In the Year 2889/Year 2889/2889 (1967) -**½
It wasn’t until I watched In the Year 2889 that I noticed what might be the biggest reason of all why Larry Buchanan’s mid-60’s TV remakes of AIP’s 50’s-vintage monster movies were doomed from the outset. Buchanan’s shocking lack of talent, the limitations imposed by budgets with less than half the already paltry buying power of those which paid for the original versions ten years before, and the casting of local Texan non-actors for all but one or perhaps two central roles in each had combined to mask an even more fundamental obstacle to the creation of even minimally acceptable films. To wit: nearly every one of the old AIP projects Buchanan picked to remake were among the dullest, shabbiest movies the studio had ever released. I mean, seriously— what kind of fool wastes his time remaking Voodoo Woman?! With In the Year 2889, we may have stumbled upon the apotheosis of this trend. Buchanan’s most slavishly literal remake takes The Day the World Ended— which was boring enough to begin with— and stretches it out by another ten minutes or so in order to fit a TV timeslot of predetermined length. It didn’t stand a chance.
You’ve read on numerous previous occasions of the ease with which cinematic depictions of nuclear apocalypse can poke me in the ganglia which store my half-forgotten Cold-War childhood nuke-terrors. That the opening credits of In the Year 2889, playing out above a montage of stock-footage mushroom clouds, are unable to perform that simple trick may be taken as an indicator of what a sad little movie we’re about to see. In the aftermath of all that nuking, we meet retired US Navy captain John Ramsey (Neil Fletcher, of Zontar, the Thing from Venus and Creature of Destruction) and his daughter, Joanna (Charla Doherty, from Village of the Giants). These two live a life predicated entirely upon Ramsey’s certainty that the world would one day end in atomic fire; their sturdy house, near the bottom of a valley surrounded by a ring of lead-bearing hills, is protected thereby from radiation, while the updraft caused by the geologically heated pond at the valley’s center prevents fallout from getting in so long as it doesn’t rain until the atmosphere above cleans itself out a bit. The house is stocked with several months’ worth of food, water, and other supplies for Ramsey, his daughter, and Joanna’s boyfriend, Larry, but the young man still hasn’t shown up come the morning after the Bomb drops. Ramsey plausibly concludes that Larry is dead.
The Ramseys had better not be too quick about reallocating his share of the provisions, though, because they’re about to have visitors. The first on the scene are a young geologist named Steve (Paul Petersen, who had a dinky role in The Monolith Monsters) and his older brother, Granger (Max W. Anderson, of The Student Teachers and Common Law Wife). Granger has absorbed half again the lethal dose of ionizing radiation, but though he’s obviously very sick, Steve contends that he doesn’t really seem to be dying. Then come Mickey Brown (Hugh Feagin, from Scum of the Earth and Don’t Look in the Basement) and his stripper girlfriend, Jada (Quinn O’Hara, from Cry of the Banshee and The Teacher). Finally, one of Ramsey’s neighbors— Tim Henderson (Larry Buchanan regular Bill Thurman, of The Yesterday Machine and Curse of the Swamp Creature)— swings by. Each time, Ramsey tries to put his foot down and evict the newcomers from his house on the unanswerable pragmatic grounds that the contents of his storeroom won’t feed but three people for any length of time, and each time, Joanna walks right over his objections and lets the latest refugee in. You could make a drinking game out of it if you wanted to.
As in The Day the World Ended (didn’t I tell you already that this was an extremely literal remake?), the main conflict for most of the film’s length is between Mickey and just about everybody else. The self-interested little hoodlum covets Ramsey’s ability to dictate the terms of life in the valley, wants Joanna as an upgrade to his mate situation, and regards the cloyingly upstanding Steve as his natural enemy in both of those endeavors. Jada, meanwhile, considers Joanna to be her rival, at least initially, largely because she can’t quite wrap her mind around the idea of a young woman actively resisting her boyfriend’s attentions. It won’t be long at all before you’re chanting, “Shut the hell up and bring on the mutant, you bitches!”
