Where Have All the People Gone? (1974)

The Seventies were a great era for TV movies.

But I think I’ve mentioned that before.

A family is off on vacation in the mountains, exploring a cave, when a mysterious flash fills the sky. The Father and his two children seem unaffected, but their guide dies not long afterwards and his body quickly turns to dust.

When they get back to town, everyone is dead, cars and electronics won’t work, some of the animals have gone mad — and the few survivors may be the biggest threat of all.

This one reminds me of Panic in Year Zero, a film I once described as “Father Knows Best — at the end of the world.” Peter Graves, whom most of you will remember from Mission Impossible, is the wise, patient and level-headed Father: he can even keep his more hot-tempered son from rushing in and doing things he would regret.

What’s more, there are actually some solid scientific ideas behind this one — solar flares and EMP pulses. The deaths were caused by a virus, and the survivors were those who had a natural immunity — although how it spread so fast or why it happened at the time of the solar flares, or whether there was any connection between the two is left unexplained.

If you were expecting Mad Max, or even one of the more violent Seventies post-Apocalyptic movies like Omega Man, Damnation Alley or Ravagers, well, that isn’t what you are getting this time. Instead, this is the story of a family struggling to survive when things get bad, and not only staying together but also helping some of the other survivors they meet along the way.

Which, I’m sure you agree, is a vision of America and who we are which you were far more likely to see on TV back then than you would today.

After all, only the movies were dark and nihilistic back then.

This is a pleasant little film. It’s not exceptionally exciting despite a few tense moments, and it isn’t one of the great classics of the Television Movie (try Duel or The Night Stalker, if that’s what you’re looking for). But Peter Graves is as solid as ever, and the image of people turned to dust is a potent one that will cause a few shudders (at least the first few times we see it).

It even ends on a hopeful note.

And that is always welcome in any post-Apocalyptic film.

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And check out our new Feature (Updated April 21, 2020):

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