Panic in Year Zero (1962)

Panic in Year Zero (1962)

“For the next few weeks, survival is going to have to be on an individual basis.”

In the aftermath of a nuclear explosion, a Los Angeles father (Ray Milland) places the survival of his wife (Jean Hagen) and children (Frankie Avalon and Mary Mitchel) above all else.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Jean Hagen Films
  • Nuclear Holocaust
  • Post-Apocalypse
  • Ray Milland Films
  • Science Fiction
  • Survival

Ray Milland starred in and directed this earnest yet disappointing low-budget AIP flick about a family struggling to survive after a nuclear bomb hits Los Angeles. Post-apocalyptic dramas have the potential to explore a rich array of societal and psychological issues, including racism, loneliness, and despair — see Arch Oboler’s Five (1951), for instance, or The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959) — but Panic in Year Zero remains squarely in the realm of exploitation films, with a gang of marauding young hoodlums (led by Richard Bakalyan) representing the primary force of evil, and “every man for himself” serving as its rather uninspired theme. Milland isn’t great at directing his cast (not even spirited Jean Hagen or teen heartthrob Frankie Avalon emerge with much personality):

… and the film’s ultra-low budget inevitably hurts its veracity as well — most egregiously in the use of high-speed freeway footage to represent local two-lane roads (!). Despite its historical relevance as one of the first “atom scare” films to be released in America, Panic in Year Zero isn’t must-see viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A compelling premise

Must See?
No; feel free to skip this dated flick.


One thought on “Panic in Year Zero (1962)

  1. A once-must, simply for its ‘What would *you* do?’ factor.

    It’s not a great movie, but it’s not all that bad either. I’d not seen it before but what was creeping me out was the idea of people suddenly turning on each other – when, just yesterday, relations between most of them were probably pleasant enough and people’s needs were basically being met. We can deal with those around us sufficiently if they don’t invade our personal space, and if all of us aren’t desperate.

    But if being civilized suddenly wasn’t an option? If we were suddenly at war with our neighbors?

    I actually wondered what I would be like in this situation. To what extent would people really band together?

    The acting is not of primary importance here. The movie doesn’t drag and it doesn’t over-stay its welcome. If ‘Panic…’ doesn’t come anywhere near ‘classic’ status, it’s watchable for what it can make you consider about yourself.

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