If you’re going to make an apocalyptic science fiction movie on a low-budget then you’re best bet is to set it in an isolated house out of reach from the majority of civilisation. When Arch Oboler made Five in 1951 (the title refers to the number of survivors following an atomic bomb) he restricted much of the action to his own Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Malibu. Four years later Roger Corman shot Day the World Ended in just nine days and similarly kept his cast mostly confined within four walls and away from those potentially expensive post-nuclear war cityscapes. Things were no different in 1979 when Charles Band was mounting The Day Time Ended. The plot involves the simultaneous explosion of three supernovas and the impending radiation that’s due to enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Yet the results of all this, as we see them, will play out almost entirely on a ranch somewhere out there in the Californian desert. As one of the characters notes, “no traffic, no people, no sirens, no nothing”, just three generations of one family, a cute pony and - as soon becomes clear - plenty of extra-terrestrial action.
Band was still relatively fresh in the industry at the time of production. He’d already produced Mansion of the Doomed and Laserblast among others - and dad Albert had been making movies since the fifties - but the cult favourites and various franchises were still to come: Trancers, Re-Animator, Puppet Master and so forth. Nevertheless, a regular crew was beginning to form and a number of familiar names crop up on the credits to The Day Time Ended. We find Tourist Trap screenwriters J. Larry Carroll and David Schmoeller (the latter would also pen the first Puppet Master), special effects maestro Dave Allen (Dolls, Robot Jox, Ragewar, etc.), editor Ted Nicolau (who would later get promoted to writer and director) and composer Richard Band, the most common mainstay of them all having collaborated with his brother Charles on more than sixty productions.
The Day Time Ended has another recognisable name behind the camera, although it’s not one we’d normally associate with Band. The director in this instance is one John ‘Bud’ Cardos, a hugely prolific ‘B’ movie everyman during the sixties and seventies. He acted in biker movies, did plenty of stunt work, assisted on a whole bunch of Al Adamson flicks and eventually moved into direction. According to the IMDb he was also an uncredited bird wrangler on Hitchcock’s The Birds and shot the second unit on Michael Winner’s Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood. But it’s the low-budget efforts which stand out, the likes of The Dark from 1979 and Nightmares in Wax from 1969, both of which regularly turn up on cheapo multi-film DVD collections, or Kingdom of the Spiders from 1977, which happens to have a certain William Shatner as its lead. In fact, I suspect its Cardos’ attachment which has prompted 88 Films to issue The Day Time Ended as part of their all-new Grindhouse Collection range.
Issued with an ‘A’ certificate on its UK theatrical run, I suspect a ‘12’, maybe even a ‘PG’, would be most likely today which, of course, makes the ‘Grindhouse’ somewhat dubious. There’s no gore, no grisly deaths and the most violent scene is enacted by two stop-motion dinosaurs in a manner reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen. The actors, too, are little too well-known for such a label, especially Dorothy Malone who remains most famous for her Douglas Sirk appearances and the Peyton Place TV series. Among her co-stars we also find Jim Davis (who had recently begun a major role in Dallas) and Christopher (son of Robert) Mitchum. The latter has done his fair share of trash, though hardly of a ‘Grindhouse’ pedigree. He’s also done plenty of respectable work including a handful of John Wayne pictures. As such we get a veneer of quality and a bunch of old pros trying their very best to remain as serious as possible, though admittedly that does become increasingly challenging…
As you might have expected, The Day Time Ended gets sillier and sillier the longer it goes on. First glowing green pyramids turn up at the ranch, then tiny stop-motion aliens that look like an anorexic Morph and soon there are dinosaurs and all sorts of multi-dimension nonsense. Meanwhile, Mitchum, Malone and the rest attempt to maintain their straight faces. With that said, the SFX work has its qualities. Dave Allen started out on the no-budget Equinox (which Criterion deemed worthy of a bell-and-whistles edition a few years back) and would subsequently go on to balance major projects with genre quickies, earning himself an Oscar nomination in the process. In other words, he knew how to achieve the right effect on the cheap and that certainly comes through here. Quaint, perhaps, but not without its pre-CG charms.
In conjunction with SFX mention should also be made of the sound design. It is here where The Day Time Ended transcends its cheapness and comes across as remarkably polished. Of course, the low-grade film stock and ill-conceived screenplay prevent it from having too much of an effect - if only those could have been scrubbed up too. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t entertained by the film. It’s short enough, silly enough and occasionally mad enough to perfectly occupy 80 minutes of your time.
A lighter-than-usual disc from 88 Films with just their ‘trailer park’ and a stills gallery - containing everything from VHS sleeves to TV ads- backing up the main feature. Nonetheless, their typical high standards have been put into the presentation and I suspect the film has never looked better. Of course a low-budget movie such as this one can only look so good thanks to its so-so production values and equally so-so film stock, but it’s come up rather well and is pleasingly free from damage if a little soft. The aspect ratio here is open matte 1.33:1 and the soundtrack appears in its original mono. As said in the main bulk of this review the sound design on the film is surprisingly excellent and that comes across fully here. No optional subtitles, however, English or otherwise.
Aliens and dinosaurs!