In Search of Historic Jesus (1979)

Sunn Classic Pictures — also known as Sunn International Pictures, Schick Sunn Classic Pictures, and Taft International Pictures — was a Utah-based indepedent distributor of films. Its founder, Rayland Jensen began his new company under the auspices of the Schick Razor Company.

The Sunn website* is astounding. While it’s no longer active — you can check it out at the Internet Archive — it claims that Jensen developed “four walling” movies** by buying theater space, covering it with ads (all four walls, get it?) and then selling their own tickets. I’m sure Kroger Babb and all forty of his thieves would have something to say about that.

Unlike the grindhouse hucksters who sold skin, sin and violence, Sunn realized that there was exploitation money to be made from working-class families “who rarely went to the movies more than twice a year.” Sunn did their research, connecting with these families and making G rated films that they could enjoy. Or be educated by. Or at least buy tickets to.

Sunn’s films are either family fare like their series The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, paranormal and historical explorations that predate what’s on cable today like The Mysterious MonstersThe Outer Space Connection and The Lincoln Conspiracy or films that try to show the scientific reasons for God existing (this movie, Beyond and Back and In Search of Noah’s Ark).

There’s another side to the Sunn, as it were, as the Taft International Pictures version of the brand released Cujo and Hangar 18 while Jensen’s next company Jensen Farley Pictures put out The Gods Must Be CrazyPrivate LessonsThe BoogensMadmanWackoJoysticksCurtainsChained HeatThe Return of Captain Invincible and more. What a lineup!

Director Henning Schellerup has the kind of bio that we celebrate around here, because as Hans Christian he made Night PleasuresTomboy (not the Crown International one), Loose Times at Ridley HighDr. Carstair’s 1869 Love-Root Elixir and Three Shades of Flesh, all while also making Sweet Jesus, Preacherman, the Sunn TV versions of The Time Machine and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and worked camera or was the cinematographer on everything from Suburban CommandoDeath Race 2000Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and A Nightmare On Elm Street to BerserkerSilent Night Deadly NightThe Annihilators and Kiss of the Tarantula.

So yeah. The perfect guy*** to tell the story of the Son of God.

John Rubinstein, who would go on to play Daniel Webster on Netflix’s Sabrina and Einstein of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, plays Jesus. Another prophet — just called Prophet 1 in the credits — is Royal Dano! And there are also appearances by John Anderson (who Lincoln in Sunn’s The Lincoln Conspiracy), Annette Charles (Cha Cha from Grease), Anthony De Longis (Blade from Masters of the Universe) and actress turned conservative pundit Morgan Brittany.

Unlike the Bible, Jesus has the power to calm down tigers.

Somehow, this movie is also The Search for the Shroud of Turin at the same time, as if the folks at Sunn thought, “Is there enough story in this Jesus to last for 90 minutes?”

If there is a God and if there is a Jesus and if there is a Heaven, it’s going to be sitting here on my couch watching these Sunn docs all day and screaming at the TV.

*I mean, Reb Brown is on their board of directors.

**Sunn Classic Pictures would rent theaters for a two-week period, yet only claim they were there for a week. The initial period would clain “One Week Only” when on the seventhd ay, the one where God would have rested, Synn would say “Final Day” before changing out the marquee to read “Held Over” on Monday.

***Also, Charles E. Sellier Jr., whose IMDB bio brags that he was “founder and president of Grizzly Adams Productions, Inc., was an acclaimed producer, writer and director in the independent film industry. Sellier skillfully pioneered market testing and “four-walling”–renting a theater to show his films, thereby enabling him to keep all the profits for himself–garnered him the distinction of having more pictures in the Top 50 independent grossers than any other independent producer in the 1970s” and that Orson Welles once told him, “Young man, you are light-years ahead of the rest of the industry,” was one of the writers. Yes, the same man who directed Silent Night Deadly Night was one of the writers who wrote this. Not to be outdone, but one of the other scribes was Malvin Wald, who wrote Jess Franco’s Venus In Furs. You know what Jesus said to the Pharisees when they saw him associating with sinners. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

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