The Judas Project (1993)

In the world of retail, “Christmas in July” is a promotional gimmick enticing mall shoppers to stock up on decorating supplies, as well as stocking up on discounted gifts. At B&S About Movies: we celebrate “Christmas in Summer” by spreadsheeting a six-months out “Christian Cinema Week” for the first week of December: we’re weird that way.

As this week unfolds, you’ll notice we’re concentrating primarily on the films of the ’70s, which we’ll round up (at 8 PM, Saturday the 4th) with one of our patented “Exploring” featurettes; this one entitled “Christian Cinema of the ’70s” that features a plethora of mini-reviews of even more films. And it seems Santa checked off those efforts in the B&S About Movies “nice column”: he gifted us with an early, July present: a never-heard-of-it-before Christsploitation flick.

It was a lazy July weekend, as I browsed the aisles of a second-hand store. Of course, the first section I always hit is the VHS/DVD section: it’s how I scored my copy of the Richard Lynch apoc romp, Ground Rules (1997); it’s also how I got this copy of a Christian apoc romp starring Richard Herd (our ersatz Caesar/King Herod) who, if you’re keeping track, was in the secular, French apoc romp, The Survivor (1998). Also encouraging our watch, and helping us swallow the low-budget exploitness of it all: the 230-plus television-and-film-credited Jeff Corey (our ersatz Pontius Pilate), as well as iconic daytime actor and prime-time character actor, Gerald Gordon (a government assassin, aka thief, nailed on a Calvary cross, next to Jesus). Needless to say, they are, in spite of the material and the other non-thespians stumbling around them, excellent.

Regardless of its additional lack of narrative quality, discovering The Judas Project for the very first time, 28 years after its initial release, is a blessing: considering when one compiles a week of Christian Cinema films and a film named The Judas Project — tossed willy-nilly between a copy Sandra Bullock’s Murder By Numbers and James Spader’s Supernova — calls out to you. It also becomes a double-blessing when you just rewatched the production-tragic Christian rock-apoc romp Raging Angels (1995) in the same week — specifically to review it for “Christian Cinema Week.”

The Judas Project: The Review

Jesus and helicopters: load and roll the tape!

The Holy Bible is rife with parables, but not with the moral or spiritual lesson of Tommy Wiseau (The Room) and fellow, self-proclaimed auteur Neil Breen (Neil Breen’s Movie Magic) discovering Jesus and deciding to proclaim their new-found faith by making a movie together, but not just any movie: a sci-fi Jesus movie.

The “message” here is the same ol’ salvation trope: Humanity is in peril, so God sends forth his son in the form of a man named Jesus Jesse to save mankind from the impending terror that is to destroy the Earth. The plot-twist in this fictionalized retelling of the story of Jesus Jesse: it’s told as if The Holy Savior arrived in the late 20th century.

No, we are not making this up: this movie is real.

As the film spins, one notices that, while the VHS sleeve indicates the year of release as 1993, the copyright on the film stock indicates the production began in 1990; as such, the film is woefully dated in its attempt to emulate-update the “Jesus in present times” progenitors Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Pilate and Others, and Jesus of Montreal. The clue the proceedings are outdated: it makes reference to the “evil Russians” by calling out the USSR, which fell on December 26, 1991 — two years prior to its direct-to-video release.

Needless to say, as with all Christ-based films: none of the films are “bad”; reviewers in the Christian press loved The Judas Project, praising its action, acting, and even the (woeful, not-so-special) special effects (The lightning! The lightning!). The less-discriminating, secular reviewers, honestly — and isn’t that what Jesus taught us: to be honest and not deceive others — pounced on the movie: for all the same reasons the preaching-to-the-choir Christians praised the film.

Uh, no. I am not breaking the Eighth Commandment for a film review.

For this promoted, “made entirely apart from Hollywood” (in Savannah, Georgia) modernization of the “Greatest Story Ever Told” is actually the “Most Abysmal Story Ever Committed to Film”: a community theater-level production that should have closed on the same day it opened — and certainly never committed to celluloid.

We meet our “Jesus” in this updated version of the first-coming of Christ, in the form of Jesse (underdog ’80s AOR musician John O’Banion): he’s a new-and-improved, radical social revolutionist savior in this Passion Play — as he speaks to a beach-wondering multitude searching for a missing boy. Tired, stressed, and hungry, he comforts the downtrodden with wisdom — then feeds their bellies with an endless supply of bread and cheese.

Yes. Not fishes. Cheese.

Jesse eventually recruits twelve disciples, all white, natch, which goes against the grain of today’s multi-racial society in which the film is set. Why, yes: Judas shows up (daytime and prime-time actor Ramy Zada) — rollin’ in a fancy car with “Money 66” license plates. Why, yes: as is the case with any Christian apoc flick from the ’70s through the ’90s: people are crucified on crosses by threat of machine guns (to get its “point” across — and it is gruesome, natch). Why, yes, the film is anti-Semitic: Jesse’s chief antagonist is a powerful Jewish religious leader, determined to kill the Christ.

Look, I get it.

Writer-director-and everything else — also composing the companion soundtrack’s all-original CCM rock opera — James H. Barden is passion-trying with the same vigor as Mel Gibson with The Passion of the Christ (2004) — more so, if you consider the soundtrack. Barden’s “What If” question of an Earth that never knew Jesus Christ 2,000-plus years ago — only to have him arrive for the first time during the planet’s sci-fi apocalypse meltdown — is an intriguing concept. Barden’s detracting from the Revelation’s Antichrist trope proliferating most of the apocalyptic Christian films of the ’90s obsessed with the Mark of the Beast (Left Behind, Jerusalem Countdown, Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, Six: The Mark Unleashed — to name a few), instead placing the actual Christ into the same context via the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is, in fact, appreciated.

