Thursday, October 29, 2020

Apocalypse Month takes off: The Rapture

The Rapture

The previous biblical apocalypses we watched earlier this month -- at best -- set things in motion for the end of the world. Finally, with The Rapture, there's no more hemming or hawing. Everything comes crashing down, the world ends.

The film was written and directed by Michael Tolkin. Tolkin is the grandson of Romania and Ukrainian Jewish refugees, but his parents were in show business. His mother, Edith, was a show business lawyer and studio executive and his father, Mel, was a writer on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows along with Mel Brooks and Neil Simon. Michael Tolkin wrote one of the great books about the movie business, The Player (which was made into a film.) 

This film is far from the world of show business.

Sharon (Mimi Rogers), is a telephone operator who, with her boyfriend, Vic (Patrick Bauchau), cruises bars throughout Los Angeles looking for couples to have sex with for the night. (These early scenes are rather explicit.)

Sharon is not satisfied. She begins to spend time with Randy (David Duchovny), one of the men she and Vic met on their outings. She talks to Randy about her feeling; he suggests she is depressed and should see a therapist. She doesn’t follow his advice.

In the break room at her work, she hears people discussing “the Boy” and “the Pearl” but also prayer. Then two men come to her door, dressed in white shirts and ties like Mormon missionaries but also in dress jackets. They tell Sharon these are the last days and she should accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior. One of the men asks, “Do you know the difference between righteousness and faith?”

Sharon asks, “What if I lead a good life? Will I be saved?” 

One of the men responds, “Do you really live a good life?” 

She has no answer, but asks, “Who’s the boy?” The men are taken aback but don’t respond. When one of them recites John 3:16, she asks, “Am I supposed to buy this?” 

“No, it’s a gift,” one of the men answers, giving her a Gideon New Testament as they leave.

Sharon begins to read the Bible and pray. She goes off on the road, steals a gun from a hitchhiker and contemplates using the gun on herself, but she has a vision of “the Pearl.” She believes she’s been saved.

She goes to see Vic who notices something different, “You’ve changed. That goofy smile. You met a guy.” 

Sharon answers, “Well, ‘guy’ is not exactly the word I would use for him. He knows everything. You should meet him. You could love him too.” 

“You fell for some homosexual,” Vic laughs. 

“He’s Jesus Christ, the Son of God. You can’t understand, and I understand. There is no cult, only God and His message of Love.” 

And that’s pretty much the last we see of Vic.

At work, Sharon begins to talk to people on her calls about Jesus. She gets called in by her boss about this. He notes that her average call time had gone up from fifteen seconds to two and a half minutes, but he doesn’t fire her, saying, “Trust in God and take it easy on the phones.” 

Sharon asks her boss about “the Boy," and the boss knows. The Boy is his son.

The Boy, six or seven years old, comes to visit a meeting of believers in the breakroom at Sharon’s work. He assures them all that Christ is coming, but they will need to “wait five, six years.” The meeting ends with all embracing each other.

Sharon goes back to Randy and tells him that she knows he is as lost as she was --  and he can know God. Randy says he isn’t sure he can pray, and Sharon says she’ll pray for the both of them.

We see Sharon and Randy again six years later, standing in a church with their daughter. The Boy (a different actor because it is six years later) is preaching to the congregation that “the Rapture is coming soon, later this year.”

Then tragedy strikes. Randy is meeting with an employee, telling him they've done everything they could for him. They set him up with a counselor (“He was a homo,” the man says) and directed him to AA (“A group of losers”), but he had refused all their help. 

“So just say it, I’m fired,” he says. The man comes back to the office with a rifle and shoots one employee after another. Randy approaches the man, who says, “I don’t have to listen to any more of your sermons,” before shooting Randy dead.

Mary, Sharon and Randy's young daughter, asks her mother about her father. When Sharon says he’s in heaven, Mary asks, “Where is heaven?” 

Sharon asks her, “Mary, do you love Baby Jesus? Then you’ll see Him soon.”

