Aftershock (1990)

Hi. What we have today is a story of desperation and loss in a dystopian post-holocaust world run by a fascist military state. Sounds depressingly sad, doesn't it? But always remember, when you are sad, stop being sad and be awesome instead, ok?

First off, there are two types of locations that your typical post-apocalyptic movie director will look for when scouting places for principal photography. The first is the rock quarry, which is about as easy as they come to serve as a post-nuke landscape, and the second is the abandoned and dilapidated factory or ruined refinery complex. This second choice provides a wealth of rusty girders, half-collapsed walls, and a general feeling that the world as we know it has ended and everything looks this way. Aftershock is filmed entirely in a condemned old 1940s steel plant in Northern California, and the stark setting of crumbling masonry and corroded metal does indeed look suitably post-apocalyptic.

Nice, very nice.

The exact nature of this downfall is never explicitly stated, but is hinted to be some sort of take-over by the military following either WWIII or just a general decay of civilization. Much must be inferred from badly-delivered lines of dialogue, but I'm going to guess that the year is about 2000, and the government has been replaced by a military junta for at least the last ten years.

Most strangely, the military has taken to issuing "bar codes" to all citizens, stamping them on their left forearms in some creepy Nazi parallel. As well, all national insignia has been replaced by a "bar code emblem", which is on the sides of vehicles and military buildings and the like. At no point in this movie do we see an American flag, except for the rebels, but there's no doubt that we are indeed in America. The military is referred to as the "Security Control", or just the "SC".

The SC all wear black paramilitary uniforms with no patches other than the officers, who have those goofy barcode flashes on their collars. The rank and file soldier wears a full helmet with gas mask (?), which helps cover the fact that they only had a dozen uniform sets and a dozen extras, which they parade around in the background of shots to make it seem like there are hundreds of them.

SC officer showing that bar code insignia, which makes zero sense as an emblem.

Weapons are these weird shotguns with plastic attachments over and under the barrel. Officers also carry 9mm pistols. Other than a machinegun on one of the vehicles, there are no heavy weapons seen.

SC soldiers.

Vehicles are your typical post-apocalypse movie conversions. Here being early 1980s Ford Mustangs with the entire roof cut off and replaced with padded roll-bars. There are only three of these made up, though tricky camera work makes it look like there are dozens. There are also a smattering of PA-tweaked Chevy Suburbans and assorted panel vans and short buses. Motorcycles also feature prominently, though they are just unmodified Yamaha dirtbikes.

SC Mustang.

Other SC vehicles.

We open our movie proper with a raid by the SC on a group of squatters inhabiting the old "Sabina Missile Complex". These are your standard PA refugee types, dressed like grubby cast-off bikers in denim jackets with the sleeves torn off and bandanas. They also all seem to have strangely white teeth and perfect hair, suggesting some sort of government-sponsored dental and grooming plan for refugees.

One of the cleaner refugees, even if she might very well be a man in drag.

The SC are here to "arrest non-registered citizens", which is gov-speak for "kill everyone in the room". And this is what they do, slashing and shooting through the scattering refugees with glee. In the end, only a few escape and one is captured.

The captured girl is an enigma, as she's wearing make-up and her hair is styled beautifully, and she's wearing a very clean and neat red and black dress! Clearly she wasn't with that group of refugees. She also doesn't seem to be able to speak, as she just stands there with a dumb blonde look on her face, content to smile and look quizzical as she's roughly questioned by the SC officers. She has nothing on her except a few items, including a photograph of former First Lady Nancy Reagan in an identical red dress (!) and a couple of giftshop patches of the NASA space program! The officers don't know what to make of her, so they send her off to Intelligence Branch for further examination. But first they give her the name "Sabina", due to the location of her capture. She will be known by this name for the rest of the movie.

Let's just go ahead and meet Sabina, played by 30-year old low-level b-movie Screen Queen Elizabeth Kaitan, who here looks remarkably like a mid-1980s Darryl Hannah, or even Nicole Hansen from American Cyborg: Steel Warrior. She's a fairly pretty blonde woman with delicate features and skinny arms.


Her "big secret" is that she's an alien! Fucking seriously! She landed here on earth from her unnamed planet to do some field research on our species. When her people first made contact with the old NASA probes sent out into space, they found a picture of Nancy Reagan and sent Sabina dressed like her to help her blend in (see, it makes perfect sense!). Sadly, she landed on earth after it had gone to hell and is now in trouble.

Alright, let's leave this and go to a sleazy bar out in the borderlands somewhere. Here we meet our film's requisite wasteland loner hero Willie, played by virtually unknown actor Jay Roberts, who looks like Lorenzo Lamas' stunt double. Willie has one of those two-day beards that seems to make the girls swoon and a flowing late-'80s mullet to go along with his painfully tight jeans and leather vest. His only problem seems to be that he's only about 5'6" and can't weigh over 120 pounds, though they take pains to film him at angles where that's not readily apparent.

