ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn
This is Not a Test shares much in common Panic in Year Zero directed by Ray Milland. Both were low-budget productions released in 1962 and both deal with a group of strangers who come together in the California desert outside Los Angeles before/during a nuclear attack. Equally, both seem quaint in 2022. This is Not a Test, in particular presents a highly unlikely scenario for audiences who grew up on Mad Max or zombie apocalypse films. A lone Deputy Sheriff played by Seamon Glass sets up a roadblock on a lonely mountain pass to catch Clint (Ron Starr), a hitchhiking killer on the run. A truck carrying the fugitive along with a few other vehicles are stopped, giving Clint just enough time to flee into the darkness while all the other characters are introduced. We have a couple of gamblers, a married couple on the outs with their dog Timmy, a wise old man and his granddaughter Juney and – joining them later – a nice guy on a scooter. When news of a pending missile attack comes across the police radio, not only does the cop stay at his post, but all eight of the people stopped at the roadblock comply with his every command for the majority of the film. If this film were made today, Deputy Sheriff Dan Colter would either raid the delivery truck and flee the scene, or have his gun stolen and become Deputy Sheriff pork shoulder. In 1962, he’s the law and so “We have to do what he says.”
That’s not to say that things don’t go sideways. Colter is truly an idiot, making all the wrong decisions, including destroying a whole case of booze, which could not only be used to start fires in the post-apocalyptic world, but also to disinfect wounds. Not to mention act as a sedative against the coming horrors.
Things unravel quickest for the dissatisfied married couple once the wife realizes her likelihood of survival is small. Looking for one last moment of happiness, she almost immediately falls into the arms of the truck driver, leaving her cuckolded husband to shoot himself with Colter’s gun in the very next scene while everyone else prepares the back of the truck as a shelter. While a few people choose to stay outside, the majority of the remaining group empty out the back of the truck and cover the air vents with mud. Although they initially plan to hunker down for at least 14 days, once inside, it takes all of 10 minutes for them to become exceptionally sweaty and claustrophobic. Colter kills Timmy the little dog for taking up too much air, a fight ensues and the group bursts forth from the back of the truck only to be greeted by a gang of looters in fresh from the hellscape that is now Los Angeles.
Before any Negan-style nastiness ensues, the final countdown comes over the radio. Some of the people finally knock Colter unconscious, and take his car while the looters barricade themselves inside the back of the truck. Colter wakes up to find Clint running past, who, having been hiding in the woods for the pat 75 minutes, has no idea what’s going on. The film ends with Colter begging to be let inside the back of the truck. The screen turns white, we hear an explosion. The End.
Despite its outdated social platitudes, It’s not a bad little movie. The location is used to good effect and the acting is pretty good. Although nowhere near as gruesome as the later films about nuclear war made in the 80s like The Day After, or the incredibly dark British outing Threads, which gave me nightmares for weeks, This is Not a Test is sufficiently bleak to satisfy fans of this well-worn subgenre. Best of all, it’s available for free on YouTube.