At church, Sharon tells about a vision she had to meet God in the desert and asks others to go with her. The Boy is the one who answers, “You are the only one who hears these calls. It could be Satan. And since no one else received the vision, we can’t go with you. Don’t ask God to meet you halfway.” 

It's hard to think of less helpful counsel. He notes it could be a demonic plan, but since it could be from God she needs to pursue it.

So Sharon takes her daughter to camp in the desert, and they wait with no means of support. They are exposed to the elements and begin to starve. (Sharon resorts to dining and dashing when she orders from a drive-thru and drives off without paying.)

She comes to believe that God has deserted her. She asks Mary to assure her she loves Jesus. When Mary does, and Sharon is sure Mary will go to heaven, she shoots Mary in the head. Sharon considers killing herself, but won’t. When a local sheriff arrests her, she explains that Mary could go to heaven if she was killed, but Sharon couldn’t kill herself because she had been taught suicides don’t go to heaven. (We’ve come across the idea that suicides don’t go to heaven in a number of films, such as Silver Bullet and God’s Club, but it doesn’t come from Scripture.)

Now that Sharon's lost her faith in God, we get the real twist. The trumpets blow and Christ does come again.

Mary is brought back to Sharon to tell her mother that she can still go to heaven if she’ll just love God. Sharon responds that she can’t love a God that would allow her husband to die and would allow her to shoot her own daughter. 

Sharon asks, “Why can’t I ask God why He allows suffering?” (Actually, throughout the Bible and in history, God has allowed that question to be asked. He even answers the question to a degree in places like the book of Job.) Sharon will not love God, so Randy, Mary, and even the sheriff go to Heaven, but Sharon is left to an eternity without God.

It does seem that the church that allowed the Boy to lead it is partly responsible. In various New Testament epistles, guidelines of leadership are given. For example, in I Timothy 3:6 Paul says he doesn’t allow a new believer to be an elder because he may become conceited. A level of maturity is expected for leadership that the Boy obviously lacked and that didn’t serve Sharon well. On the other hand, Randy seemed to have been taught well, somewhere, because he became a caring and compassionate believer. Maybe the church helped with that, which keeps the church in The Rapture from getting our lowest Steeple rating, ranking in at Two. 

But the end of the world brings the highest Apocalypse rating of the month, Four Tombstones.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Apocalypse Month Double Feature: Way of the Wicked and The Calling

Way of the Wicked
and The Calling (2000)
The apocalypse film genre has a sub-genre: the Biblical apocalypse. Within that, there's the sub-genre of the birth (and sometimes childhood) of the antichrist. The first and clearly the best of these films is 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby, but since there aren't really any Christian clergy or churches in the film, it's not a good fit for this month's theme. The next best of this subset of apocalypse films is The Omen -- which you (of course) read about earlier this month. And several other films are out stinking up streaming services --  and we’re going to look at two of these bombs today.

2014’s Way of the Wicked is part of another special sub-genre, Christian Slater direct-to-DVD/streaming services films. Remember The Confessor aka The Good Shepherd and Sacrifice? (We’ve also reviewed a good Christian Slater film, but those are increasingly rare.)

Biblical apocalypse movies are usually horror films, which Way of the Wicked is, but it’s a hybrid with teen drama of the CW soap opera variety. The film opens with Father Henry (priest Christian Slater) driving to a house in the woods and knocking on the front door. A woman answers, “What brings you this time?”

The priest responds, “I’d love to speak with your son. Some people find what I have to say helpful.”

A boy’s voice from inside calls out that he wants to see him. Father Henry goes in to find a boy, ten or eleven years old, on a couch. We don’t see the priest request it, but the mother, bizarrely, seems to have given the priest a glass of wine. The priest asks the boy, “Robbie, can you tell me what happened? Did you feel the boy deserved to die? Did you wish him to die?” 

The mother, Mrs. Miller, is upset by these questions and kicks the priest out of the house.

