In the 70’s, filmmakers were desperate to make a disaster movie about anything and it didn’t matter if it needed a budget. In fact sometimes the trashier it was, the better. In 1974 we had one about a Heatwave where civilization seems to fall apart over the course of about four days. No need for special effects, instead we just have people getting a bit sweaty and fainting dramatically. It is camp, silly and very of its time without being too offensive to the viewer.
The disasters faced
The sun, the heat, a dodgy beer salesman, a racoon, a fish tank, peoples inner compass being off, a lack of fuel and water and some of the most garish glasses placed on screen to de-hunk a man I’ve ever seen.
Laura is heavily pregnant and is keeping her frankly miserable husband Frank vaguely alive with a sense of purpose as he is a grumpy moose. A heatwave as taken hold for the last two weeks and temperatures are hitting 120 degrees daily. With water shortages and a lack of fuel and electricity because of supply chain issues and over demand, the veneer of society is starting to fall away.
Frank gets sweaty at work as a stockbroker where his boss is told to shut off the air con and thus ruins his potential promotion chat. Laura goes shopping and runs into housewives panic buying tinned food. It all feels very March 2020 toilet roll grabby but slightly camper. Eventually she goes to the launderette and faints and has to be taken home. In a bid to escape the heat, they decide to drive to their parents remote forest villa since their parents live in the UK.
After losing their car to a man an man whose wife collapsed in the least convincing punch and roll I’ve seen for a while, Laura and Frank have to walk a trail to reach the small town where the villa is. There they find Dr Grayson who looks after Laura and gives them a bit of help to settle in. Upon entering their villa they find Sue and Terry (IMDB has this name incorrectly referred to as Jerry) – two teen hikers who have been in hiding from a forest fire which has caused the town to be abandoned. They’ve been hiding in the villa after fleeing the fire and keeping the villa safe.
All seems well but Laura then goes into labour two months early! Her newborn son is born premature thanks to Dr Grayson and Sue’s help but he needs an incubator to stay alive but there is no fuel, water or power to build a makeshift one and run it. After spending the entire movie moaning like a spoilt teenager, this is now the time for Frank to finally step up as a husband and a new father. He’ll have to work with Terry and Sue to build an incubator device. He will also have to deal with the fact that the only sources of fuel and oxygen left locally belong to Mr Toler, who turns out to be the man who stole his car for his collapsed wife, and Mr Brady, a beer and fuel wheeler-dealer who won’t do anything for a large price. A price that Frank cannot afford.
Will the baby live? Will the incubator be built in time? Will the air con ever come back on?! The suspense will leave you sweaty too! Perhaps.
Why is it worth watching?
Heatwave! is an obscure, low budget entry into the disaster movie pantheon and so I came in intrigued from that viewpoint. Most of Heatwave! is a soap opera of being mugged, fainting, running out of drinking water and being overly dramatic. However, the interesting bits are left to the side of the movie. All the power goes out but no one seems to bother much and everyone bar our lead duo just carries on. Water is rationed but aside from constantly saying I’m thirsty – not a lot comes of that either. The early city section of the movie shows some panic buying, food spoiling and herd mentality that the public would do and whilst that was interesting, it was over too quickly too.
Due to the complete lack of budget, a lot of things happen off screen. There are mentions of forest fires and constant references to ‘brown outs’ which still makes me giggle on repeated watches. All I can see is a giant pair of skidded pants coming from the sky to claim us all! Instead we get shots of the sun and sun glare on the camera with dramatic music which doesn’t really come across well on film. It does come across as overwrought and comedic though. Similarly, you also also get these dramatic orchestra cues when someone hears that milk has gone off too which just increases its soap opera feel. Heatwave! also runs at a very trim 71 minutes yet feels like it is padding the run time too – its a strange feeling of brevity and lack of depth.
The last reason to recommend watching it aside from seeing what Holly McLaine from Die Hard was doing 10 years previously, is that Frank is a pretty terrible hero and lead character. He speaks to his work mate about how much of a bummer it is to have a wife and baby on the way when he wants a new car. He hates responsibility but wants a promotion. He gets punched by an old man. He argues with café staff as they are only serving one glass of water per meal per customer in a drought. He then belittles everyone’s efforts to help his newborn baby survive. Frank is awful.
None are really on screen but if you can take fainting as a stunt, then there are a few of those!
Whilst I’ve already ripped into how awful Frank is, thankfully most of the rest of the cast are much more helpful and likeable. Laura, who has a face that says ‘I’ve put up with your shit Frank for years’ quite often has a lot of mojo and gumption, even if she overestimates herself at times. Sue and Terry are the anti-teens and far more responsible than the adults. Dr Grayson is the loveable town doc. I really liked the Laundrette Lady too in her few scenes. The weirdest character is Brady though – following the American dream to profit in a crisis – he is a slime ball and creepily nice at the same time. Don’t trust salesmen with anything!
Helpless. Perfect! A big strong man comes to rescue you – you should faint everyday!Launderette Lady doing it for feminism…
Three memorable moments
- The punch Toler gives Frank is glorious as Frank rolls across the road and into a bush.
- The background extra lady fainting at the beginning and then throwing her arms everywhere in the stretcher as the paramedics take her away.
- My favourite scene when a radio station plays jingle bells to cool everyone down.
The obligatory weird moment
As a blond-haired Englishman – during the entire film which is meant to be at 117 degrees Celsius – not once did any character use sun cream! I’d have been bright red and burnt to a crisp in the first hour! No one gets sunstroke despite being stuck in the sun for days. No one gets burnt. Thank god none of the cast is ginger!
Aside from that and Arnold Brady’s initial scene where it feels like he is about to kick off a snuff movie starring Frank and Laura as he tries to sell them beer, there is also the moment where a racoon vaguely gets close to Laura. This is high drama and she screams for Frank. Exhaustion clearly has scary effects on you.
The drinking game
Frank and Laura go from argument to loved up over the course of the same scene over and over again. If you don’t drink for mentions of ‘brown outs’, drink for their relationship dammit!
Really more a drama than a disaster movie, it might make you reach for a drink but not because of its hot on-screen antics, more because it’s better fun to enjoy this camp and non-sensical film with alcohol. A hidden cult classic awaits you! The ranking below is easy to decode too. If you love hammy drama, its a top score. If you want cringe action, its a low score.
Rating: ? / 5 – So Bad Its Good (1 or 5 its personal taste)
If you enjoyed Heatwave!, then you may like…
- Hanging By A Thread – Same level of camp soap opera drama, little action.
- Supernova – If you are looking for heat related disasters, none are good but this ones OK.
- Fire! Trapped on the 37th Floor – Has a similar vibe and lack of complete budget.
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