However, if you know your post-’80s Italian, and their even-worse Philippine (Stryker), apoc knockoffs (sans the superior Endgame or 2019: After the Fall of New York)*, Christian apoc flicks rarely pull off their honorable, against-the-budget intentions. Check your roster of Cloud Ten Productions apoc’ers fronted by David A.R White, accordingly: then file next to The Judas Project. Maybe if this was made in the early ’70s by 20th Century Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or Warner Bros. with an apoc-rugged Charlton Heston** as the “New Christ,” possibly George Peppard** as “Jesus” with a 12-wheeled amphibious battle truck*˟, we have something, here. . . .

To think protestors took to the theater sidewalks over Mel Gibson’s and Martin Scorsese’s takes on the life of Jesus. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) is the film you praise for its quality and ability to get its subtext across. The Judas Project is, by far, the far more offensive picture, courtesy of its all-white apostle brigade, women are misogynistic victims, stereotyped as promiscuous, controlling Jezebels, with Jews as the “evil” responsible for the murder of the Christ, and anyone born in the lands of Mother Russia are inherently diabolical. Can we get a little philogyny and Semitic joy up in this here church? It’s not like the Russians are Estus Pirkle’in sharpened bamboo into the ears of children . . . will someone please spin Sting’s “Russians” and let the world know they love their children, too? An entire nation of peoples goes to Hell, just because they were born there?

Ugh, Christian cinema: just. please. stop.

Enough with the bogus, “faith-based” sci-fi shilled by the likes of Loophole (about a Judas Iscariot “violence gene”), The Judas Project, Raging Angels and a David A.R. White end-of-the-world production. Please take your production cues from Alex Kendrick and his Sherwood Pictures shingle (in Albany, Georgia, by the way). Stay out of the beyond-the-low budget-indie lands of apoc-futures and stick to present-day car lots (the really fine Flywheel), football fields (the finer Facing the Giants), and spiritually-conflicted firemen and police officers (the better-than-you-think Fireproof and Courageous). Mixing Apaches with The Holy Savior sends us running away from the “Romans Road,” not towards it.

Maybe if the wise, disembodied stone head of Zardoz was quoting the gospel and commanding the Apache helicopters, we’d hit the celluloid trail to Damascus. . . .

The Life of John O’Banion

Honestly, if not for this film’s obscure rock musician angle presenting an opportunity to honor a career, we wouldn’t have gotten this far.

Radio disc jockey, TV host, and one-time lead vocalist in American jazz trumpeter Doc Serverinsen’s Today’s Children (he, once the leader of Johnny Carson’s ’70s late-night band), John O’Banion made five appearances on Johnny Carson’s show as a solo artist, as well as multiple Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas daytime talk show episodes. O’Banion also appeared on American Bandstand, Solid Gold, and Star Search (hosted by Carson sidekick, Ed McMahon; big shock: O’Banion was the ultimate winner that season).

The Star Search “win” led to his single, “Love You Like I Never Loved Before,” charting in the Top 50 in the U.S., Australia, and Canada. His biggest chart hit was Crystal Gayle’s cover of “I Don’t Want to Lose Your Love,” which reached #2 on the U.S. country charts in 1983. Signed to Elektra Records, O’Banion released several snyth-pop albums: John O’Banion (1981; his highest charter, known as Golden Love Song in the overseas markets), Close Up (1982), and Danger (1982). Finding a more receptive audience in Europe and Japan, he released the German-made White Light (1985), and appears on the Elektra-produced soundtrack with two songs for the film Legend of the Eight Samurai (1983). The Asian film led to his recording Satomi Hakken-Den (1983) and Hearts (1995) for the Pacific Rim market, where he had his greatest chart success.

During his tenure with Elektra Records, O’Banion attempted to launch an acting career with a minor-support role in Charles Bronson’s Borderline (1980), and a larger supporting role the TV movie Courage (1986) starring Billie Dee Williams (Alien Intruder) and Sophia Loren. He closed out his acting career as the Christ in The Judas Project. He died in 2007 at the age of 59 in Los Angeles from complications after being stuck by a car while on tour in New Orleans.

There’s no free or pay streams to share. There is, however, a still active website where you can purchase streams. During its initial roll out, The Judas Project aired on the Christian cable network TBN – The Trinity Broadcasting Network throughout the ’90s. The network would later finance their own Christian-inspired apoc’er with the aforementioned, Six: The Mark Unleashed (2004).

You can watch the trailer on You Tube.

This movie needs more helicopter . . . and cowbell.

* You can enjoy more ’80s apoc films with our two-part “The Atomic Dust Bin: 10 Post-Apocalyptic Films You Never Heard Of” featurette — Part 1 and Part 2. To see even more of our post-apocalyptic reviews, check out our complete Letterboxd list.

** Do we have to tell you that we are referring to the apoc ’70s “Big Three” of Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, Soylent Green, as well as Damnation Alley? Eh, no, worries! We break the apoc ’70s down with our “Drive-In Friday: A-List Apocalypse” and “Ten End of the World Movies We Love” featurettes.

*˟ We break ’em all down with our “Ten Post-Apocalyptic Vehicles” featurette.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.