At this point, the film moved on to the opening credits. The opening credits show scenes to come in the film, sort of like when they say “on tonight’s episode” in a 1970’s TV show, then a title card reads“Five Years Later.”

Father Henry is out of the picture for a while. What we get for instead is a whole lot of teen high school drama. Heather Elliot (Emily Tennant) is a pretty girl torn between her cool popular friends and her feelings for the outsider, Robbie. (Yup, the same Robbie that Father Henry harassed at the beginning of the film.) Whether Heather’s feelings for Robbie are affection, lust, or pity isn’t really clear.

It seems one of the things that make Robbie an outsider are events that happened five years before, prior to the start of the film as some boys were picking on Robbie, one of the boys suddenly flew through the air and slammed against a tree. Supernatural forces seemed to be at work -- and the boy died.

So, much of the film is about a love triangle between Heather and Robbie and Heather’s longtime boyfriend, Greg (who is more than a bit of a bully). Between classes, Greg sees Heather talking to Robbie, so he throws Robbie against a locker. Then, without anyone touching him, Greg goes flying through the air, slamming into one locker and then another.

An ambulance comes to take Greg to the hospital. We see that Father Henry is watching from afar.

Heather continues to meet with Robbie, and they have deep theological discussions. Robbie says, “The Bible says we’re the center of the universe. If this is the center, this is a sick joke.” (In a science class in the film, there's some talk about whether the earth is in the center of the universe. There is some talk in the film about whether the earth is the center of the universe. They also discuss the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Later, with her father, Heather goes to a diner/coffee shop to a coffee shop called “Galileo's,” but if you hope for Martians in this film, your hopes will be dashed.)

In a rather ugly scene, Greg takes Heather to the woods and says to her, “Heather, you are looking so sexy! I’m crazy about you.” They share a joint. He says, “You are so hot right now!” He tries to kiss her, and she rebuffs him. He attempts to rape Heather, but she kicks him in the groin and takes his car back to town. This whole incident is watched from the trees, but it is unclear if Father Henry or Robbie -- or both  -- is the watcher. There's a whole lot of stalking going on.

Greg never makes it back to town. On the way back, he is run over and killed by a tractor. A tractor with no engine. Clearly, malignant, supernatural forces are at work.

Father Henry goes to Heather’s police detective father, John, and tries to convince him that Robbie is responsible for the death. The priest brings some medieval tome or another (not the Bible) and points to a text that reads, “A child with a wicked soul will be born.” The book predicts the birth year, THE SAME YEAR ROBBIE WAS BORN! (Along with 140 million other children, but…) Henry says, “That is the point. This, all that’s happening, involves history. All this going around us, it has all been foretold… This has everything to do with Robbie Mueller.”

John logically remarks, “It doesn’t have Robbie’s name printed here!”

The priest responds, “I know it doesn’t have his name, but I know it’s him. I’ve been following him for years. Did you know Robbie’s mother was raped? They never knew the real father. Then his step-father died of a heart attack.” 

Really, what more proof do you need that you’re dealing with the antichrist? 

“There are signs. If you look at one sign it doesn’t mean anything, but if you step back and look at the entire picture, it all makes sense. Robbie is a disturbed boy, a violent outcast destined to bring turmoil to the planet. If you don’t believe me, look at this… Pieces of the puzzle, the answers you are looking for are in here.” And the priest gives John the books that are full of ravings and little sketches of demons.

John buys Henry’s line and puts pressure on Robbie. Soon, he's in trouble with his superiors for persecuting the boy without evidence. And we learn that Henry was defrocked for pestering Robbie and his mother.

And it turns out...SPOILERS… Who am I kidding? I mean, really, how many of you are going to track down this film and watch it? It turns out Robbie wasn’t the antichrist. Heather was.  

The strategy through which Satan plans to take over the world using a teenage girl from a small town with the powers of the most minor of X-Men is never at all clear, but you do get to see Christian Slater choked to death by his own crucifix chain, so the film has that going for it.

