After The Fall – A Brief Gallop Through The History Of The Future
Fringe Cinema is screening the ‘classic’ Hell Comes To Frogtown on Friday 28th February 2014 at QUAD in Derby, Adam J Marsh explores the future from the comfort of his armchair.
Is Hell Comes To Frogtown (1988) the crowning achievement of a genre kickstarted in 1936 with the adaptation of HG Wells’ Things To Come? Well no. Is it the logical continuation of Planet Of The Apes (1968), Mad Max (1979) and 2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983)? Well possibly.
Post Apocalyptic visions of the future didn’t really start to find traction in cinema until the 1960s, possibly because much of the world looked like the set of a post-apocalyptic film. The rebuilding of Europe, in particular, took many years with bomb sites becoming part of the landscape of the 1950s.
The theme was explored in 1959’s On The Beach based on the novel by Nevil Shute which was set in the aftermath of World War III and The World, The Flesh and The Devil (1959) starring Harry Belafonte, but these were precursors for what was about to come. The celebrated La Jetee (1962)(see below) and the Ray Milland starring Panic In The Year Zero (1962) arrived in 1962 showing two sides to the interpretation of the genre. La Jetee, being the arthouse masterpiece and Panic providing the pulp.
Perhaps the most popular of these pre-boom films is The Last Man On Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price. This was the first adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (subsequently remade twice as The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston, more on him later, and I Am Legend (2007) with Will Smith), and was produced in Rome, Italy. This was originally slated to be produced by Hammer Studios but the script fell foul of the censors and the production was moved to Italy. It wasn’t a commercial success upon original release and Richard Matheson used the pseudonym of Logan Swanson, unhappy with the results. But with the remakes being released attention has been drawn to this film, comparing it favourably with its successors.
But all that was academic, because in 1968 the shockwave hit. Based on the novel by French author Pierre Boulle, Planet Of The Apes made the world go Ape…sorry. Starring Charlton Heston, the film tells of astronaut Taylor, and fellow astronaut Landon, who are in deep hibernation and awake in the future, AD 3978, when their ship crash lands on an unknown planet. The planet is populated by advanced apes in a society where they are the evolved species and the humans are vermin to be enslaved, or hunted for sport. The film’s iconic ending caught the imagination of the cinema-going public and spawned a franchise.
Heston returned for 1970’s Beneath The Planet Of The Apes in a direct continuation of the first film where another astronaut lands and searches for the missing Taylor and discovers an underground city populated by mutated humans with telepathic powers. While 1971’s Escape From The Planet Of The Apes reversed the story, and had the apes Zira and Cornelius fleeing a nuclear explosion by escaping in Taylor’s spaceship and arriving on Earth in 1973.
Director J Lee Thompson (who was considered for the original Apes film) directed the last two of the original apes films with Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes (1972) telling the story of the Ape’s uprising from domesticated pet to overthrowers of mankind and Battle For The Planet Of The Apes (1973) set in the early 21st Century continues the story.
Two televisions series followed in 1974, live action and 1975, animated not to mention action figures, lunch boxes and a veritable smorgasbord of tie-in products before the first attempt to reboot the series was attempted in 2001 with Tim Burton’s interpretation. Far more successful was Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes in 2012 which was a worldwide hit and bore striking similarities to Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes (1972). A sequel to that film Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is in production for a 2014 release.
So the genre had its blockbuster and, as it does, Hollywood and the independents alike rushed to try and capitalise. Highlights of that 70s boom include Logan’s Run (1976), the bizarre A Boy And His Dog (1974), No Blade Of Grass (1970), Sean Connery’s chest hair in Zardoz (1974) and Yul Brynner’s no haired The Ultimate Warrior (1975). A truly British entry in this run of alternative futures was the eccentric The Final Programme (1973) by the Abominable Dr Phibes director Robert Fuest and based on the novel by Michael Moorcock. Released throughout the world as The Last Days Of Man On Earth, it involves the playboy physicist secret agent Jerry Cornelius who becomes involved with a quest to find a new messiah, one for the technological age. Rife with the pop art aesthetic of The Avengers and Fuest’s earlier Phibes films, it captures a vision of the future that says more about the time it was made that the future it depicts.
