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Aftershock (1990)
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by Jack Sommersby

"No Great Shakes, but a Decent Trashy Time to be Had"
3 stars

This is a nice slice of entertaining junk.

The low-budget apocalyptic/action flick Aftershock is no big deal, but it makes for good trashy entertainment all the same. We've been down this cinematic road before: due to governmental malfeasance, mankind's future on Earth has consequently become a living hell-hole, with crumbling infrastructures, a dwindling population, and an increased disregard for human life in general. In an undisclosed location in the United States the action takes place (likely the Southwest, where most of these flicks are set, what with their desolate, sparsely populated desert communities), and the predominating rule is that of fascism. All of the citizens are branded with laser-stamped barcodes, with the "unregistered" ones either shot on the streets or sentenced to death in mock trials. Yep, this futuristic world ain't no picnic.

Leading the fascist forces are the venerable Commander Eastern (the great B-actor Richard Lynch), and his sociopathic second-in-command, Oliver Quinn (the always-granitic John Saxon, also a B-movie staple); antagonizing them are the martial-arts rebel Willie (the horrendous Jay Roberts Jr.), his (of course!) African-American sidekick Danny (a spunky Chuck Jeffreys), and (are you ready?) a gorgeous blonde space alien by the name of Sabina (the bland Elizabeth Kaitan), who's newly arrived and must make it back to her beaming-up point in a couple of days or else death will ensue. Have I got your attention yet?

Right from the onset, Aftershock manages to elicit a hearty portion of unintentional laughs. The opening action sequence where soldiers blast away at a horde of people is funny rather than horrifying because, due to the poor special effects, the bloody gunshot wounds look to have been inflicted by red paint balls. And in such a short amount of screen time, the location shooting already repeats itself; we're meant to perceive a vast wasteland of a city, yet it seems to consist of no more than three or four street blocks, and when the soldiers return to headquarters, the building located next to it looks virtually identical to the one they supposedly vacated many, many blocks away. Of course, with the budget restraints, we can semi-forgive the awful f/x of Sabina's initial beaming-down to the planet (though it'd definitely make Star Trek's Scotty wince), but the director, Frank Harris, fumbles the ball soon thereafter by having Quinn demand the captured Sabina disrobe so the scientists can examine her metal-fabric outfit -- and has the disrobing occur off-screen!

Yet things start to get more agreeable when she and her two comrades stage a breakout, and the terrible editing makes the badly choreographed action come off as enjoyably cheesy. Given, the martial-arts ability of Roberts, Jr. is dubious at best, but one of the purposes of editing is to cover snafus like this so what winds up there on the screen for the audience is considerably smoother than what the raw footage holds. But the shots are held too far away and for far too long, so the obvious pulling of punches and kicks are made adamantly clear; close-ups and deft staccato cutting could have helped cover these, and also enabled the sequence of shots to glide, rather than jerk, from one scene to the next. Still, this ineptness has some charm.

Being able to enjoy a trashy flick such as this depends on your willingness to accept its innate awfulness as an incorrigible positive rather than as a boo-hiss negative. Sure, the writing and direction and acting and lighting and editing and scoring are sub-standard, but they work together entertainingly in unison -- part of the fun in watching Aftershock is wondering if the next five minutes are going to be even worse than the previous five. For a while, you think it's going to be unbearable, when all of a sudden you find yourself having a pleasurable-enough time once the director finally gets a handle on the material, and the story starts playing out with a loose rhythm that engagingly carries you along. There's a good deal of trashy appeal elicited by the characters, all of whom may be doing and saying idiotic things yet appear to have the utmost conviction in them, so who are we to question and mock like, say, an uproarious dialogue exchange as follows:

-- "Does she look like someone from the planet Pluto?"

-- "Have you ever seen anybody from the planet Pluto?"

-- "Funny you should say that, man -- you know there was this chick one time I dated..."

And how dare us filmgoers not raise a hissy-fit every time a character fires seven bullets out of a six-shooter handgun in a 'major' production but likely would raise cain over a scene here where not only a throwing knife travels faster than a bullet, but also where the hero manages to do in six gun-toting goons with mere swordplay? And I guess the intellectuals in the audience will raise their eyebrows at the subtle naming of the government's computer voice as "Big Sister", which just might (and, I mean, might!) draw a possible connection with author George Orwell's "Big Brother" reference in his literary classic 1984? Phooey on them!

Of course, further missteps must be noted. While it may have been viewed as respectful by not having the character of Sabina disrobe in that earlier scene, any suspicions of an equal-rights mentality on the part of the filmmakers are all but negated by failing to make use of her otherwordly powers. You keep waiting for the baddies to get what's coming to them by a butt-kicking femme fatale, yet the most heroic thing she manages to do is, through mental telepathy, move the hero's weapon over to him right before the main baddie does him in. And then there's the matter of the character of Bryant. Clad in a long black trenchcoat and sporting a pigtail, he's the outlaw hitman responsible for dishing out a good deal of carnage to the innocents, so when it's hinted at that he's thinking about changing sides, it's disappointing when this is jettisoned simply so he can duke it out with the hero in the final confrontation. Also unrealized is the potential for sneaky humor when it's revealed that Sabina has twice the IQ of the highest ever recorded -- something that could have pointed up the meagerness of mankind's that got them into a devastating war (which uncomfortably mirrors the U.S.'s current situation with Iraq, what with our illiterate president's see-through greedy, superpower intentions).

But Aftershock works as undemanding entertainment, as the kind you can kick back on a Saturday afternoon with nothing better to do and enjoy it without ever really digging it. Mind you, it doesn't have the trashy snap of 1990: The Bronx Warriors or the seedy fun of Def-Con 4 (and certainly not the brilliance of the acme of this sub-genre, A Boy and His Dog), yet, for something so terrible, it's unexpectedly tolerable.


This is one of the mangiest-looking DVDs I've ever had the displeasure of witnessing. Image Entertainment was responsible for some of the most pristine picture transfers on LaserDisc back in the day (their 5-star treatment of Maniac Cop 2 is reference quality), but their DVDs have continually failed to make the grade. Given, the master print to work from probably wan't stellar stuff, yet the absence of proper letterboxing and consistent video noise make this a hoary DVD package. (At least those rock-bottom DVDs from Diamond Entertainment are appropriately priced at $6.99!)

Don't expect a lot (or even a little), and you should be amply sated.

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originally posted: 12/28/02 05:54:32
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  02-Feb-1990 (R)



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