If Way of the Wicked was a WB teen soap, 2000’s The Calling is a Lifetime "Woman in Peril" film.

Kristie (Laura Harris) thinks she’s marrying the man of her dreams, but Marc St. Clair, the rising television star, is actually a servant of Satan who allows Kristie to be raped and impregnated by an evil creature on their wedding night.

Most of the film is Kristie’s narration to Father Mullin (Peter Waddington) from her hospital bed.

Her son, Dylan, grows to be an awful kid, trying to kill other children, torturing a dog, and impaling a guinea pig. (Okay, our family tried to have guinea pigs, so I’d give him a pass on that one.) Of course, Marc, his purported father, isn’t much help in raising Dylan well (I don’t mean to be a prude, but I don’t think “orgy” is an appropriate theme for a child’s 6th birthday party.)

A fanatical cab driver convinces Kristie that her son is the antichrist. She decides the only way to save her son is to have him baptized, so she takes Dylan to Father Mullin to be baptized. (I guess I should add she takes Dylan without her husband’s knowledge, fights with her son, and knocks him unconscious.) Father Mullin is baffled and flutters about asking stupid questions. Kristie tries to baptize Dylan herself, causing the awakened child to scream and cry out. But Kristie’s husband arrives with the police, halting the ceremony.

The cab driver, Carmac, again finds Kristie and tells her she will have to kill her son by drowning him. Kristie takes the challenge and does just that.

Dylan had become a celebrity on his dad’s television station with the bar trick of saying things backward, so his Easter Sunday graveside service is televised. A supernatural storm arises during the service, and people hear knocking from inside the coffin. 

Dylan is alive, and what was his funeral turns out to be his resurrection and is covered by media around the world. (This does seem to fulfill the prophecy of Revelation 13:3 about the beast being miraculously healed, causing the world to follow him.) The forces of darkness in this film to have a much more thought-through and competent plan for world domination than we saw in our first film.

This causes Father Mullin to believe Kristie’s story, and he takes her out of the hospital. They drive off in a cab. For reasons I couldn’t quite figure out, the Father throws his clerical car out the cab window into the street.

So the priests in both films seem quite incompetent, dim, and ineffectual, but we’ll still give them a generous Two Steeples for meaning well. As for our Apocalypse Rating, Way of the Wicked gets just One Tombstone, while The Calling gets Three for bringing the world much closer to its end.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Apocalypse Month Creeps On: The Omen

The Omen

Adoption often comes across poorly in films. For instance, in Philomena (a film we must get to soon), the Catholic Church is shown to practice forced adoptions. Thrillers like The Glass House continues the long tradition -- going back to Cinderella if not before -- of young people being adopted by horrible parents. Documentaries like Three Identical Strangers show terrible things done by terrible adoption agencies, but these portrayals are pikers of awfulness compared to the adoption in The Omen.

Director Richard Donner’s 1976 apocalyptic horror film was the first Hollywood film that depicted the “Biblical” end of the world (low budget Christian films were there first), and it was a big hit. Perhaps this is because of the depiction of prophecies coming to life, or perhaps it's because of the gaudy, gory, gruesome deaths by decapitation, impaling, hanging, and more.

The film opens on June 6th at 6:00 am in Rome. (If you didn’t notice, that time and date works out to "666," the Number of the Beast in Revelation 13:18. This number will be repeated unceasingly.) We meet Ambassador Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) who has just learned that his only son has died at birth. Thorn is met by Father Spiletto (Martin Benson), who tells him that there just happens to be another baby who was born at the same time whose mother has died. Why not give that baby to Mrs. Thorn (Lee Remick) and spare her the pesky grieving over the death of her own child? What could possibly go wrong? 

The priest says, “If I may suggest, it even resembles. The mother would never know. It would be a blessing to her and the child. On this night, God has given you a child.”