By the late 1970s the increasingly low budget releases, both low on money and low on ideas, meant that the genre needed a shot in the arm. It came from an unlikely place. Riding a wave of independent genre filmmaking, Mad Max (1979) arrived bringing both director George Miller and star Mel Gibson to international attention. A modest hit in the US, the film was a smash hit around the world taking in nearly 100 million dollars from a 200,000 dollars budget. The image of a lone vigilante wearing a leather jacket and holding a shotgun, struck a chord and the rush to capitalise on this success commenced. Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) followed in 1981 with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) earning Gibson his first $1 million contract.
In the US, John Carpenter made the seminal Escape From New York (1981), while Luc Besson made his directorial debut in 1983 with Le Dernier Combat. In Italy, the cannibalisation of worldwide trends continued with the film industry of Italy quickly exploiting any hit with a low budget knock off. Movies like 1990: The Bronx Warriors (blending hits Escape From New York with Walter Hill’s The Warriors) or Endgame (again Escape From New York with Le Prix Du Danger (1983)). Possibly the best known, well regarded, of this run is Sergio Martino’s 2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983). With a plot very similar to 2006’s Children Of Men, 2019 tells of a Mad Max/Snake Plissken style mercenary as he sets out to rescue the last remaining woman on the planet in a post nuclear landscape.
Hell Comes To Frogtown enters the fray in 1988 and seems to be a case in point of the ‘knock off’ becoming influential. The Mad Max series had finished and the genre was waiting for the next classic movie to reignite it. Hell Comes To Frogtown is not that movie. It is a B-Movie with the B writ large, channeling the anti hero character in the Plissken mode and blended with a reversal of the plot from 2019: After The Fall Of New York, Hell Comes To Frogtown is a lot of fun.
Post – Hell
The next film to spark a revival, albeit short lived, was perhaps 12 Monkeys (1995) (itself inspired by La Jetee) but a string of flops followed in its wake (Tank Girl, Escape From LA, Waterworld, The Postman) and soon put paid to that. Also a new vision of the future was forming in cinema, with Ghost In The Shell arriving in 1995 providing, along with William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer, the foundations of The Matrix (1999).
The post apocalyptic vision continues now, tending to fall into two camps. Horror (The Walking Dead, Zombie Land, Resident Evil, 28 Days Later) or science fiction (Terminator Salvation, Wall-E, Oblivion) with The Road, based on the Cormac McCarthy novel, even courting critical acclaim with a BAFTA nomination.
The future looks bright for the end of the world, with Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014), X-Men Days Of Future Past (2014), Resident Evil 6 (2014) and the Nicholas Cage starring Left Behind (2014) and a new Mad Max : Fury Road (2015).
The Hit List – Films mentioned in this article
Things To Come (1936), On The Beach (1959, The World, The Flesh and The Devil (1959), La Jetee (1962), Panic In The Year Zero (1962), The Last Man On Earth (1964), Planet Of The Apes (1968), Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970), No Blade Of Grass (1970), Escape From The Planet Of The Apes (1971), The Omega Man (1971), Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes (1972), Battle For The Planet Of The Apes (1973), The Final Programme (1973), A Boy And is Dog (1974), Zardoz (1974), The Ultimate Warrior (1975), Logan’s Run (1976), Mad Max (1979), The Warriors (1979), Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) (1981), Escape From New York (1981), 2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983), Le Dernier Combat (1983), Le Prix Du Danger (1983), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1984), Hell Comes To Frogtown (1988), Twelve Monkeys (1995), Ghost In The Shell (1995), Tank Girl (1995), Waterworld (1995), Escape From LA (1996), The Postman (1997), The Matrix (1999), Resident Evil (2002), 28 Days Later (2002), Resident Evil Apocalypse (2004), Children Of Men (2006), Resident Evil Extinction (2007), I Am Legend (2007), Wall-E (2008), Terminator Salvation (2009), Zombieland (2009), Resident Evil Afterlife (2010), The Road (2011), Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2012), Oblivion (2013), X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014), Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014), Left Behind (2014), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)