Gregory Widen has had a great career, creating Highlander, Backdraft and this movie, which is a pretty great record. This was the first film he directed and man, it’s stayed with me since I first saw it more than 25 years ago.
Thomas Dagget (Elias Koteas, who somehow can be in a kids movie like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Crash) is a Catholic seminary student who loses his faith after watching a battle between angels and becomes an LAPD cop just in time for Simon (Eric Stoltz) to enter his home, tell him that the war between angels is here and get attacked by Uziel, an angel under the command of Gabriel (Christopher Walken).
Seriously, Walken owns every frame he’s in and he actually has some great company in this one. That said, the cast is packed with heavy hitters like Virginia Madsen, Viggo Mortensen as Lucifer and Amanda Plummer.
None of them would deliver lines like Walken: “I’m an angel. I kill firstborns while their mamas watch. I turn cities into salt. I even, when I feel like it, rip the souls from little girls, and from now until kingdom come, the only thing you can count on in your existence is never understanding why.”
Then again, Mortensen does get this one: “Little Tommy Daggett. How I loved listening to your sweet prayers every night. And then you’d jump in your bed, so afraid I was under there. And I was!”
Well, when the cops do an autopsy on Uziel, who has been killed by Simon, and learn that the body has no eyes, both sexual organs and the blood chemistry of an aborted fetus. Yeah, this is the kind of movie that drops those strange bits of knowledge on you just to see if you’re paying attention.
I got the opportunity to speak to the film’s producer, Joel Soisson, who said, “The idea was that these Hallmark angels in the Old Testament were not nice at all. They were brutal. And they just take you down. And I looked at it as they hated humans and then we have these predatory angels and nothing had been done like this before. Now, TV is starting to do things like Legion but in 1995, nobody was doing this.
The producers didn’t get it. They really liked the story but said, “What if instead of angels, they were zombies?” And we answered, “Well, that’s not the story.”
When I look back at all the genre things I did, that’s the one that I would remake or make another sequel. Gregory made something as engrossing as The Bible and it’s just as full of paradoxes as The Bible. So whatever you believe, you don’t have to be Christian, you can interpret so many things out of the Scriptures. And the angels are mysteries that we can’t understand and it’s fascinating to me.
I love that we find this conflict between the angels, with Walken’s Gabriel leaving Heaven and trying to start a new Hell, but Satan comes to Earth and says, “Not on my watch.” And Satan helps humanity! There’s humanity and even some John le Carré espionage.”
This is one of my favorite films because it’s so unashamed to be as weird as it gets. If this movie was only the scene where Walken hung out with school children and yelled out, “Study your math, kids. Key to the universe!” it’d already be one that I adore.
It’s years ahead of its time and still feels fresh.
As for the four sequels, well, stay tuned.
You can watch this on Tubi.
Viggo was solid gold. Such a great movie!