Directed by the great John Llewellyn Moxey (HORROR HOTEL ’60) and co-written by Lewis John Carlino (A REFLECTION OF FEAR ’72) and Sandor Stern (THE AMITYVILLE HORROR ’79), the 1974 made-for-TV movie WHERE HAVE ALL THE PEOPLE GONE has occupied a large space in my brain ever since I was a child. I remember my entire family being excited to watch it the night it aired because part of it was filmed at our local grocery store. Having recently moved to California, the concept of seeing a familiar place on our television was still quite mind-blowing.
And who could resist such a title and premise? WHATPG tells the tale of the Anders family who spend their free time in the woods collecting rocks and fossils. One day mother bows out early and returns home but father Steven (Peter Graves), daughter Deborah (Kathleen Quinlan), and son David (George O’Hanlon Jr.) decide to explore a cave. While inside the cave, some kind of never fully explained solar flair type incident occurs and the outcome is that just about every human (who was not safely hanging in a cave) is turned to literal dust. The surviving family members are left in an eerie unpopulated world where they search for answers, their certainly dead mom, and general supplies, (at my then local grocery store) all while battling mad dogs and a few other stray survivors. Honestly, not much of interest happens but boy is it creepy and vaguely depressing. I found the movie particularly engrossing because I knew exactly what the Anders were going through as even at my young age, I had already experienced the death and demise of every living person on Earth myself (or so I thought)…
I’m sorry, this is a Trojan horse of a post. I’m not here to discuss the adventures of the Anders family; I’m here to talk about the time when I was 4 years old and my parents abandoned me on a beach. It’s sadly true and I seriously thought that every single person in the world had died for some reason (I guess I was a pretty morbid 4-year-old).
Ya see, my family was vacationing at a beach house and sharing the joint with a few Aunts and Uncles and their kids. At some point, I was playing in the sand with my cousins, and all of the sudden I looked up to find I was completely alone. Where once there was laughter and commotion, suddenly there was a deathly silence; everyone had vanished. I went back inside the house and nobody was there either. Seventeen loud, squawking, clamoring people (six parents, and 11 children) had suddenly evaporated into thin air. I was alone and obviously, I would remain alone for the rest of my life.
I guessed I’d have to learn to fend for myself. How would I eat? I could make toast. I knew how to make toast so I did. I’d need money. My father had pennies all over his dresser. I was sure he wouldn’t mind me grabbing some cash on account of he was dead. In some ways this was the first day that I became aware of myself thinking inside of my head, feeling myself as an individual rather than some brainless tentacle attached to my parents. It was scary and surreal and I felt like I had graduated from passenger to driver in my own body. I’m pretty sure time stopped and every dust mote began to glow like a firefly. I was a deep-sea diver in God’s aquarium and I had to be brave and simply move forward through the invisible lava.
There was a store down the road where earlier my cousins and I bought candy ( sour apple laffy taffy?). Maybe I could venture there and perhaps find other survivors (thus began a cross between HOME ALONE (’90) & THE ROAD (2009) but I’m four, at least my mother tells me I was four; she wouldn’t be above smudging the truth to make hes self look less culpable. I could have easily been three). I went on my arduous journey. I don’t think I passed a single soul on the way to the store so I was very relieved to see a fellow human working behind the counter. I attempted to buy some candy but was told I didn’t have enough pennies and that’s when I lost it and began to cry like the baby I practically was. The cashier lady was rightfully mortified and wanted to know where my mother was. I told her my sorry tale and she agreed to walk me home (I didn’t know the address but I could show her). Midway back she asked what my mother looked like and I pointed to a woman approaching and said she looked like her. And it was my mom! Not only was she alive, but apparently, she was also OK with showing her neglectful face in public again (at least I assumed it was my rightful mother- there’s still a possibility that my entire family was abducted and replaced by pod people)!
THEY HAD ALL GONE TO A CARNIVAL. They took three cars and the occupants of each car for some reason assumed I was in another. Seventeen people and not one of them thought to count heads. They didn’t even notice I was missing until they arrived at the carnival. In fact, they all stayed and enjoyed the carnival as my mom (perhaps begrudgingly) was sent back to find me on the open beach where she left me (I didn’t know how to swim so luckily I didn’t drown; I was too busy walking down the middle of a road- did I mention I was (theoretically) four?) Where have all the people gone? I don’t know the answer to that but I can certainly tell you where my family can go as far as I’m concerned (and it’s not to THE CARNIVAL. I kid, I kid. For the most part).
Eventually this story became a laugh riot legend within my family and I’m very happy to guffaw along. If anyone cared to notice though, there is no laughter behind my eyes, only a dark void and every once in a while a tell- tale facial tick hints at unthinkably monstrous ideas ping-ponging within my skull. Let’s face it though, my family has never been known for noticing subtle details (like missing children).
Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. Everything turned out fine (if you don’t count the lifelong psychological damage). Anyway, WHERE HAVE ALL THE PEOPLE GONE is prime seventies TV movie entertainment. Just be careful who you choose to watch it with. Some people can’t be trusted.