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After a cataclysmic nuclear blast annihilates almost all life on earth, five American survivors find their way to a shelter built in the bottom of a canyon: Tony, a mobster; Ruby, his striptease dancer girl friend; Rick, a geologist who rescues a severely burned man named Radek; Pete, an elderly prospector, and his donkey Diablo. Jim Maddison, who built the shelter for himself and his daughter Louise, has provisions for only three people, and is reluctant to help the other survivors. However, after Tony tries to shoot his way in, Louise urges her father to welcome them all. When Jim protests Tony's decision to kill the dangerously irradiated Radek, Tony draws his gun and takes Louise hostage, but is disarmed by Rick. Jim then uses a Geiger-Müller counter to demonstrate that they are safe from radioactivity inside the shelter because of the lead-bearing hills surrounding them. Despite Tony's resentment, Jim insists on controlling their food supply. Jim and Rick become friends, and Jim later reveals to Rick that as a ship captain, he once observed the first hydrogen bomb tests. A ravenous Radek awakens craving only raw meat, and three weeks later, Jim, Rick and Louise wonder how he survives, as he wanders outside every night, and does not eat or drink at the shelter. Jim thinks that Radek is a mutation and should be destroyed, but Rick believes Radek's behavior can teach them about their own chances for survival. One evening while alone in the hills, Radek finds a rabbit he has trapped and kills it, but flees before eating it. Moments later, a scaly claw grabs the dead animal. Jim and Rick later discover the rabbit skeleton and suspect that Radek has eaten the irradiated meat. Rick hypothesizes that Radek has experienced genetic mutations due to radiation, which makes him immune to its dangers. One day while bathing in a pond with Ruby, Louise hears a strange noise and insists on returning to the house. Tony has lost interest in Ruby and now lusts after Louise. When Tony forces Louise to kiss him, Ruby interrupts his attempted seduction. By claiming that he is not interested in Louise, Tony regains Ruby's trust, and she and Tony then plot to kill the others. After Rick sees Radek climb over a ridge into poisonous vapors, Jim shows Rick sketches of animals that had been near the H-bomb detonation he witnessed. As depicted in the drawings, a chipmunk, a dog and a monkey mutated into creatures with horns, claws and armor-like skin, but died within three days. Fearing the radiation will soon affect them all, Jim decides that the women should bear children as soon as possible. The next day, Jim suggests that Louise marry Rick and have children immediately. Louise consents because she loves Rick, although she is not optimistic about their chances of survival. However, Tony is still interested in her, and becomes disgusted by Ruby's jealousy. One day, Jim and Rick are investigating the ridge when a man with radiation poisoning stumbles over. He reveals that there are many others like him, but that they have refused him food. After he dies, Jim and Rick observe that his mutations appear to be similar to the drawings. When Rick discovers strange footprints around the perimeter of the house, he and Jim decide to stand guard. That night, Ruby entertains everyone with a description of her former striptease act, but breaks down sobbing. Later in the evening, Jim and Rick leave the house after discovering that Diablo is missing. During their search, they find that the dead man has been eaten, and then discover Radek, who was killed by a mutant creature, near the dead burro. The next day, Pete is so distraught by Diablo's death that he climbs the ridge in search of gold, his last dream. Jim tries to stop him, but Pete knocks him unconscious, exposing him to the same deadly vapor that kills Pete. Jim awakens and staggers home, now sick with radiation poisoning. Later on, Tony abducts Louise and threatens to rape her at knifepoint, but Ruby intervenes and allows Louise to escape. As Tony and Ruby argue, Tony stabs Ruby and throws her body over a cliff, and later claims that Ruby refused to return to the house with him. Rick warns Tony to stay away from Louise, but Tony scoffs at him. While bathing the next day, Louise is again contacted by a mysterious presence, and later that night she wanders out of the house. After being drawn to a mutant humanoid, Louise faints, and the creature carries her away. Jim, who is sick with radiation poisoning, awakens and senses that Louise is gone, but Tony refuses to help Rick search for her. Before Rick leaves the house, he secretly gives Jim an extra gun to hide under his pillow. Once Rick is gone, Tony grabs one of Jim's guns and announces he is taking over control of the shelter. While they wait for Rick and Louise's return, Jim tries to find signs of life on the radio, and momentarily hears a French voice. Meanwhile, the creature places Louise in the pond, but stays out of the water. Rick fires at the humanoid, which is unharmed by the bullets and attacks Rick. After Louise calls out that the creature is afraid of water, Rick rolls into the pond to safety, and the creature runs for cover when a rainstorm begins. Rick follows the creature, which finally collapses and dies because of the rain. After its death, Louise no longer hears the strange sound, and realizes that the creature had been trying to communicate with her. Rick fires three shots into the air to let Jim know they are alive, and they head home, unaware that Tony intends to kill Rick and take Louise for himself. Tony stands beside a window waiting to shoot Rick, but is killed instead by Jim moments before Rick and Louise arrive. Jim then explains that he has tested the rainwater and found it is safe for humans, but poisonous to the mutants, all of whom will soon perish. Jim dies after telling Rick and Louise about the voice on the radio. Some time later, Rick and Louise hike out of the canyon in search of other survivors.