Thorn agrees to the deception and tells his wife, Katherine, that their baby is a healthy little boy they will name Damien. In Thorn’s conversation with the priest (and a quiet nun holding the baby), there is no discussion about possible complications of such a deception. What if there are medical complications in the future and transplants or transfusions are needed? What if people notice there is not much similarity between Damien and his father and ugly rumors of infidelity emerge? What if Katherine realizes she can't trust her husband to be truthful? 

Fortunately, none of these scenarios occur. It just turns out that Damien is Satan’s spawn, the Antichrist.

Initially, life goes well for the Thorns, already a family of wealth and great political and social connections. Thorn is appointed ambassador to Great Britain (a position Thorn takes without consulting his wife). There is talk of Ambassador Thorn running for the presidency.

But on Damien’s fifth birthday, odd things occur. Damien’s nanny commits suicide, and just before hanging herself in view of the child’s birthday cries out, “It’s all for you, Damien!”

After this incident, Ambassador Thorn finds himself pursued by two men; a reporter by the name of Keith Jennings (David Warner) and a priest by the name of Father Brennen (Patrick Troughton).

Father Brennen is admitted to Thorn’s office, claiming to have information about a private matter of much importance. Upon entering the office, the priest says, “Mr. Thorn, we haven’t much time. You must accept Jesus Christ the Lord as your Savior. You must do it now.” (I must admit I was impressed by the man’s fearlessly direct form of evangelism.)

Thorn responds, “I’m sorry, Father, I thought you had personal business.”

The priest says, “You must take Communion and eat Christ’s flesh. You must have Christ in you if you’re going to defeat the Son of the Devil. He’s killed once. He’ll kill again. He’ll kill until everything that is yours is his. He’ll keep killing unless you fight him. Accept the Lord Jesus, drink His blood. I’ve locked the door, Mr. Thorn. I was at the hospital, the night your son was born. I witnessed the birth. I beg you.” 

The priest’s first statement was quite clear, but this follow-up should probably have been rethought and revised for clarity. Thorn is understandably confused and asks if this is an attempt at blackmail. 

The priest says he is there to obtain Thorn’s forgiveness. He was there the night of the stealth adoption and knows that Thorn’s son is not human. Before he can explain more, the security that Thorn has summoned arrives and escorts Father Brennen away. As the priest is hustled out the door he cries again, “Accept Christ each day! Drink His blood!” (I’m from the tradition that you need to accept Christ as Savior only once, but I must admire the priest’s persistence in staying on point.)

Jennings the reporter is waiting outside and takes pictures of the priest.

Soon Father Brennan shows up again. The Thorns are watching Damien play soccer (surely the devil’s own sport) when the priest approaches the ambassador and says, “Meet me tomorrow for ten minutes. Your wife’s life is at stake.” (Again, Jennings is about, photographing Father Brennan and the Thorns.)
The next day, Thorn meets the priest at Bishop’s Park. Brennen cryptically says, “When the Jews return to Zion when a comet tears the sky, when the Roman Empire rises, then you and I must die.” He implies that this bit of doggerel comes from Scripture -- specifically the Book of Revelation. But even the most exhaustive version of Strong’s Concordance will not help you find this passage in Scripture. It's just not there. He goes on to talk of the Antichrist who will raise armies that will fight until “man is no more.”

Thorn responds that he didn’t come to hear a sermon. He came because he was told his wife was in danger.

Father Brennen again claims that Damien is the Antichrist predicted in the Book of Revelation and goes on to say, “Your wife is pregnant. He will kill it as it slumbers in the womb. He will kill your wife. And when he has established his inheritance, he’ll kill you. He will use your power and position to establish Satan’s rule.” So this adoption was part of Satan's strategy all along.

Thorn is infuriated, and he tells the priest he never wants to see him again. The priest answers, “You’ll see me in hell, Mr. Thorn. There we will serve our sentence.” (The priest's theology doesn't seem to be very grace-based.)

As he leaves, a storm descends on the park. Father Brennen seems to believe he is being pursued. He runs to a church for safety but is impaled by a spire that tumbles from the building's roof.

