Years of the Beast (1981)

“A fast-moving, feature-length, dramatic film that portrays the events in the book of Revelation.”
— The IMDb’s wishful-thinking copy writing department

If you read our reviews on the quartet of Russell Doughten and Donald W. Thompson’s PreMillenialist Dispensationalism flicks (that began with A Thief in the Night), you know how much we enjoy those biblical post-apoc romps. The same can’t be said for this lone directing effort by actor D. Paul Thomas (bit roles in films like The Hanoi Hilton and Inside Edge, TV series such as L.A. Law and Beverly Hills 90210) that’s based on a novel by Leon Chambers, scripted by family film purveyor Daniel L. Quick (Cry from the Mountain, Mountain Lady).

Nothing in the frames of this overly-talky, proselytizing pablum quantifies it as a “fast moving” or “dramatic” film. I’m not sure what movie those ecclesiastical reviewers were watching, as this lesson in snail racing is a butterless slice of burnt white toast washed down with a cold cup of coffee.

That’s not to say the film, despite its budget, is not ambitious in its efforts. But it’s that “effort” over the budget that usually scuttles films of the post-apoc ilk (see your favorite guilty Italian, Spanish, or Philippine ’80s apoc pleasure*). Years of the Beast wants to emulate PBS-TV’s later, secular-insightful nuclear war drama Testament, as well as ABC-TV’s The Day After, NBC-TV’s Special Bulletin (all 1983), and the BBC’s Threads (1984). Hollywood was into the “Life after a Nuclear Attack” craze (see 1977’s Damnation Alley; itself after a post-apoc novel), after all, so why not a Christian-take on the theme? But those films (sans Damnation Alley, which went the goofy kaiju-scorpions route) effectively examined the hopelessness and outright nightmare of life after a nuclear strike. The “dread” of those films is not to be found in these frames, since we are stuck with politics and bible-banging in the frames. (But at least we’re spared the flashback sermon inserts and preaching via “Tribulation Maps” to forward the plot.)

As the film begins — and if this film was as exciting as the above book cover, looks — the Beast, aka the Antichist, has risen and driven his heel into the backs of the world — a world where paper money is now worthless; a world besieged by every manner of natural disaster, government corruption, and oppression. And the Beast has all the answers. And the Rapture: Christian propaganda.

Of course, we experience none of this in-camera: we learn about it from a whiny, dry-as-toast, out-of-work college professor (and way too many, screeching portable radios) and his domineering wife, as they head out to her father’s small-town ranch to avoid receiving the dreaded Mark of the Beast (or was it to escape the quakes in the big city; don’t care). And just in time, as we get (the most, and only, impressive moment of the film) an against-the-budget nuclear destruction of Seattle (not stock news footage, but shot-on-the-extremely-cheap on the streets of Seattle).

While we cut back to the Antichirst enforcing his rule from The Vatican (curse you Catholics, for you are not true “Christians”), our once kindly, small town Sheriff is now drunk with power and in-touch with his true inner fascist to assure the new order is enforced. Oh, and the Antichrist: As foretold in the pages of Revelation, he receives a mortal head wound; his “spiritual advisor,” clad in a crab amulet (representing the cyclical nature of life), goes into full-on, ’70s B-movie Satanic candlemass mode, replete red robes, red mood lighting, and song chants to reanimate the imperious leader (the only other interesting set piece of the film).

So, with the Antichrist’s rise to power complete, now the Sheriff is really off his nut, as he is now bestowed the authority to round up the downtrodden for the “Universal Census” to receive their Marks. And with that, the chase is on, with our dopey professor assisted by a clan of woodsy, Christian freedom fighters; warriors for Christ who enjoy putting rifle barrels to a person’s head to force them denounce Jesus — as a test. Which begs the question: If the gun-threatened person said, “Praise the Prime Minister!” would the Christian soldiers carrying the cross of Jesus break the Fifth Commandment and murder those who chose the mark?

Boy, oh boy. Christians sure to love killing the non-believers under threat of rifle barrels and guillotines. So goes the par for the course in Christploitation apoc romps. And with that opening title card (see below), how can you not be converted to the new, paranoid way of thinking!

As the frames unfurled, I was taken back to my views of the shot-on-video Canadian snooze-fest that is Survival 1990 (1985), with its endless scenes of “walking and talking” and the penniless, post-apoc talking-and-talking ambitions of the secular, Gary Lockwood-starring Survival Zone (1983). In fact, it’s exactly those two films — only with a Biblical lesson tacked on. Another fact: This is the Steve Railsback and Marjoe Gortner starring The Survivalist (1987) — although Years of the Beast was made first.

In The Survivalist (which at least had a (very) small cast of extras rioting in the streets), Marjoe Gortner is a slobbering National Guardsman who, drunk with the freedom of newly-granted post-apocalypse enforcement powers, becomes obsessed with bringing Railsback to justice. In the frames of Years of the Beast, we have the same slobbering idiot — only in the form of a small town sheriff — who takes the universal Telex from the Antichrist a bit too literally, as he starts flashing his badge to loot homes of food and supplies (no hoarding allowed, but since he’s accepted the Mark, he’s allowed to hoard) and running-gunning down people in the street for stealing a can of dog food. (He’d probably rape, too, like Gortner, but this is a Christian flick, after all.) And when our fair college professor refuses to comply with the law, well, our good ol’ boy Sheriff McKifer has a new meaning in life, sans all other responsibilities to the new world order: Get Professor Steven Miles, no matter the cost: he will take the Mark. (The “cost” is that God strikes down McKifer with a powerful, deus ex machina blast of sun that raises boils on his flesh, then God pushes him off a cliff.)

Unlike most of the low-budget, post-apoc Christian films we’ve reviewed, such as the (superior) films of Donald W. Thompson, we at least have a cast of trained, secular thespians. You see the instantly recognizable character actor faces of Macon McCalman (Smokey and the Bandit and Dead & Buried are two of his many), TV stalwart Jerry Houser (who got his start in The Summer of ’42, then became Marsha’s hubby in The Brady Bunch reboots), his wife, played by Sarah Rush (Corporal Rigel from Battlestar Galactica: TOS), and James Blendick (Chris Farley’s Tommy Boy), and Jon Locke (way back to ’50s TV westerns). Heading the cast, in his first leading role, is Gary Bayer (Starflight One: The Plane That Couldn’t Land, Psycho III, and lots of TV series). And that’s the not-bad, Anthony Quinn’s daughter Valentina Quinn (an all too-short film career) as the Sheriff’s 2nd (who he eventually kills, but doesn’t rape, because this isn’t a secular apoc-flick, which always has superfluous rapes). Each of the actors are on-point and serviceable enough in their roles, but what they have to work with isn’t there.

Look, I know this film’s message is well-intentioned, but it’s a tedious lesson in bad everything — and it felt like it took a year to watch. The lesson, by the way, I’ve learned from revisiting and refreshing myself with a week of Christploitation apoc flicks is that the prophetic apocalypse will brought on by:

  1. Russia and/or Cuba
  2. China
  3. Catholics, ruling from the new world capitol of The Vatican
  4. Israel and the Jewish Nation, for not believing in Jesus Christ
  5. The United Nations, from the new, world seat of New York City

And that all peoples in categories 1 – 4 are unequivocally damned to hell. And so it goes. . . .

You can feel the spirit move you — or not — with uploads of the full film on You Tube or Tubi. You can sample the trailer on You Tube.

* We examine many of those post-Mad Max/Escape from New York flicks with our two-part “Atomic Dustbin” round-ups during our all-apocalypse month blowout.

A special thanks to Paul at VHS for the clean images.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.