of an episode of Star Trek, but even cheaper. The movie also has a very odd tone. For the most part, it's a sci-fi/action film which definitely has a PG feel to it. But, we also get some brief nudity, some mild gore (which really feels out of place), and it's obvious that all bras were destroyed in the apocalypse. But, things get even weirder when Barkett attempts to bring emotion into the fold. The scene in which Newman encounters "The Curator" (played by horror fandom icon Forrest J. Ackerman) and takes custody of a young boy may be one of the most oddly cold moments ever captured on film.

It may sound like The Aftermath is similar to those Escape from New York clones which emerged in the early 80s like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, but it's not. Those films often offered campy, over-the-top goofiness which gave them a certain appeal. The Aftermath is far more serious and stoic and feels much more like a throw-back to an earlier time, as Barkett clearly wants to be a macho hero. Frequent viewers of Mystery Science Theater 3000 know that it's the truly earnest movies which make better targets for ribbing and The Aftermath certainly falls into that category. From the wooden acting to the odd editing to the seriously what happened to the bras, the film will be a godsend to those who like movie who don't know how bad they are.

The Aftermath never tells us why that one astronaut appears to be in a dark room instead of aboard the spaceship on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of VCI Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only very, very mild grain and scant defects from the source materials. Despite all of the flaws listed above, VCI has done a fine job with this release. The 2K transfer was taken from the original 35mm negative, producing an image which is very crisp and shows nice depth. The colors look very good, especially reds, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is also notable. The Disc carries a Linear PCM Mono audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The score, which was apparently written for this film, but sounds like catalog music from the 40s, sometimes overpowers the dialogue, but otherwise, the track is well-balanced.

The Aftermath Blu-ray Disc contains a few extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director/Actor Steve Barkett and Actor Christopher Barkett, which was taken from a previous laserdisc release. "Original Laserdisc Extras" offers a "Making of" which delivers interviews with the cast and filmmaking team, a series of stills, and a look at some of the film's props. "Night Caller" (21 minutes) is a short film from 1973 starring Barkett which shares some themes with The Aftermath. "Empire of the Dark Promo" (9 minutes) features footage from another of Barkett's projects. The film's score can be listened to, track-by-track. The final extra is a TRAILER for The Aftermath, which is just a series of random images.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long