• Panic In Year Zero

    Released By: Kino Lorber
    Released On: April 19, 2016
    Director: Ray Milland
    Cast: Ray Milland, Jean Hagen, Frankie Avalon, Mary Mitchel
    Year: 1962
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    The Movie:

    One early summer morning, Harry and Ann Baldwin (Ray Milland and Jean Hagen), along with their kids, Rick and Karen (Frankie Avalon and Mary Mitchel) hitch a trailer to the back of their car and head off for a vacation full of fun, sun, and fishing in the mountains. Getting a jump on traffic by leaving at 4:30 a.m seems to have been a good call, and before long, the family are sailing through the hills. The birds are chirping, the sun is shining... when suddenly, a series of blinding flashes catch them off guard. What could be happening? Their trusty car radio doesn't seem to have any news to pass on, and a stop at a payphone reveals that all of the phone lines back to their home in Los Angeles are mysteriously down. The family gather together at the side of the road, look back towards LA, and see... a giant mushroom cloud! (That really, really doesn't look like a matte insert at all!)

    That's right, it's a nuclear attack, and it's likely wiped out their home and killed everyone they know. The resulting exodus from the massive city causes chaos on the highway, and the hungry Baldwins can't even find a bite to eat at a roadside restaurant, with most of the menu items no longer available, and those that are, rapidly increasing in price. Speeding to a nearby town, the family manages to stock up on groceries at a local general store, depleting their funds before they hit the hardware store for some precautionary weapons; which they find themselves short on cash for. Realizing the severity of the situation, Harry the patriarch does what's necessary, holding up the unaware merchant with his own guns. But the Baldwins aren't the only ones resorting to extreme measures; a stop for gas reveals insane prices of three whopping 1960's dollars per gallon, and customers who would rather punch their way out of a bill than pay it.

    As the world spirals faster and faster out of control, the family encounter civilian roadblocks and modern-day highwaymen before finally making it to Shibe's Meadow, a nature retreat where they hope to live out the nuclear holocaust in a family-friendly cave. But the Baldwins are not alone. And with law and order still out of order, they find themselves at the mercy of criminal elements who have taken root nearby. As the Baldwins strive to maintain civility in the face of chaos, their last strand of goodwill is cut when young Karen is kidnapped by juvenile delinquents who thrive on disorder, eager to have a good time at any cost.

    Panic in Year Zero...holy shit. What an awesome film. Absolutely a product of its time, when the Cold War was all that anyone cared about, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was on the horizon, and the Russians could push the button any damn time they pleased. This was a very real fear, and why not? The film does a fantastic job of capturing that energy, even if it comes across as dated now... the reasoning in the script is laughable, but fits perfectly into the "Duck and Cover" motif from the era. Milland's speech to his family about maintaining civility is golden, and the film comes across as glorious propaganda mixed with exploitation.

    Milland, now near the end of his acting career, does a stellar job of direction, moving the picture along at breakneck speed, so fast that the ridiculous reasoning of the script might make sense if you don't pause the film, and his acting, along with Jean Hagen and Frankie Avalon's (Mary Mitchel doesn't have much to do here) is quality. Even when he dumps a couple of teaspoons of gasoline onto a highway that explodes into a raging inferno, we're into it, and every teenaged hoodlum is a threat that must be dealt with. Despite the fact that we can laugh it all of now, there's some heavy stuff in here; the off-screen rape in particular; and for every somewhat jokey scenario, there's a gruesome counterpart.

    Helping the whole thing along is Les Baxter's upbeat, be-bop music, reminiscent of the numerous films he would brilliantly score and the exploitation films (like Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!) that were influenced by him. We might be past the cold war, we might not be afraid of the Russians, we might realize that nuclear attack will kill us all before we have the chance to make a film about it, but Panic In Year Zero is flat-out entertainment from another realm.


    Kino brings Panic In Year Zero to Blu-ray in a 2.35:1 AVC-encoded transfer that looks okay. And by that, I mean that detail is good, for the most part. Black levels are good, for the most part. And the picture, overall, is good, for the most part. That being said, some scenes are definitely noticeably softer than others, and sometimes those scenes happen in the middle of other scenes without warning. There's also an ugly flaring that occurs on the left side of the frame. It's not too distracting, but it's definitely there.

    The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is fine enough for the most part. Dialogue is clear throughout, as is the score and effects. There is, however, a noticeable clicking...or popping, or ticking, or whatever you want to call it...that occurs sporadically and frequently throughout the track. That popping is enough to draw you right out of the film and think that there's something wrong with your system. It's a bit of a disappointment.

    No subtitles are provided.

    There are some cool extras included on the disc. Atomic Shock! Joe Dante On Panic In Year Zero (9:10) is a look back on the film from the genius that brought you Gremlins and The 'Burbs, where he talks about the Cuban Missile Crisis, Milland's days with American International Pictures, and the appeal of radioactive monster pictures to teenagers, among other things.

    A trailer for Panic In The Year Zero, The Premature Burial, and X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes are also available.

    Finally, a feature length commentary with film historian Richard Harland Smith is available in the supplements. It's very, very dry, but covers a ton of information, from the history of the studio lot that Year Zero was filmed on, to the details of the car and trailer, a history of politics and the cold war at the time, and even a look at the nuclear capabilities of different nations in the 60's. Not a moment of quiet, this is a commentary that trivia nights are borne from.

    The Final Word:

    Dated, laughable, but never not entertaining, Panic In Year Zero is a must-see.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Nice review. Those screen caps look pretty detailed, so does most of the softness occur during transition shots that utilize fade-ins or fade-outs? Older transfers (or transfers made on older equipment) have a harder time dealing with those.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I'm remembering it being a mixed bag as far as sone scenes being soft on the whole, Chris. But that's helpful information.