2010 July 05 • Monday
You leave the house with your family before dawn. The four of you—mom, dad, teenage son and teenage daughter—pile into the sedan and drive off, pulling a trailer behind you. You're off to the mountains for a fishing and camping vacation.
You're about halfway there when the sky flashes with what seems like lightning. There's no storm, though. You turn around and see mushroom clouds forming above what used to be the city of Los Angeles.
World War 3 just started. Now you're in the jungle. Everybody around you will attack and kill you for food, water, gasoline, tools, anything to survive. If civilization isn't over, it's definitely on hold.
Even worse than the human animals fighting for survival are the marauding gangs of teenage punks, out for kicks. You've got to find a place to hide, somewhere to keep your family safe. It's a nightmare but you're not asleep.
Of course it would sound like jazz.
Les Baxter's music for Panic in Year Zero!, a movie directed by and starring Ray Milland and also starring Frankie Avalon, is the 120th Soundtrack of the Week.
It starts with Baxter's post-bop, hard jazz score playing over a black screen. Then we see the car's radio, the source of the music. It's great, aggressive music, in the vein of Elmer Bernstein's celebrated The Man With the Golden Arm score.
In addition to the driving horns, there are various other moods and textures, stalking bass, melancholy guitar, locomotive snare. The most frequently used motif is a kind of "wheels rolling" driving music. The family spends a lot of the movie driving places and Milland frequently cuts to close-up shots of the car's spinning wheels as they make an unsettling whining noise on the road.
Things like fall out and radiation are discussed but don't appear to affect anything. Panic in Year Zero! is remarkably effective considering its modest budget, which apparently didn't allow much for special effects. It's surprisingly harsh and bleak. Baxter's music is great.
As the family has to fight for their survival against inhuman young punks in what could be considered a nuclear wasteland, I wonder if a young Wes Craven saw this movie and came away from it with the idea for The Hills Have Eyes, another "nuclear" family story.