Final Examination (2003)

Shane Newman (Brent Huff, Cop GameThe Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak) has moved from Los Angeles to Hawaii which I don’t think is a police transfer that works in the real world, but we’re in the Fred Olen Ray universe now.

There’s a reunion in town and some of the Omega Kappa Omega girls have been invited to shoot nude photos — yes, I get that this doesn’t happen in most class reunions but again, we are in Ray’s world — by Derek Simmons, the editor of the Cavalier Magazine. One of them, Terri Walker, is soon found strangled with a final examination certificate next to her body.

It’s up to Newman and his new partner Julie Seska (Kari Wuhrer) to solve the case — cases, because women keep on taking their clothes off and dying — which has ties back to the suicide of Rachel Kincaid, a member of the class of students meeting in Hawaii.

This is a nice mix of erotic thriller, giallo and slasher with some familiar Ray stars like Debbie Rochon and Amy Lindsay. Sean O’Bannon, who wrote plenty of films for Ray (Mom’s Outta SightInvisible Mom IIInferno) and Fred’s wife at the time Kimberly were on the script. It’s exactly the kind of movie you’re looking for after three in the morning, which is a positive note.

I’m all for any movies that Kari Wuhrer makes, especially if she’s a sarcastic cop.

You can watch this on Tubi.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 29: Watch the series: Freaky Friday (1975, 1996, 2003, 2018, 2020)

Freaky Friday started as a novel written by Mary Rodgers, based on Vice Versa: A Lesson to Fathers by F. Anstey, a story in which the protagonists are father and son. In Rodgers’ book, 13-year-old Annabel Andrews and her mother spend time in each other’s bodies. The novel was so popular that Disney as made it four times an Rodgers also mae several sequels herself, such as A Billion for Boris/ESPTV and Summer Switch (which ABC made into TV movies). The major difference between the novel and the films is that an outside influence switches the mother and daughter against their wills.

Freaky Friday (1976): “I wish I could switch places with her for just one day.” That’s all it takes to start off this crazy adventure for Ellen Harris (Barbara Harris) and her daughter Annabel (Jodie Foster).

Based on the 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers — who also wrote the screenplay — the magic that switches the mother and daughter in this movie is quite simple. In Friday the 13th, all you have to do is say, “I wish I could switch places with her for just one day” and it happens.

Actually, this whole thing reminds me of Goofy Minds the House, a 1977 Disney Wonderful World of Reading storybook that features the character Goofy and his wife switching jobs for one day and learning that they both have rough lives. That story was based on a Norwegian folktale and taught me that women were much stronger than men. Also — Goofy once had a wife named Mrs. Geef and Mrs. Goof, but now he’s thought to be dating Clarabelle the Cow, so something happened at some point. Perhaps even odder, Goofy was once called Dippy Dawg.

But I digress.

Just as much as that story is part of my childhood, so is Freaky Friday, a movie that I know for a fact that I saw at the Spotlite 88 Drive-In in Beaver Falls, PA.

Ellen Andrews and her daughter Annabel are constantly battling with one another until they switch places, which enables each of them to see life from the other side, connect better with other people and, of course, water ski.

The cast of this movie is made up of people that a five year old me would see as big stars, like John Astin, Dick Can Patten, Charlene Tilton, Marc McClure and, of course, Boss Hogg. Strangely enough, George Lucas wanted Foster for the role of Princess Leia, but her mother wanted her to complete her contract to Disney.

Disney can’t seem to stop remaking this movie. And really, no one else can either, because it’s the mother of body switch comedies, including 18 Again!All of Me, Dream a Little DreamVice Versa and Freaky, a film which combines the Friday the 13th of this story with the slasher side of the holiday.

Freaky Friday (1995): This made-for-TV movie has Shelly Long as Ellen and Gaby Hoffman (the daughter of Warhol superstar Viva) as Annabelle. A pair of magical amulets causes the two of them to switch bodies in this version and waterskiing has been replaced with diving.

Ellen is also a single mother dating Bill (Alan Rosenberg) and designing clothing, which is the 90s version of being a housewife. What livens this up is a great cast with Drew Carey, Sandra Bernhard, Carol Kane and the much-missed Taylor Negron.

