Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Day After - Societal collapse as movie-of-the-week and sock-puppetry

"Sky Battle"
Acrylic on canvas, 2010-2012

Update: March 24, 2012
Tonight's #ZzorhnAndBingoRage episode -
Addressing Nuclear angst of the 80's, sock puppets, etc.
Update: March 31, 2012
Added the edited sock-puppet video to this post; "The Day After: deleted scenes (as portrayed by sock-puppets).
WARNING: Adult language and adult situations.

The Day After (1983) A review, etc.
This article contains SPOILERS, disturbing imagery and coarse language.

I am watching this old, melodramatic, made-for-tv movie again, in order to prepare for the next episode of the #ZzorhnAndBingoRage show. Sunday, March 25, 7 pm, CST, at

The video is in “VHS-quality”. And by “VHS-quality”, I mean it’s a heap of crap.

I have stopped the video at its most dramatic point to sum up the film so far: All these really nice, earnest, loving people that I am being introduced-to, are all about to be rat-fucked out of their civilisation. Corn-holed by history and power-addicts. I mean... these kind and gentle motherfuckers are about to eat shit and die, for no good reason and it makes my nuts tighten and my stomach hurt to remember how frightening this movie, and its ilk, were.

It makes me wonder if it wasn’t just part of a coordinated media scare tactic to keep us North Americans in line, putting up with the deregulation of corporate interests and the economic sinkhole of military spending started with the Reaganism that creeped over the border and into Canada. Clearly, the target audience for the movie was rural America, but it was well-known that any missiles coming from the Soviet landbase would be flying over Canada. Perhaps the “Russkies” had plans to detonate a few at altitude, over old Canadia, just on scorched-Earth principles; Denial of refuge and aid to their enemies and other bronze-age sentiments. That was the kind of thoughts that we, the last of the cold-war children were supposed to have, while watching this movie-of-the-week apocalyptic pulp.

It continues to seek out and fan the flames of armageddon indulgence in the dreams of the faithful and the memory and guts of the lapsed.

The main stars include Jason Robards and Steve Gutenberg. “The Gute”, of Smodcast infamy. There are a bunch of familiar faces and complete nobodies-no-more in the ensemble, including the old-fart from Northern Exposure. I am watching the movie in order to critique it and also to refine the draft of my most recent script for The BingoRage Filthy Puppet Theatre:

“Deleted scene from The Day After (Steve Gutenberg vehicle, 1983); as performed by
sock puppets”. (Check it out live, tonight.)
(OK; it wasn't really "a Steve Gutenberg vehicle", but doesn't that phrase just sound delicious?)

Like I already said; I have stopped the movie at its halfway point. Shit’s getting real. I don’t remember if The Gute ever makes it home, or if there is anyone there. That’s hardly relevant, but I remember his scalp falling off in my hazy recollection of the first time I watched this thing. Not in bits, but, like, all-at-once. That recollection is the basis for my puppet play. As I watch, I wonder if “The Gute” was really the right pick for this role.

There are alarms, ominous silent landscapes, reasoned, measured tones of voice rattling off codes and the flipping of switches and pushing of buttons. Oh yeah, we are using this in the show, too.

My sphincter is puckering in childhood fears as unquestioning technicians and bureaucrats follow their playbook of my doom.

When Z and I try to recreate the tension of those moments, I should lean over and
“tell him a secret”, but make him promise not to tell anyone, “Ever!”; even though we are likely doomed to perish in the retaliatory strike upon our position. Make him promise. Then, tell him.
- Z: “What could possibly be so bad that you can’t tell me without promising not to repeat
it, if we are going to be vaporised in the next eight minutes?

- Eric: “Z... I fucked a bear, once... It weren’t right.”

Go to black.

The start of the nightmare: Nuclear missiles literally fly out of a farm family’s back yard. The ones the government promised them, and us, never to use. Nuclear holocaust was our 9-11, but it never actually happened. It was a sim, a threat; a virtual apocalypse held over our head like the Sword of Damocles.

Ah, the “skeleton shots”.
Iconic cold war imagery, seen through the perceptions of a helpless, omnipotent observer as the immediate world is transformed from matter to light, shadow and heat. We see the shadows of numerous skeletons, metaphorical millions, stripped of their flesh a fraction of a moment before the bones, too, are vaporised.

At first, explosions in the sky strip us of our electricity and our technology. The shitbags have just murdered the last few thousand years.

Explosions on the ground rob us of our cities and our peoples. You can feel the heat coming, before the blast wave.

I had to stop and rewind that whole detonation bit. I feel dirty... like a junky, freebasing that old, used fear, finding a way to cook it down a bit more. We won the cold war, didn’t we?

The special effects may seem a little dated,
but they still gives me that ol' gut-punched feeling.


After the immediate effects of the nuclear detonations, this movie reveals itself as a modern incarnation of a 1950‘s “hygiene film” with hokey lines like “Dad... what is radiation?”. The PSA continues as the nuclear family huddles amongst their practical food and water stores and listen to the soon-to-be-dying-a-lingering-nearby-death whining of their family dog (which should not be let into the family shelter, unless it is to be immediately cooked and eaten). Doctors huddle about the cafeteria, planning their defense while DeusExMachina explains the effects of an EMP. The messages are so clear, these many years later. Be prepared, the government will not help, fuck off and die.

Then, the zombie apocalypse starts. Wait, what?!


I can hear the presumed few of yous sayin’: “The Day After, was no fucking zombie-movie. It was a nuclear armageddon-type depiction, sees.”

I say that the nuclear exchange between the USA and the USSR was only the initial apocalyptic event.

The real horror always begins after the first apocalypse, be it: volcano, meteor, tsunami, earthquake, moral decay, flood, siege, plague, massive direct attack... or some such variation of this queue. The land left bereft of civilisation and supplies always becomes a zombie apocalypse; just with varying degrees of death in the participants. The hubris of the zombie apocalypse is that we take satisfaction in planning to be amongst the living, the winners... that it is possible to be amongst the ultimate winners.

Is this is the core metaphor of our age? A hip, new incarnation of the same, old story:

The endgame in any series of personal and societal apocalypses is the metaphor of “my fortress and our survivors” against “the other”. The other... being in various states of strangeness, bloodlust, decay, hunger and desparation. The line between living human predators and undead human predators becomes moot in the real-world application of societal collapse and attack upon the species. Especially if both are covered in shit, rot and radioactive dust.

Zombie Zeitgeist
Acrylic on canvas, 2011-2012

This movie could not be made, now. There are no happy endings. There is no moral high ground. There are no plucky heroes triumphing against the odds. The movie ends as the squalid zombie apocalypse begins to gain momentum.


The Day After; deleted scenes (as portrayed by sock puppets)



Hoka-shay-honaqut said...

Sorry folks, about late posting of sock puppet video. Got distracted by other crap.

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