Brilliant. Phenomenal. Amazing. These are words that describe Steve Barkett's The Aftermath (1982), and perhaps, I'm the only one who is using them. Barkett's film is a true labor of love: he co-wrote the story with Stanley Livingston (Chip from My Three Sons), wrote the screenplay, produced, edited, directed and stars as the film's hero, Newman. Newman, Williams (Jim Danforth), and Mathews (Larry Latham) are astronauts who are about to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere after a year-long space journey but they cannot make contact with anyone on the planet. What's going on down there? Nuclear holocaust and the end of humanity, save a bunch of folks turned into mutants and a retched gang of evil men, led by Cutter (Sid Haig). Cutter and crew like to kill the guys and kidnap the ladies to hold hostage at his camp. Newman and company make an entry a little off the coast of Los Angeles. Only Newman and and Mathews survive. After a fireside battle with a gang of hungry mutants, Newman and Mathews awaken to a city of rubble and ash. At a local station, Newman finds a dead radio controller's final words recorded on tape (voiced by Dick Miller) and learns the final fate of humanity. Newman and Mathews find new digs on the skirts of the city: Mathews wants to stay put and build a new life, while Newman leaves to roam the wasteland, looking for survivors and getting into a few adventures, too.
The Aftermath is dead serious cinema. Beefy Barkett as Newman is a Homeric hero: a scholar, a fighter, a lover, a father, and a savior of surviving humanity. During his trip out into the wasteland, Newman gets caught in a acid rainstorm and takes shelter within a museum. Inside, he encounters The Curator (played by legendary Forrest J. Ackerman) and his ward, Christopher (played by Barkett's real-life son, Christopher Barkett). Ackerman's Curator gives Newman a history lesson on the fate of humanity, through the various stages of civilization, while he also reveals to Newman that he is dying from contamination. Christopher becomes the ward of Newman, and the two roam the wasteland together. Along the way, Newman and Christopher are attacked by the sniping Sarah (Lynne Margulies), who has escaped the evil and groping hands of Cutter. She joins Newman and Christopher in their journey after the trio dispatches some lurking mutants; and the three become a family. Newman quickly beds sexy Sarah, only then to go downstairs in his pajamas to Christopher for a bedtime story and a life lesson. Cutter and company are a dangerous presence, so Newman, Mathews, Sarah, and Christopher plan a daring escape of the hostages in a nighttime raid on the camp...Sid Haig, as Cutter, is the most evil of men. His portrayal is akin in sleaziness only to the Devil himself, and Haig is a good foil to angelic Newman. Bald and bearded Haig is one of the most charismatic actors of exploitation cinema with numerous credits with standouts being Jack Hill's Spider Baby (1968), The Big Doll House (1971), and Coffy (1973; alongside Pam Grier), for example. He has experienced a resurgence in his career after appearances in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown (1997) and his brilliant turn as Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie's House of a Thousand Corpses (2003), for example. Lynne Marguilies is most notable for being Andy Kaufman's girlfriend. She's not the greatest actress but she gives her all in her performance as Sarah: she's meek and sweet, kind and caring, and tough and tumble. Some of the best scenes are with Steve and Christopher Barkett together: watching Newman place a loaded gun in the hands of young Christopher for target practice is simultaneously humorous and disturbing. The relationship between the two is genuine and real and it totally feels like a caring father-and-son relationship.Steve Barkett, who has other acting credits, has only directed one subsequent film, Empire of the Dark (1990; also with Steve and Christopher Barkett, which has alluded me for years. I will dish out some serious cash for a copy if anyone has a knowledge of its VHS whereabouts). The Aftermath rings true as an exploitation film: some sex, violence, and stunts. The sex is brief and pretty tame but the violence is really bloody. The first scene of Cutter and crew hunting down an unsuspecting group has many a bloody gunshot explosion (including a shotgun blast head explosion). There a is a wonderful hand-to-hand fight scene with Newman and a foe on the rooftop of a high skyscraper that brings its actors a little close to the edge from time to time. There is many a fall and a tumble taken by an actor and none look trained to take such a fall (so I practically winced through all of the amateur stunts). The music and look of the film is right out classic American sentimental cinema: strong emotions with accompanying appropriate music with classic compositions. The Aftermath is ultimately, a film about good versus evil.The Aftermath has practically no budget. A cursory glance at the opening credits reveal the film is truly a family affair with few participants who appear multiple times under different credits. The spaceship models and spaceship set aren't credible and really laughable. The mutant fx are incredibly cheesy. However, there are some very good matte painting backgrounds which create the apocalyptic background and some of the other visual effects are entertaining, such as the red acid rainstorm that Newman encounters. Some visual effects are predictably cheesy, such as the ray gun that Sarah uses during the raid on Cutter's camp. The Aftermath is too ambitious to hide its budget and it doesn't also hide its heart. More than anything else, enthusiasm permeates The Aftermath to make what would be a shitty b-movie into a true cult classic. Short and stocky Barkett as Newman is far from the ideal looking hero and the performances, save Haig, are truly amateur. Newman's voice-over narration is brilliant, and the story and dialogue are something else. I had a complete and total smile on my face during the entire running time of The Aftermath and I've seen it multiple times. A true classic of American B-Cinema, The Aftermath deserves a wider audience to experience its hidden charm.