Jennings tells Thorn about the priest's death. Thorn also learns that his wife is indeed pregnant, and he agrees to go with Jennings to investigate the dead priest's rantings. The two learn from the priest’s diary that the priest wanted to be forgiven for the role he played in Damien's adoption, and they also find that the priest himself had the birthmark "666." 

Jennings and Thorn try to research the adoption, but find that a fire destroyed all of the hospital records shortly after Damien’s birth. They track down Father Spilleto, the priest who suggested the adoption, in a monastery. The old priest went mad and apostate years ago but is still cared for by monks.

Jennings and Thorn agree to meet with Carl Bugenhagen (Leo McKern), the archeologist and Antichrist expert Father Brennen had suggested. Bugenhagen insists Thorn will have to kill Damien, giving him sacred daggers to accomplish the task. But first, just to be prudent, they'll check to see if the child has the Mark of the Beast. If so, the child must be killed in a church.

Thorn does find the mark on his child and does take Damien to a church to slay him. Alas, he is not successful, opening the way for sequels in the coming years.

So how do the clergy and the Church in The Omen rank on our Steeple Ratings? Sadly, though we think the work churches do in the real world with adoptions is often a wonderful thing, farming out psychopathic demonic offspring of the Lord of Darkness to unsuspecting parents is not a good thing. Father Spilleto and company get a One Steeple Rating. And giving the Antichrist such a good start in the world brings about an Apocalypse rating of Two Gravestones.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Apocalypse Month Continues: A Distant Thunder

A Distant Thunder
A symbol of execution has, of course, been a standard of church d├ęcor for centuries, but one of the churches in A Distant Thunder doesn't stop with crosses. It has not a fully functional guillotine. 

Oh no! I’ve spoiled a forty-year-old sequel! 

Please forgive me. The betrayals in this film are much crueler than film spoiling.

1978’s A Distant Thunder is a sequel to 1972’s A Thief in the Night. Thief was a Christian film designed to be an evangelistic scare tool to convert people. Central to the story is the Rapture (a belief that some -- but not all -- Christians hold that Jesus will take His people out of the world in the twinkling of an eye, leaving the rest of humanity to face a Great Tribulation before the world ends). A Distant Thunder is about the beginning of that Tribulation.

Donald Thompson, the writer and director from Thief returned for A Distant Thunder, along with the same central character, Patty Myers (Patty Dunning). This film opens with Patty sitting in a church pew, waiting with others facing execution. Her friends Wenda (Sally Johnson) and her sister, Sandy (Sandy Christen) along with a few men whose names I didn’t catch are with her. An official in the front of the sanctuary is telling those gathered they must take the I.D. mark, a tattoo on the forehead or hand, or they will be executed.

Wenda and the men are trying to convince Patty not only to continue to refuse the mark but also to receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior. Patty says she can’t trust God since He allowed all these horrible things to happen in the world. The others ask Patty to tell how she got to this place, and we get flashbacks to her story, beginning with the Rapture. She tells how she lost her husband and grandmother to the Rapture, but eventually teamed up with Wenda and Sandy to survive in a world full of famine and natural disasters.

Within this flashback, Patty has flashbacks to before the Rapture. She remembers baking gingerbread with her grandmother as her grandmother urged her to become a Christian while giving an overview of the end times.

Patty also recalls when an evangelist, Dr. Reed, came to her church and talked about what would happen during the Great Tribulation. The evangelist displayed a chart that shows the events predicted for the Tribulation in the book of Revelation. He warned all in attendance that they could, “Wake up one morning to find the Rapture had taken place.” He goes on to cite the judgments from Revelation: war and famine and death, represented by images of seals and bowls. As he speaks, the pastor of Patty’s church, the Rev. Matthew Turner (Russell Doughton, returning in the role he played in the first film) sits in the front row looking both bored and disgusted. Those who saw the first film know that Turner didn’t believe in the End Time events predicted in Scripture prior to the Rapture.

