Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Inhabits the
REFUGE OF FEAR (1974)
By Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel
Pull up a chair, pass around some rations, and get comfortable. Here at Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter, I’ll take you back into time, when Atomic Age cats and dolls fretted over the bomb and visions of alien invaders flickered on the big screen at the local drive-in. Technological or political developments may have made these films obsolete, but I hope you’ll join me in rediscovering forgotten Cold War-era cinema.
It’s hard to make a boring film about nuclear annihilation, but REFUGE OF FEAR (1974), which was also called CREATION OF THE DAMNED, makes surviving a nuclear holocaust seem like the dullest fate imaginable.
The bomb has already been dropped when we meet the two couples surviving underground in a sophisticated shelter. We witness the survivors—Carol (the lovely Patty Shepard) and her husband Arthur (Fernando Hilbeck), Margie (Teresa Gimpera), her husband Robert (Craig Hill) and their son Chris (Pedro Mari Sanchez) —playing billiards, chatting, and having impromptu striptease shows. There’s actually no full nudity, which means the first hour of the film is pretty boring.
Chris attempts to contact other survivors over the radio, with no initial success. The group watches a Geiger counter to see if the radiation levels go down enough to leave the shelter.
The group begins fighting, mostly over petty things. Boredom sets in. Arthur develops an addiction to pills. Carol starts taking her clothes off and dancing provocatively for the group’s entertainment.
The survivors discover their pet cat dead. Robert, being the strict military man he is, skins and cooks up the cat. They can’t afford to waste anything, he tells Arthur.
Meanwhile, Chris is able to find another faction of survivors over the radio. They keep him updated on the radiation levels. Knowing that others have survived is of little comfort. They’re unable to leave. The air is still poisonous.
Eventually, boredom and her husband’s whininess drive Carol to have an affair with Chris, who is much younger and much more studly than Arthur. Carol taunts Arthur that her period is late. Arthur puts two and two together and tells the whole group that Carol is pregnant with Chris’s child.
Things become extremely tense in the shelter, so Chris leaves for the surface. We get a brief glimpse of the impact of the bomb. Chris enters a home, only to discover the fried and decomposed bodies of the former residents. Chris succumbs to the radiation and drops dead.
Back in the shelter, Arthur dies. Robert is convinced he committed suicide over the news of Carol’s illegitimate baby. Carol thinks Robert killed him. She’s so convinced that he’s a killer that she ties him up and holds him hostage. His wife, Margie, doesn’t seem to mind any of this.
Robert escapes. The three remaining members of the group try to get along, but Robert murders Margie, leaving him alone with Carol. He tries to control her, even going as far as drugging and raping her.
Carol eventually fights back. She keeps hearing someone over Chris’s radio. The other faction of survivors comes over the airwaves to tell them that the radiation levels have improved enough for them to leave. Robert doesn’t want to leave. He’s afraid Carol will go to the authorities and tell them that he killed Arthur and Margie. He attempts to kill her, but she locks herself into a room. She finds a gun and shoots through the door, killing Robert.
In the final scene, which seems odd and out of place, we see the whole gang back before the bomb hit, having a barbecue and discussing the construction of the bomb shelter. It’s a bizarre way to end the film.
REFUGE OF FEAR drags on at times. The characters are forgettable for the most part. The film could have been about half an hour long, and it would have been much more effective. We do see some tension, but tempers never fully boil over, which would have made the movie more exciting. People mostly snip at each other and storm off. It’s almost like a feature-length Spanish soap opera.
The one interesting thing about REFUGE OF FEAR is that it is a Spanish film about a nuclear weapon striking the United States. It’s a unique choice. Other Spanish films have addressed a nuclear weapon striking Europe, including Leon Klimovsky’s far superior THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976).
Despite its failings, the film captures the very real paranoia of the United States during the Cold War. People did build underground bomb shelters. People did stockpile food and medications. REFUGE OF FEAR is a solid example of the fact that the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union troubled the whole world.
© Copyright 2013 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel