“That was our first encounter with disco mutants. I was sure it wouldn't be our last.”
Despite Hollywood’s absolutely atrocious record with turning video games into films, there are so many that seem ripe for adaption. Fallout in particular is one that always seemed to stick out as a contender. There are far too few post-apocalyptic tales as is, and the Fallout universe is so vast and iconic that it seems like it could make for an incredible cinematic experience.
Well, it turns out that someone has already made a Fallout movie, and it's called Radioactive Dreams.
Directed by B-movie maven Albert Pyun (The Sword and the Sorcerer, Cyborg, Alien From LA) and released in 1985, Radioactive Dreams features so many similarities to the Fallout series that it's almost impossible to believe that Tim Caine, Brian Fargo and the rest of the Interplay crew hadn't seen it before developing 1997's Fallout.
Watching it during Exhumed Films' wonderful Guilty Pleasures Marathon at the Yonkers Drafthouse earlier this year (and losing my mind over it), the connection between the two seemed obvious. It’s a story about two boys who were trapped underground during a nuclear war, emerging decades later to find a desert wasteland populated by raiders, mutants and a civilization trying to piece itself together.
Let’s go over the similarities.
The Vault is a mainstay of any Fallout game - hell, the first game was originally going to be called Vault 13 - but Valt-Tec’s Vaults serve multiple purposes. Built into caves or the sides of mountains, these bunkers are where people survived the nuclear war relatively unscathed, dependent on the vault and the experiments being conducted on that particular one. But they’re also where weird underground societies evolved, innocent people without any knowledge of what kind of hell was evolving on the surface. When they did emerge in their strange blue jumpsuits they were called Vault-Dwellers and almost universally derided.
Radioactive Dreams begins with two little boys getting whisked away by their fathers to an underground shelter right as the bombs go off. They stay there avoiding the nuclear war for 15 years with a nice supply of water and food until their fathers abandon them to the surface. After never hearing back from them they assume they’ve perished, so the now-19-year-olds dig to the surface and make their own way into nightmarish version of 2010. They are not prepared.
The film opens in black and white with a 4:3 aspect ratio, until the kids open the door to their vault and color seeps into the film as the frame widens, much like a post-apocalyptic Wizard of Oz. As they drive through the desert wasteland everything is a rusted brown and orange color, one very flat and similar to the last couple of Fallout games. (Fallout 4 thankfully features a much-improved color palate but everyone knows the post-apocalypse will not be pretty.)
In Radioactive Dreams the very first person they meet on the outside is wearing a Pip-Boy, of sorts. What better way to listen to old music than with some giant slab of metal and wires on your wrist, after all? It’s just strange that it doesn’t work as a communicator - she has the boys stop at a still-working pay phone (?) to place a call. But everyone knows that it's the vault dwellers that come equipped with Pip-Boys, anyway.
An Amazing, Ironic Soundtrack
Our heroes Philip and Marlowe read Raymond Chandler novels (ahem) and listen to swing music to keep busy, which makes them grow up wanting to become “dancing dicks.” Thankfully they also have the period-appropriate 1940s suits to go with it. But after listening to all those old records in their shelter they aren’t prepared for the New Wave that’s sunken into the land deeper than the radiation from the bombs. It may not be "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" by the Ink Spots, but you have Lisa Lee's "Eat You Alive" during a scene with cannibals and Jill Jaxx's "Nightmare" kicking things off.
Radioactive Dreams also features what’s perhaps the best music video in cinematic history, and it comes out of absolutely nowhere fifty minutes in. Just imagine a normal film unfolding before Sue Saad suddenly jumps into frame and starts belting out "Guilty Pleasures." It’s wonderful.
Mutants & Cannibals
What’s a wasteland without rad-crazed individuals roaming it, looking for victims? Pretty much everyone Philip and Marlowe run across wants to kill them, eat them, steal from them or all three, and their innocence from living a literally sheltered life soon gets shattered. Guns and axes get brandished pretty much right away and they are thrust into violence before they’re ready for it. Too bad there’s no Bloody Mess Perk.
The Tunnel Snakes
Everyone knows the Tunnel Snakes from Vault 101. That's them, and they rule. When our Radioactive Dreams heroes get to their first settlement they run afoul of some real greaser rockabilly types blasting rock’n’roll, particularly a mean guy who dresses in leather and has plenty of hair gel. You half-expect him to be a part of this gang.
Giant Mutated Rats
It’s quite a bit bigger than the mole rats we see everywhere in the Fallout wastelands, but everyone knows the effect radiation has on the local wildlife. It's too bad that this guy's appearance is so brief, because it's certainly a showstopper.
The end of Radioactive Dreams, which sees our heroes fighting with all of the above and more, is punctuated by a slow-motion gunfight. No limbs are targeted but multiple enemies get blasted out of windows, so clearly some turn-based aiming was happening.
About the only thing from Radioactive Dreams that isn't in Fallout is a big dance number for an ending scene, but hey, there's always room for DLC, right Bethesda?
An film that's equal parts absurd and entertaining and features about six genres crammed into it, perhaps the worst thing about Radioactive Dreams is that it’s almost completely unavailable on home video. Released on VHS by Vestron Video, the film has still never seen the light of day on DVD or Blu-ray, which is criminal. Until some wonderful company re-releases it with the love it deserves (hey, it’s the 30th anniversary!), you can find a VHS at the below link. If you can pull yourself out of Fallout 4 you owe it to yourself to hunt down Radioactive Dreams any way you can.