Prepper Lessons From The Movies: “Where Have All The People Gone?” 1974

Todd’s Note: Not too long ago, a reader turned me on to an old movie, Panic in the Year Zero.  I was surprised at the lessons that it provided in the form of entertainment.  Today, Mic Roland provides commentary and lessons that can be learned from another older film.

Sometimes, old movies contain some helpful reminders for preppers, even if unintentionally. I was reminded of this while watching a fairly obscure made-for-TV movie from 1974. “Where have all the people gone?” starred Peter Graves. The story was surprisingly salient to present-day prepper discussions, even though it was made forty years ago.

The Movie Plot:

The story follows the trials and adventures of Steven Anders (Graves) and his two teenage children, David and Deborah. They are on vacation, camping in the California hills looking for fossils. Mrs. Anders returns home to L.A. for business. Later, a massive solar flare hits while dad and teens are in a cave. Their friend and guide gets sick and dies, so they suspect it was an atom bomb and radiation sickness. They make their way towards L.A. to find mom. En route, they discover all the people are gone. Their bodies have turned to white powder. Cars litter the roads. No electricity, no phones. No people. All of the cars are dead with fried generators. They find enough serviceable batteries to get one vehicle running. They also find a shell-shocked woman alive and take her with them. They stop to help a stranded motorist, but he steals their car at gunpoint. On foot, they come to a farmhouse with Mr. and Mrs. Farmer’s dead bodies near the barn, killed by car thieves. They adopt orphan Michael and press on, now armed with Mr. Farmer’s shotguns. They encounter another survivor/scrounger at a supermarket and talk of city folks learning farming. Crazed dogs surround Michael, but the others save him. They get one of the parking lot cars to run, so drive to L.A. There, they find that mom turned to powder too. She left notes that the massive solar flare must have mutated a deadly virus. Only those with the right genes survived. Dad grieves, which prompts the shell-shocked lady to try and commit suicide. She is saved, however, and everyone vows to endure. They all don colorful back pack bug-out bags and set off to hike up to northern California where they will start farming to grow their own food. The End.

Such a prepper movie! It had a massive coronal ejection causing an EMP and total grid collapse. It had a killer virus. It had average people turning into killers. It even had bug-out bags. How many movies actually have bug-out bags?

The Lessons From the Movie:

1. Be Cautious:

Don’t assume that a helpless victim is necessarily either. They could be a potential threat in disguise. If you have something people will want (in this case, a functioning vehicle) others will want to take it from you. Anders stopped to help what he thought was a stranded motorist. The man had a hidden gun and so stole the Anders’ car so he (the gunman) could press on to Phoenix where he had family. Lesson: The crisis made an otherwise average citizen into a criminal.

2. Don’t Go Anywhere Without Your Gun:

The scrounger went into the store to get supplies, but left his rifle in his car. Anders surprised him, coming between him and his car (and gun). The scrounger was helpless. Good thing Anders was a “good guy.” Anders later laid down his own shotgun in their car to go into the store to gather food. That’s when the wild dogs attacked, surrounding Michael. Lesson: If things are bad enough to need a gun, they’re bad enough to merit keeping the gun with you.

3. Don’t Assume Buildings Are Empty:

At the farm, Michael holds the family at gunpoint. They just sauntered into the yard without checking the area in any way — and this is after they had their car stolen, so they should have been on a higher alert. Granted, it was only Micheal and David Anders was able to sneak around and disarm him, but what if it had been one of the looters that killed the Farmers, or a pack of looters? Lesson: Situational Awareness. Don’t assume an area is clear. Check. Especially if there are dead people laying there.

4. Groups Help:

Several times, the members of the Anders group help each other out of a jam. Having others along helped save the day when there was the gunman (who turned out to be Michael) at the farm, when Michael was surrounded by crazed dogs, and when Jenny triee to drown herself. Lesson: Having team mates boosts survivability.

5. Factory Food Will Run Out:

The scrounger at the store comments that he knows that stash of factory food won’t last, so he has taken up residence in an abandoned ranch. He plans to grow or raise his own food. Lesson: Recognize the finite nature of factory-supplied goods

6. Don’t Have Just One Goal:

The Anders’ put all their hopes in a basket labeled, “When we find mom, everything will be okay.” When that goal failed (mom died), the group nearly fell apart for lack of having anything else to live for. Lesson: Don’t get target fixation (like getting to the BOL).Alternatives make for resilient plans.

7. Keep It To Yourself:

A leader can’t indulge in personal pity-parties or openly express self-doubt. If people are looking to you for guidance (and thereby, hope), you can’t afford to get all gloomy and despondent. You don’t have that luxury. Lesson: Keep doubts and gloom to yourself. In a crisis, people need leaders, not Eeoyor.

8. Learn Beforehand:

The scrounger said he was a cost accountant who never left the city. He naively thought he was going to take up ranching and survive. Really? The Anders group figure they’ll hike from L.A. to northern California (a huge project in itself), but also imagine they’ll take up farming and grow their own food. It’s just that easy?  No. It isn’t.  A this-must-not-fail circumstance is a poor time to start learning something. Better to get some experience, or at least a clue, of what to do beforehand, when there’s time to fail and recover.

Bonus Lesson: People in 1974 did not think their cars would survive a massive solar flare EMP just because they were pre-1978 models that didn’t have computers. What if they were right?

All this just goes to show you, one can glean lessons from all over — even old sci-fi movies.


You can watch “Where Have All The People Gone?” on YouTube here. It’s 85 minutes long.


You can read my movie blog review of it here. (Link)

Mic Roland is a closet prepper in a semi-rural area of the “Free State,” with a soft spot for old movies.





This article first appeared on Ed That Matters.

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Todd Sepulveda

I'm the owner/editor of Prepper Website, a DAILY preparedness aggregator that links to the best preparedness articles on the internet. I'm also a public school administrator and a pastor. My personal blog is Ed That Matters, where I write about preparedness and from time to time, education. Connect with me on one of my social media outlets below.

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