Where Have All The People Gone? (1974) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
16Sep/100

Where Have All The People Gone? (1974)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Danny INDIFFERENTThe television movie is and has been a perilous breed, often stricken with low budgets, cheesy actors, and directors more concerned with keeping within the minuscule budgets than putting the medium to good use.

Those are some of the reasons why Where Have All The People Gone? manages to be both such a surprise in some regards and still an understandable let down in others.

Peter Graves stars as a scientist of some sort who enjoys dragging two teenaged children away for the summer and forcing them to toil in underground mines searching for rare minerals. As most TV movies tend to do, this one treats his strange hobby as endearing, with barely a whisper of dissent as daughter meekly asks if she can go somewhere outside of a treacherous cavern for spring break next year.

But before you can say Night of the Comet, the trio emerge from the caverns to find their guide turned into a pile of dust and the radio full of nothing but static. The movie painstakingly chronicles their journey as they get out of the mountains and discover that homes are untouched, cars remain on, and the streets are empty.

We've all seen this sort of apocalypse done before, but, for such a small movie, it manages to keep the audience engaged. Clues are slowly revealed, but a lot of them seem conflicting. This almost braces you for just how goofy the reveal turns out to be in the end, but, while it lasts, the movie does a brilliant job of ratcheting up tension from the mysterious deaths, the malfunctioning engines, and the other survivors.

Yeah, it turns out that there are a few other non-dust humans still running around, though Peter Graves manages to meet only a few of them that are hostile; no roving gangs or murderous tinpot dictators quite yet. And while I'm sure there are those who believe society would instantly become enmeshed in open gang warfare if it weren't for modern convenience-- especially those who make their money off of post-apocalyptic action films-- Where Have All The People Gone? wisely doesn't go that far. It assumes there would be a lot of fright and a lot of worry, but mainly a lot of people trying to find some new meaning out of an event that they don't and possibly will never understand.

It is a very effective film for most of its run, haunting at times. But the last act that sees Graves and his children finally reach home feels limp compared to what's come before. The complete lack of narrative closure also kills it; it's not enough to see the characters come to grips with what has happened, but to see how they build upon those feelings.

Regardless, Where Have All The People Gone? is a minor miracle, a made-for-TV movie that uses its limitations rather than suffers for them. It's been done better (The Quiet Earth), funnier (Night of the Comet), and much much worse (see Kevin Costner's filmography), but in many ways it's a haunting what if that doesn't hold back.

Grave finds a mirror in one scene where someone has scrawled upon it "God Have Mercy On Us." All he can do is walk away.

Where Have All The People Gone? (1974)

This film is not currently available on home video.

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
Starring Peter Graves

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Posted by Danny

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