The Baldwins are a suburban Los Angeles family, headed by the gruff, controlling dad, Harry (Ray Milland, who also directed the film), and his dutiful wife Ann (Jean Hagen).
Other family members are teenage son, Rick (Frankie Avalon) and his teeny-bopper sister, Karen, (Mary Mitchell).
As the family set out at 4.00 am for a little fishing vacation in their camper, LA is levelled by nukes and their trip to the woods suddenly becomes a fight to survive.
Harry and son take to the road, robbing for guns, gas and groceries, before setting up a makeshift home in an abandoned cave – after destroying the bridge they crossed to reach the mountains to prevent others from following.
Along the way, they are forced to confront three James Dean-style creeps – Mickey (Rex Holman), Andy (Neil Nephew) and Carl (Richard Bakalyan) – and rescue the creeps’ sex slave, Marilyn Hayes (Joan Freeman), though sister Karen does get raped.
Harry and Rick kill the three hoodlums but Rick takes a slug in the leg in the process. Harry piles the family into a car and tears off to find a doctor – while a radio report in the car advises that peace has been established and relief stations are being established around Los Angeles.
Harry finds Dr Powell Strong (Willis Bouchey) in a small deserted town and he patches Rick up.
Finally, Harry and family are waylaid by men with machine guns. Fortunately, the men turn out to be soldiers scouting for survivors and they send the Baldwins to a nearby aid station.
The world has become a dark place – but as long as there are guns and a little belief in the old American values, there is still some hope. Life begins anew.
This low-budget film from American International Pictures – filmed in just two weeks and initially released as part of a double feature with Tales of Terror – is stagey and awkward but is so cold and vicious that it feels very authentic – sometimes too much so.
Dr Powell Strong