Willie, that's damn fine hair, almost Steve Nash-like.

Willie and some other guys get into a fight with an SC patrol that's here looking for "rebels". After getting a few good licks in, Willie is captured and hauled off. He's taken to the local SC base and treated quite badly. Being a heroic manly type of guy, however, Willie keeps up his ultra-cool banter while being punched in the stomach with brass knuckles and never lets his hair get mussed up.

It's not long before Willie makes his escape with the help of one of the captured refugees from before (a jive-talking black man with impressive kickboxing skills). Along the way they free Sabina, who blindly follows them as they run like banshees from the base. Some comic moments ensue as they deal with the fact that she barely speaks a word and seems dumber than a bag of hammers.

"Shhh...I hear people comparing you to Eddie Murphy and that's not funny."

Perimeter security laxness is only matched by the ineptitude of the soldiers sent out to search for them, and the three of them easily steal an SC Mustang and make good their escape. More forced comic levity is seen as they run a chasing SC car off the road and then laugh heartily about it. They are headed to meet up with the rebels, as the black guy is apparently a rebel of some note.

The three of them make it to the rebel compound, which is in another set of ruins, though said to be "several hundred miles away". Willie and Sabina are interrogated to make sure they aren't SC spies, but they are eventually cleared. The black guy changes into what can only be described as a 1970s militant Black Panther outfit, complete with red felt beret.

"We gonna take it to The Man, man."

The rebels are your typical PA movie lot, with about two dozen guys and girls dressed in camouflage and leather jackets, marching around and trying to look all impressive. There's an Australian dude who works the computers and the radio, a sassy Hispanic girl who seems to be channeling Michelle Rodriguez in Aliens, and they are led by a former SC officer named Colonel Slater. We learn here that Willie used to be an SC operative and Slater was his commanding officer! But that was long ago, and both Willie and Slater have left the SC fold.

Slater, by the way, is played by Christopher Mitchum, who I just last week saw in the John Wayne classic Rio Lobo. That has nothing to do with our movie, but I just thought I'd mention it.

Slater, and if you think he looks like his father Robert Mitchum, you'd be right.

The rebels are planning a major raid on the local SC base, designed to "raise public awareness" and to get them all slaughtered. We get one of those always-badly-staged training montages where scruffy extras mill around a dusty courtyard and practice hitting each other with sticks and tossing satchel charges. As their potential target is heavily defended by machineguns and barbed wire fences, even a blind man can see that the rebels are going to get owned.

Meanwhile, the SC finally realize that Sabina was an alien. The "upper echelons" of the SC are not pleased that the girl escaped custody and it's clear that heads will role on the local level if she's not recovered. They don't know why the alien is here, but they are determined to see her "examined".

The SC leader on-site sends for Brandt, who is an "Apprehender", which is really a glorified term for bounty hunter. Brandt is played by 42-year old Chris DeRose, who has been in all sorts of stuff I've never seen. He's got a greasy Steven Segal ponytail and this Sergio Leone trench coat with a Colt .45 revolver in a low-slung holster. This revolver must have been sprinkled with magical pixie dust as it frequently fires as many as a dozen shots without reloading, despite the fact that close-ups show it to have a standard six-shot chamber.

Brandt, looking all badass.

Back a the rebel camp, Sabina sneaks into the rebels' computer room one night and starts looking around, finding a disk with an encyclopedia and dictionary on it. Wow, that's a 360 kilobyte 5.25 inch floppy disk! I haven't seen one of those in decades! She uses her Spooky Alien Powers to suck up all the knowledge on this disk, so now she can speak English and knows about Napoleon's march on Moscow in 1815 and about German industrial rock bands and all that.

Vintage floppy disk.

And yes, that scene was later stolen by The Fifth Element, though with Leeloo using the internet instead. I looked forever for some connection to Luc Besson's writing staff, but nothing came up, so I guess someone just watched this movie and thought it would be a good idea to steal from it.

The rebels then find out about Sabina being an alien by "hacking" into the SC's computer systems (really, they have that capability, even though they operate out of a half-demolished steel mill and seem to have nothing more sophisticated than a vintage 1970s NEC desktop computer terminal and awesome teeth). Sabina comes clean and they are all amazed.

We learn that she "landed" here in an "energy cycle", which is sorta kinda like a Star Trek transporter thingie. Sabina tells them in no uncertain terms that she will die if she's not back where she "landed" when the energy cycle comes calling. And that place would be the old Sabina Missile Complex where our movie opened. It's up to ruggedly handsome and well-groomed Willie to get Sabina back there in time.

Ok, lets leave them for a sec. We go out now to an outdoor scene where Brandt the Apprehender and some soldiers ambush a small group of rebels out foraging. All are killed on the spot with a withering barrage of gunfire, except for one girl in a green dress and running shoes. The poor girl is taken back to the SC base and is tortured. She breaks eventually and tells them that the rebels are holed up at the "old power generating station", and receives a bullet to the head for her confession.