But after the Rapture, Turner taught very different things. We see a flashback of Patty, along with Wenda and Sandy, attending Turner’s church after the Rapture. The church is sparsely populated (it actually looks like the congregation is observing Covid-19 policies of social distancing.) Turner weeps from his pulpit, “I criticized the evangelist for using scare tactics….I preached my own philosophy because I wanted to keep my congregation comfortable, and I was secure. You should have challenged me because what I said conflicted with the Word of God. You should have found a church that taught the truth.”

In a later flashback of Patty’s we see the Reverend Turner preaching in an empty church. The doors have been boarded up by the authorities and signs have been posted forbidding entry. The pastor has gone mad with guilt.

Patty finishes her story and the film finishes its flashbacks and is back in the church, as people await execution. Names are called, and people are led out of the church blindfolded. Those in the church are promised a chance to escape execution, even to the last moment if they will take the I.D. mark (which the Christians call the Mark of the Beast, referring to Revelation 13: 15 – 18).

Patty wonders why people are blindfolded. Some people leave the church, scream in terror and return inside to receive the I.D. Eventually, Patty and Wenda are called by name, are blindfolded and led outside. Their blindfolds are removed to find… a guillotine. This is the terror that led some to take the mark.

Now, I may be alone in this, but if I was going to be executed, I would be relieved to find the guillotine was the method of execution. They’ve been sitting in a church where crosses were all around. Crucifixion was a nasty method of execution. Hours of agony, suffering hunger and thirst, and fighting to take a breath until asphyxiation brings death. If I could see that I was going to be killed by crucifixion, that would be one thing. Or being burned on a stake. Or even electrocution. Death by guillotine is instantaneous and therefore relatively humane, but I guess the filmmakers thought the guillotine was a cool image. A church with a guillotine would attract more attention than your average white steeple, I guess.

And speaking of Steeples, it is time to give the clergy and churches in A Distant Thunder our Movie Churches Steeple Rating. Dr. Reed, the evangelist and even the repentant Rev. Turner might get relatively high scores, but a church used as an execution grounds really brings down the average - 2 Steeples.

Though the world doesn’t end in this film, it makes it to Mid-Great Tribulation, which brings it to two gravestones on our Apocalypse Scale.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

We missed this back in June...

 Somehow when we did our tribute to films about Joan of Arc in June, we missed this one: 

(If you like this, check out other work by Bruce McCorkindale at Twitter at @brucemccorkinda )

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Apocalypse Month: End of Days

End of Days (1999)

Toward the end of the twentieth century, it was becoming difficult for filmmakers to come up with new opponents for Arnold Schwarzenegger. After all, he had already taken on ordinary outlaws, drug dealers, terrorists, the Mob, the Soviet Union, aliens, and even Batman. He needed to face a bigger foe. Why not go up against the Prince of Darkness himself, Satan?

Director Peter Hyams’ 1999 (the year matters) feature, The End of Days, casts Arnold as former police detective, Jericho Cane, who finds himself in the middle of a battle between the powers of Heaven and Hell. Cane is a troubled man, a suicidal alcoholic now working as a security guard whose life spiraled out of control when his wife and child were murdered. Cane blames God for the tragedy.

Cane and his partner, Bobby Chicago (Kevin Pollack), are protecting a banker whose life has been threatened. The banker was recently possessed by a demon and committed mass murder, so  -- understandably -- he is not well-loved. The surprising thing is who comes after the man: a priest by the name of Thomas Aquinas. (As you can see by the names, screenwriter Andrew Marlowe was having too much fun with nomenclature. The really weird thing is no one onscreen makes a connection between the name of the assassin priest and the 13th-century saint and philosopher.)

Cane interviews another priest, Father Kovak (Rod Steiger), to learn about Aquinas (not the saint) and his goals. But first, they talk about Cane’s faith or lack thereof. 

The priest asks, “Do you believe in God?” 

“Maybe once, not anymore,” Cane answers. 

“What happened?” 

“We had a difference of opinion. I thought my wife and daughter should live. He felt otherwise.” 