Ah, yes— the mutant. You knew there was some reason for the comparatively high rating I gave this flick, didn’t you? In fact, we’ve got three mutants here, each representing a different level of mutation. The first and least mutated is Granger. In addition to refusing to die despite registering some 750 Roentgens on Ramsey’s Geiger counter, he also exhibits no ill effects from having drunk no water and eaten no food during the entire three weeks since he arrived at the Ramsey house. In fact, he’s getting stronger, and soon feels well enough to start spending his nights prowling the woods in search of squirrels and rabbits to kill and eat raw. The second mutant appears just briefly, wandering in from the other side of the hills to die at the feet of John and Steve after mumbling something about there being others like him, “but stronger,” living in the land outside the valley. Then we’ve got the main mutant, which will gradually be revealed as the missing Larry. As cheesy as the monster suit in The Day the World Ended was, it’s got nothing on In the Year 2889’s interpretation. The sabre-toothed mutant in this movie looks like nothing so much as a cross between AIP’s Teenage Frankenstein monster from the1950’s and early American political philosopher and constitutional mastermind James Madison. Mutant Madison shows up in the same woods where Granger likes to hunt, and begins competing with him for the neighborhood bunnies. It also starts spending a lot of time spying on Joanna and attempting to communicate with her telepathically. In the end, it kills Granger and kidnaps its former fiancee, but is ultimately destroyed when a cloudburst of non-contaminated rain dissolves its otherwise invulnerable flesh. This happens right about the time that the contest between John and Mickey reaches its endgame, after which Buchanan goes so far as to duplicate Roger Corman’s closing caption from the original version: The Beginning.
The crazy thing is, there are a couple of respects in which In the Year 2889 actually improves upon its predecessor. The explicit acknowledgement of Mutant Madison’s secret identity works rather better than the oblique treatment the subject received in 1955, and the creature’s earlier appearance in the film helps a lot. Granted, the monster still doesn’t do anything until the movie is well-nigh over, but by establishing its presence in the valley less than a third of the way in, Buchanan lessens the temptation to give up before the first hour has passed. At the corresponding point in the Corman film, there was as yet no indication that there was ever going to be a mutant apart from Radek (as the Granger character was called the first time around). It’s also a bit easier to see Paul Petersen as a love-interest for the female lead (as compared to The Day the World Ended’s Richard Carlson), although Petersen’s youth simultaneously makes him harder to accept as a professional geologist— or indeed as someone who has a profession of any sort!
This is still a Larry Buchanan production, though, so the balance tips strongly in the other direction. The first thing you’ll notice is that, the title aside, there is absolutely nothing about In the Year 2889 to indicate that it is set so far in the future. The clothes and the hairstyles are all defiantly mid-60’s, there’s nothing remotely futuristic about the sets representing the Ramsey house, and at one point, Steve even goes up against Mutant Madison armed with a World War II-era Luger 9mm! For that matter, the interaction between characters suggests a society exactly like 1960’s America, which is hardly what any reasonably thoughtful person in those days would have expected from 1979, let alone 2889. I guess AIP-TV’s marketing department just thought Next Week left a bit to be desired as the title of a post-apocalyptic monster movie.
Then, of course, you’re going to spot all the usual Buchananisms. The day-for-night cinematography is marginally better than what one usually gets from Larry, in that most of the time it is at least possible to tell from looking at the screen whether the sun is supposed to be shining, but there are still a few lapses. The editing, the sound editing especially, is atrocious, and the post-looped dialogue is almost never in synch with the actors’ mouth movements. There is the inevitable obvious substitution of a man-made swimming pool for what the script identifies as a naturally occurring body of water (who the hell ever heard of a hot spring with chlorinated water and perfectly regular concrete banks?) and the similarly inevitable failure to adjust dialogue to the realities of casting (as when John and Mickey consistently refer to the obviously forty-ish Tim as an “old coot”— a situation which offers the further novelty of running in the opposite direction from most instances of age-inappropriate casting). But I think my favorite part of In the Year 2889 concerns another sort of disconnect between the dialogue and what we see on the screen. You will rapidly lose count of the times when what the actors are saying is flatly incompatible with what they’re doing. It begins with John Ramsey’s repeated meek acceptance of Joanna’s insistence upon letting ever more refugees into the house (he never actually argues with her, yet he gives the same no-entry speech to each and every person who arrives on his doorstep), and reaches its climax when Ramsey follows Tim over the crest of the protective hills even as he admonishes the rancher that to do so is certain death. You’re entirely too curmudgeonly for your own good if stuff like that doesn’t bring a smile to your face.