One guy holds his ears while the other protects his face as they execute the poor girl.

Armed with this knowledge, the SC quickly mount an attack on the rebel base. About a platoon's-worth of soldiers mounted in cars and buses rumble up and unload. The SC raid happens just as Willie and Sabina are gearing up for their trek to the ruins. They have to flee with little more than the clothes on their back as the soldiers swarm in, and they run down into the access tunnels to make their escape.

Above them, a huge-ass fight explodes between the soldiers and the rebels. The soldiers are total cannon fodder, simpletons without even the basic concepts of small unit tactics or weapons proficiency. The rebels are armed only with bows and blades, but they still manage to inflict severe casualties on the soldiers. But eventually, sheer weight of numbers and firepower take their toll and the rebels are routed.

Rebel with a nice compound bow.

Back down in the tunnels, Willie and Sabina are pursued by some motorcycles. Willie thumps them and shows some more of those White Man Kung Fu moves he seems to specialize in, such as the flying spin kick that makes his mullet flow so nicely, and a jabbing left fist that seems to deliver more force than you'd think possible. Many of these fight scenes are filmed with multiple cameras, which is a nice touch, though seemingly above the movie's budget.

Willie and Sabina become separated at this point. Sabina ends up hooking up with a kindly barkeep who travels around in an old Dodge pickup truck with a moonshine still in the back. Along the way, she learns to sing bawdy drinking songs (!) and seems rather happy. The barkeep is a nice guy, and is a gentleman to Sabina, and offers to take her back to his house where she will be safe. They reconnect with Willie at some point and continue to the barkeep's house, Willie pulling out a harmonica (!) to accompany their singing.

That's Russ Tamblyn from Twin Peaks there, by the way.

At his house, which is really just a foreman's shack near the refinery, Sabina marvels at flowers and chickens and generally has a great time experiencing something other than death and destruction for once. I feel for the actress, as she's forced by the role to act like a wide-eyed child for most of the movie, and I'm sure she's a much better actress than that.

But this happy interlude can't last, as two monstrous thugs then arrive to spoil everything. These are two of the scariest looking mutant dudes I have ever seen in my entire life (and I used to live in Arkansas...) and I'm only providing screen caps of them so you can feel my pain.


These dudes kill the poor barkeep, knock Willie out cold with a shovel to the face (ouch!) and kidnap Sabina. They aren't with the SC, or the rebels, but just general riff-raff and they take the girl to a seedy bar and certainly mean to do her offense.

Once he regains consciousness, Willie somehow gets a motorcycle (how?) and a samurai sword (from where?), puts on these dorky white kung-fu pants (where did they come from?), and follows after them (how does he know where to go?). This scene does provide us, the viewer, with about five minutes of Willie riding his bike along some dirt path as his mullet waves in the wind like some lion's mane. I assume that is supposed to get our heroic juices up, but the wide-angle shots only reminded me just how short and skinny the guy is.

He arrives just as the thugs are starting a bar fight with some other drunken losers. Willie wades in with his sword, slashing and poking everyone dead, stage blood flying everywhere and skuzzy barmaids screaming through hazy cigarette smoke. The two big ugly dudes die badly, gushing blood and intestines, though it serves them right for being such nasty inbred mutants. I mean it, stay away from your sister, she's not for lovin'!

While all the killing is going on, the Apprehender Brandt sneaks in and takes the very confused and very wary Sabina away. Brandt has "turned good guy", it seems, disillusioned by all the oppression and the death and the SC's brutality. He's going to take her back to the place where she was found, to help her get back into space.

Brandt convinces Sabina that she can trust him.

However, the two of them are captured by the SC once they get there. The evil SC leader wants to send Sabina back to his bosses to save his own skin and things look bad for everyone.

Just then Willie jumps in! What follows is ten minutes of running battle as Willie single-handedly fights several dozen SC soldiers. He then fights Brandt in a wicked one-on-one rumble that's rather impressive to see. Seriously, for such a low-budget production, this fight sequence is extremely well-choreographed and is probably worth the price of the movie just to see it.

In the end, Brandt is killed by the SC leader after he has yet another last-minute change of heart. The SC leader is then killed by Willie, who thuds a knife into his chest while simultaneously avoiding a bullet at close range (it looks a lot stupider than I describe it). Willie got that knife because Sabina shows a hitherto never seen Spooky Mind Power of telekinesis. That could have come in handy earlier, girl!

Willie about to toss his knife.

Our movie ends with Sabina making it to the energy cycle in time and being zipped back into space. As she fades away, she and Willie exchange a gang sign and a smile (the gang sign thing has been a running joke all movie, but it was so lame that I didn't bother to mention it). Not exactly the normal "loner hero leaves the girl to go back into the wilderness" ending, eh? More like "loner hero gets dumped by space babe", which is a refreshing change.

The End. Why was this movie called Aftershock?

Written in February 2008 by Nathan Decker.

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