Radioactive Dreams (1985) Retrospective

A nuclear war breaks out in 1986, expending the world’s entire nuclear arsenal, except for one missile. Two children, Philip Chandler (John Stockwell) and Marlowe Hammer (Michael Dudikoff), are abandoned by their fathers in a fallout shelter cut into the side of a wooded mountain. The pair grow up in the shelter, with 1950s detective fiction and swing music as the guiding force in their learning. Fifteen years later Marlowe succeeds in digging out the cave entrance. The pair give each other haircuts, dress in suits, and go to rejoin the world.


Philip narrates their adventure on their first day out:

My name’s Philip, and this is going to be a yarn about me and my pal, Marlowe. About the day we got out of this shelter and went off into the post-nuclear world. Now, as excited as we were about leaving the shelter, it was still a joint that held fond memories. I mean, it was the only world we’d ever known. Where I practiced my magic, Marlowe, his dancing; where we both dreamed of becoming private eyes, just like the ones we’d read about.


Marlowe hopes to find their fathers, but Philip is disgruntled that they never returned, and presumes that they are dead. The mountain is now devoid of trees. The first people they find are a trio of radiation burned “mutants” chasing a beautiful woman, Miles Archer (Lisa Blount). They rescue Miles, who kisses Marlowe as a distraction and steals his gun. This backfires, as she drops the activation keys to the last nuclear missile. Miles leaves, and the pair are immediately attacked by a biker gang of bald women in red wigs. Afterwards the boys discover the activation keys, which bears their fathers’ names. This excites Marlowe, but disturbs Philip.


They rescue another young woman, Rusty Mars (Michele Little), from a group of armed children Philip nicknames “disco mutants”. She takes a liking to Philip, and leads the two of them to Edge City which is plagued by gang warfare. Rusty takes them to a dance club, where they are captured by cannibals. They want the nuclear keys, and to eat the young men, a rarity of uncontaminated meat. Although Rusty helps them escape and apologises, Philip doesn’t trust her. Just after they part ways the pair meets up with a friend of Miles’ who also wants the keys. After he is dispatched Miles shows up and takes them to her hideout. There she tells them about the purpose of the keys. Miles then threatens to kill them, but they escape.

Rusty has followed them to the hideout, but is attacked by the child gangsters. The pair chase them away, but Philip still doesn’t trust her. He wants to shoot her, but is out of bullets. After Rusty apologises again for lying to him and originally handing him over to the cannibals he says, “That was a million years ago, and I got a short memory. In fact, I don’t even remember who you are”.

The pair resolves to rid the city of the gangs and keep the keys. They go to an abandoned warehouse, using themselves as bait, in the hopes that the gangs will kill each other before killing them. For the most part, the plan works. However, the bosses of the child-gangsters are in fact Philip and Marlowe’s fathers. Before he dies, Philip’s father tells him that the past does not matter. In the end, the only gangster left standing is Miles, who has the keys. She shoots at them, and misses, but startles Marlowe into shooting and killing her.


The film ends with Philip letting go of the angst which he had nursed for 15 years. He adopts Marlowe’s “silver-lining look on life”. The two demonstrate Marlowe’s tap-inspired “post-nuke shuffle” to the crowds of the city. In the closing narration, Philip explains that they plan to set up shop as detectives, but that first he will find Rusty and see if he can repair his relationship with her. Of the keys, he says that he and Marlowe hid them in a secret location, because “you never know, in a tight jam a nuclear missile just might come in handy”.

Albert Pyun’s first film, THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER, made box office waves and instantly established him as a hot property in Hollywood. If you haven’t heard much about the young director in the past two years, it’s because Pyun has been busy working on his next feature, a post-nuclear fantasy-adventure tale entitled RADIOACTIVE DREAMS. The film is scheduled for release later this year, though a distribution deal has not yet been finalized.

The long pre-production period was, in part, due to the challenge of acquiring financing (after THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER, Pyun had several offers, but wanted to work independently from the studio system and a six month talent search for the roles of Phillip and Marlowe. Pyun estimates that he saw over 600 young actors, striving to find two who weren’t too modern-looking, and could believably carry a 40’s attitude as part of their characters. During this time, Pyun and Karnowski wrote some 50 drafts of the script, began scouting locations, and dove head-long into the other crucial pre-production elements.