The priest says, “Maybe it’s time to renew your faith.” 

Cane asks, “Now I have to believe in God to solve a crime?” (Turns out, he does.) It also turns out that both the Church and the forces of darkness are trying to find Christine York (Robin Tunney), a woman born in 1979 under a certain comet who is destined to be the mother of Satan’s child, the Antichrist. The forces of darkness want to procure her for their evil lord, while corrupt knights serving a cardinal in the Vatican are seeking to kill her.

Cane and Chicago arrive at Christine’s apartment as the Devil and Vatican Knights are battling. Satan defeats the Knights, killing them and Cane’s partner, Chicago, as well. Cane takes Christine to Kovak’s church for safekeeping. Father Kovak assures Cane, “According to the Scriptures, he (Satan) can’t see into the House of God.” (Not exactly sure what Scriptures he’s talking about.)

And, of course, the corrupt cardinal and the Vatican Knights and the forces of Satan come after Christine again, this time with a church as the battleground. Satan wins again, killing many knights and kidnapping Christine. Father Kovak comes to Cane’s rescue. And Cane must again rescue Christine, taking her to yet another Roman Catholic Church. There, Cane battles Satan again, but Satan possesses Cane’s body and attempts to rape Christine to fulfill “the prophecy.” But he is foiled by Cane who manages to kill himself by diving onto the sword of a statue of St. Michael (good to see the statuary being put to use). Thus Satan is imprisoned as the new year begins.

So, yeah, everything turns out happily ever after and all, except Arnold dies, but he was suicidal earlier in the film, so he gets what he wants. But there are some glaring plot points we have to address.

The whole film hinges on this “prophecy” Satan must impregnate a woman born under a certain comet before the clock strikes midnight in a year ending in 999. The scholars at the Vatican are quite familiar with this prophecy. Now I’m not an expert, but I’ve read the last half of Daniel, Matthew 24, and the whole of the book of Revelation. I don’t recall anything about Lucifer needing to hook up in this Cinderella fashion, and I have so many questions.

For instance, why are the Biblical scholars and Satan using the Gregorian calendar rather than the Jewish calendar that would have been followed by, say, John of Revelation fame? Our calendar was introduced in 1592 and introduced leap years to keep seasons seasonal. But the fellows at the Vatican talk about the same thing happening back in 999 A.D. before the Gregorian calendar was invented (the western world was using the Julian calendar then).

And then there’s the whole “When does a new millennium begin?” question that was so popular a little over twenty years ago. Does it begin in the year ending in 0 or the year ending in 1 (like in 2001: A Space Odyssey)? There was a great debate on Seinfeld when they were trying to decide when to plan the end of the millennium parties. An alternate theory of why things are happening in that year is raised when it is mentioned that 999 is 666 upside down. (obviously, Satan uses Arabic numerals, not Roman or Hebrew or Chinese or...)*

And finally, there is the question asked by Arnold himself in the film. When he hears that Satan must accomplish his evil deed before midnight the last night of the Millennium, Cane asks, “Eastern time?” Apparently, yes, the answer is Eastern Standard Time. If Satan had taken Christine to, say, Hawaii, he would have had hours more to work, but I guess Satan must be one of those New Yorkers who really believes everything revolves around them.

So how do we rate the churches and clergy in the film? Well, the churches seem to primarily function in the film as castle keeps for military defense -- and they don’t serve that function all that well. The forces of darkness always seem to break in. As for the priests, Father Kovak seems to be a pretty good guy, though portrayed with scenery eating gusto by Steiger. But many of the priests seem to have majored in assassination in seminary, and I just don’t think that should have been their focus. Maybe they should have stuck with counseling or hermeneutics. Anyway, the Roman Catholic churches and priests average out to a generous Two Steeples in our Movie Churches rating system.

And how does the Apocalypse in this film rate? I think just one tombstone out of four because the world never really comes close to ending.

*The number of the Beast is 666 according to Revelation 13:18