A visit to the production office at Laird International Studios reflects just how much work had already been done on the project which, in Pyun’s words, has a budget only “slightly larger than the $3.5 million spent to film THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER, the walls are covered with color storyboards by in-house illustrator Shawn Joyce (who will be preparing all the film’s matte paintings), character sketches, blueprints of sets, and even tabletop poster board miniatures of the hippie city square (modeled after San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district), and the bombshelter (which comes complete with a two-car garage). Mark Moses, a winner of several CLIO awards, serves as the film’s visual consultant, with Chester Kaczenski handling art direction.

Principal photography, by German cinematographer Thomas Mauck, who shot many of Werner Herzog’s films, began in March in Pyun’s native Hawaii, on the island of Hawaii. The remote locations-in the mountains and on the site of the Mauna Loa volcano, where an unexpected eruption occurred on the first day of shooting-generated some visually sensational dallies, according to publicist Scott Fields.


Interview with Albert Pyun

How did you come about writing Radioactive Dreams?
Albert Pyun: I wanted to do something after “The Sword and the Sorcerer” that was distinctive and not like anything else. I think I felt that if I only got to make 2 movies in my life, the second had to be as imaginative as I could create. So that was the start of it and I had a lot of meetings with studios and what they liked about my first film was how it was imaginative, so I went that direction.

Did the 1980’s missile crisis have anything to do with what inspired you?
Albert Pyun: Well, no, but growing up in the Col War years certainly did. I always was a fan  of Dr. Strangelove and i think that and “O Lucky Man” got me going on the idea of the last nuke left.

How long did it take for the guys to get the “Post Nuke Shuffle” down?
Albert Pyun: Did they ever?? To be fair, we had to shoot it really fast as the sun was coming up and we were losing extras. So we had to shoot it fast and that was unfair to John and Michael because they did work hard on that dance. We shot most of the big music scenes and extras scenes in one night so that really made it a very rushed shoot night. I don’t know if John was as comfortable with the dance as Michael. I think it went against this sort of “cool” vibe John had. He was very dedicated to what we were doing but some of it i could tell unsettled him.

The dance looked pretty amazing. I’m surprised it isn’t a staple to dance to at weddings and birthdays. Any memories of when you filmed the big final scene?
Albert Pyun: Just how fast we had to do it. I was disappointed we could do it with more takes and shots. It was pretty basic and FAST. And they had a costume change in the middle of it. I had actually shot several book end scenes which were set 40 years later and had a young mutant reporter interviewing Rusty about Philip and Marlowe. It talked about what eventually happened to them and how Marlowe was murdered by a gang trying to get the launch keys and how Phillip left rusty to destroy the keys once and for all but never returned. I think there was a small shot at the end showing Philip and Rusty’s son and a quick peek of Philip watching from afar to keep them safe.

The soundtrack to this film still remains very popular. Did you personalty pick any of the artist that made it into the movie?
Albert Pyun: Yeah, I selected the songs used. My friend and co-producer John Stuckmeyer was into that LA music scene and got a lot of bands to submit cassette tapes of demos. He weeded out the most appropriate ones and he and I selected the final choices to be used. I think we had a couple written for the movie specifically when we couldn’t find exactly what we wanted.

How did you end up meeting John Stockwell and Michael Dudikoff?
Albert Pyun: They came in  during the casting process. We saw a lot of great actors of that time, Judge Reinhold, Clancy Brown, Tim Van Patten, Harry Anderson, many really good actors. We even had a breakfast meeting with Tom Hanks, a tape submission from Ellen DeGeneres. All were young and at the start of their careers as was I.

Cinefantastique v15n01 (Jan 1985)2

As a special effects makeup artist, I found the mutants completely terrifying! Any memories of the makeup process on the actors?
Albert Pyun: That was by Greg Cannom who would go on to win oscars for Dracula and more. He figured out the design and look. I was disappointed that I had to lose the surfing sequence in the film. We wanted to dye the ocean flourescent orange and have surfing mutants surf and rot I think but the Coastal Commission said no.

Do you think a film like that could be made today?
Albert Pyun: No, Radioactive Dreams wouldn’t get made today. It’s way too eccentric and weird. Even in 1984 it was tough to get made. I raised the budget myself from a single investor. He was a real estate developer in San Bernadino California. I think he did it because he finally gave in to my dogged persistence for over a year. He said “no” many times, but I kept hearing “yes”. I’m an optimist I guess. I believed in the film and knew it would be a unique picture to follow up The Sword and the Sorcerer. Anyway halfway through production the funding disappeared.

A couple of Edge City's best and brightest with costume designer Joseph Porro
A couple of Edge City’s best and brightest with costume designer Joseph Porro

Special prosthetic make-ups were created by Greg Cannom. His bizarre designs range from the mysterious repulse men to a wrinkled surf bunny (a girl whose excessive bathing in the post nuclear sun has given her the appearance of a 90 year-old woman) and his favorite, the mutant surfers: those who refused to give up their treasured pastime, even though the ocean has become radioactive.

The surfers’ skin, hanging loosely from their bones, is riddled with chemotherapy patches and permanently-affixed barnacles. their long. scorched, platinum blonde hair is missing entire sections. Josephine Turner, who did the intricate hair ventilating for THE HOWLING and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN, will create the wigs. Straight and extra make-ups will be provided by Ve Neil and Rick Schwartı.

Mutant Surfer
Mutant Surfer

Special fire and mechanical effects will be handled by Joe Lombardi’s Special Effects Unlimited. The film’s extensive stunt work, under the direction of Alan Gibbs offers several cliff-hanging sequences: a chase on winding mountain roads involving female bikers, a high-speed helicopter pursuit, various gun battles and a warehouse explosion. Additionally, there will be a surfing sequence in a ‘radioactive’ ocean-a portion of the real ocean near the shoreline will be chemically dyed expressly for filming.

Cast and crew spent most of their final week of production in Los Angeles, working with a 14-foot high mechanical rat created by Charles and Steven Chiodo, with 22 separate functions and 12 operators-giving it head, arm, and body movement capabilities-said to be the most advanced pneumatically controlled robot ever constructed for a motion picture. Star Lisa Blount does a scene while standing in the rat’s mouth. Her stunt double Andre Gibbs, wife of the film’s stunt coordinator Alan Gibbs, takes over for Blount’s death scene in which she is eaten alive by the rat.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Radioactive Dreams (1985) Soundtrack
Most of the songs featured in the film are pop rock in the new wave vein. The exceptions are Zim Bim Zowie, a swing number, and also a tune in the American Songbook style, Daddy’s Gonna Boogie Tonight, played on a phonograph during the scene when Philip and Marlowe prepare to leave the fallout shelter. The latter and another track called All Talk were left out of the Australian and German soundtrack releases.[7]

Nightmare – Jill Jaxx – 5:10
Radioactive Dreams – Sue Saad – 5:18
She’ll Burn You – Maureen Steele – 4:13
Young Thing – Cherri Delight – 4:09
Tickin’ Of The Clock – The Monte Carlos – 2:07
Psychedelic Man – Shari Saba – 2:41
Eat You Alive – Lisa Lee – 2:40
Guilty Pleasures – Sue Saad – 3:44 (Performed by Saad on-screen)
Turn Away – Mary Ellen Quinn – 2:13
She’s A Fire – Sue Saad – 2:07
When Lightning Strikes – Sue Saad – 6:51
Zim Bim Zowie – Darryl Phinessee – 2:20
Daddy’s Gonna Boogie Tonight B.J. Ward
All Talk Lynn Carey

Directed Albert Pyun
Produced Moctesuma Esparza
Written Albert Pyun

John Stockwell – Phillip Chandler
Michael Dudikoff – Marlowe Hammer
Michele Little – Rusty Mars
Lisa Blount – Miles Archer
Don Murray – Dash Hammer
George Kennedy – Spade Chandler
Norbert Weisser – Sternwood
Christian Andrews – Brick Bardo
Paul Keller Galan – Chester (as P.K. Galán)
Demian Slade – Harold
Hilary Shepard – Biker Leader (as Hilary Shapiro)
Sue Saad – Punk District Singer
Kimberly McKillip – Sadie – Hippie Chick
Gulcin Gilbert – Greaser Chick (as Gulshin Gilbert)
Mark Brown – Greaser
Russell Price – Greaser

Makeup Department
Greg Cannom    …  special makeup
Ve Neill  …  makeup designer
Brian Wade     …  additional makeup effects designer / additional makeup effects supervisor / special makeup effects artist
Kevin Yagher   …  prosthetic makeup assistant

Cinefantastique v15n01
La Cosa Cine Fantastico Issue #113, July, 2005

One thought on “Radioactive Dreams (1985) Retrospective

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s