Writer Stu Krieger wrote The Parent Trap IIA Troll in Central ParkZenon: Girlof the 21st Century and Phantom of the Megaplex while director Melanie Mayron is probably best known for playing Melissa Steadman on Thirtysomething even though she has more than sixty directing credits on her resume.

The other big change is that when Annabelle is in Ellen’s body, she tells Bill exactly how much she dislikes him, thinking it will push him away. Instead, he proposes.

Forgive me for being weird, but…do these characters ever have to make love in these bodies? Because, well, that could be awkward.

Freaky Friday (2003): I spoke too soon about the sexual side of Freaky Friday, as this movie, while chaste, does not shy away from the fact that Jake (Chad Michael Murray) has feelings for Anna (Lindsay Lohan) no matter if she’s in her body or the body of her mother, Tess (Jamie Lee Curtis). The attraction that Jake feels, while mental, is way hotter than the way Marc McClure reacted to Barbara Harris.

Written by Heather Hach (Legally Blonde: The MusicalWhat To Expect When You’re Expecting and a gym teacher in this movie) and Leslie Dixon (OverboardLoverboy, the 2007 Hairspray) and directed by Mark Walters (who worked with Dixon again on Just Like Heaven; he also directed Mean GirlsGhosts of Girlfriends Past, the gender-swapped He’s All That and Mr. Popper’s Penguins), this take on the story retains the single mother idea from the 1995 TV movie and has Mark Harmon play Ryan, the potential new father in Anna’s life.

Lohan’s character was originally written as a goth girl and she didn’t think anyone would relate to that, so she showed up dressed like a preppie. Somehow, she was convinced to play a grunge girl instead. I mean, she has a band called Pink Slip and plays guitar instead of water skiing or driving.

The McGuffin that drives this film is a pair of fortune cookies mixed with an earthquake switches bodies for Anna and Tess, which leads to Anna lecturing teachers and Tess being more loud and wild.

As for the casting, it really works. The original idea was for Jodie Foster to play Tess, but she didn’t like the stunt casting. Then, Annette Bening and Kelly Osbourne were going to be the leads — with Tom Selleck as Ryan — but Bening dropped out and Osbourne’s mother got cancer.

Probably the only downside is that this movie falls back on that Hollywood cliche of Asian people being able to magically change lives.

Is it weird that I know that the band Orgy taught Jamie Lee how to play guitar? Why do I have these facts inside my head? And how weird is it to hear “Flight Test” by the Flaming Lips in a Disney movie? Or Joey Ramone covering “What A Wonderful World?”

Freaky Friday (2018): It’s wild that Steve Carr made Next Friday and a Freaky Friday sequel. And this time, I had no idea I was getting into a musical. Cozi Zuehlsdorff from the Dolphin Tale movies is Ellie Blake and her mother Katherine is played by Heidi Blickenstaff, who played the role on stage. Seriously, this is a full-blown bing singing musical and also a version of the story that leans in on Ellie being a total slob with a filthy room, a girl who always wears the same clothes every day and who would totally be the kind of arty disaffected young girl who I’d be too shy to talk to and leave mixtapes in her locker. Or maybe text her Spotify links now, I guess, right?

A magical hourglass — given to Ellie by her late father, a Freaky Friday story beat retained from the last few versions — is the storytelling device that switches the daughter and mother. There’s also a scavenger hunt that an entire school is absolutely obsessed by, making this also an updating of Midnight Madness.

This was the first Disney movie made from one of their stage plays and it didn’t get great ratings. It’s fine — obviously there are a ton of different versions of Freaky Friday for you to watch. I’d place it slightly ahead of the Shelley Long version, but way behind everything else.

Freaky (2020): By all rights, I should hate this movie, a semi-remake of Freaky Friday that instead subverts the source material by turning it into a slasher. But you know, it ended up hitting me the right way and I was behind it pretty much all the way.

Directed by Christopher Beau Landon — yes, the son of Michael — who wrote Disturbia — that’s not even a word — and several of the Paranormal Activitymovies before directing the Happy Death Day films. If you liked those, well, this will definitely give you more of what those movies offered, this is set in the same universe — Landon said that, “They definitely share the same DNA and there’s a good chance Millie and Tree will bump into each other someday” — and was originally titled Freaky Friday the 13th.

Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton, Big Little Lies) is a teenager who has been tormented by bullies, both of the teenager and teacher* varieties. Meanwhile, the urban legend of the Blissfield Butcher continues, as he keeps killing her classmates. Now that he possesses a McGuffin called La Dola — an ancient Mayan sacrificial dagger — he looks to gain even more power. But when he runs into our heroine — her mother (Katie Finneran, who is great in this) has left her behind at a football game where all she gets to do is wear a beaver mascot costume — she battles the Butcher and when he stabs her, they end up switching bodies.

So yeah — this turns into a body swap comedy and you’d think, after the gory as hell open, this is where they lose you. But no — if anything, this gets way more fun.

Millie’s friends make for some of the best scenes in the film. Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) have been with her through the worst parts of high school, so having their best friend in the body of a killing machine is just another trial to be endured.

Speaking of that killer, Vince Vaughn shines in this. There’s plenty of silly physical comedy, but also some really nice scenes like when he admits to the love interest that she left the note he treasures (body swap pronouns are a little hard) or when he has a moment with her mother while hiding in a changing room.

Landon — who wrote the movie along with Michael Kennedy — said that the film was influenced by the Scream series, along with Cherry FallsFright NightJennifer’s BodyThe Blob and Urban Legend. There’s also a fair bit of Halloween in here, particularly the opening series of murders, and references to Heathers, Child’s Play, Creepshow, Galaxy Quest, Carrie, The Faculty, The Craft and Supernatural. There’s also a bottle down the throat kill that came directly from the 2009 slasher remake Sorority Row.

I had fun with this. Here’s hoping you do the same.

*The funny thing is that the teacher that is the worst to her is Alan Ruck, who knows a thing about bring bullied, what with playing Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

ARROW BLU RAY RELEASE: Twisting The Knife: Four Films By Claude Chabrol: The Flower of Evil (2003)

Three generations of a wealthy family are torn apart when Anne (Nathalie Baye), the second wife of drink philanderer Gérard (Bernard Le Coq), runs for mayor. That unleashes a political pamphlet that brings back so many old scandals, including war profiteering, corruption, Nazi collaboration, cheating, incest and generally not being very great people.

At the same time, François (Benoît Magimel), Gérard’s son from his first marriage, has returned from America and is soon leaving for a romantic weekend with his stepsister and cousin Michèle (Mélanie Doutey), who comes from Anne’s first marriage, not that that will look good to the public. Yet Aunt Line (Suzanne Flon) encourages this forbidden romance. Well, maybe not forbidden, because it seems like this family has been interbreeding since they were a family. So maybe that pamphlet is on to something.

Ah, that pamphlet. So many Gérard wrote it, which is up for conjecture, but he definitely tries to assault Michèle on the night that her mother secures the election. As he attempts to take her, he falls and dies, just as the victory party arrives.

Claude Chabrol was into his fiftieth film when this was made and he filmed what he was most interested in: the French rich, their scandals and a crime. It just so happens that one crime takes place in the past and another in the present, with both involving the same players.

Sometimes, you can play the same song over and over and if you’re good at it, we notice that the notes are slightly different and are still engaged by them.

Twisting The Knife: Four Films By Claude Chabrol comes with high definition Blu-ray presentations of all four films, as well as new 4K restorations of The Swindle, Nightcap and The Color of Lies. You also get an 80-page collector’s booklet of new writing by Sean Hogan, Brad Stevens, Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Pamela Hutchinson, as well as limited edition packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella.

The Flower of Evil has new commentary by film critic Farran Smith Nehme, a new visual essay by Agnes Poirier, behind-the-scenes, an interview with co-writer Catherine Eliacheff, an introduction by film scholar Joël Magny, a trailer, an image gallery and select scene commentaries by Claude Chabrol.

You can get Twisting The Knife: Four Films By Claude Chabrol from MVD.

Gozu (2003)

What can I possibly say about this bizarre (which is an understatement if there ever was one) Takashi Miike low-budget direct-to-video horror — with its mix of mobsters and ghosts and breast milk and cow-headed men — that hasn’t already been said. For if you are a Miike fan, you’ve seen it. If you’re a fan of Asian cinema, you know it well. If you’ve seen Miike’s Ichi the Killer (WTF) and Audition (WTF x 10) and you haven’t seen Gozu, then turn in your B&S About Movies’ membership card, for ye were never a member.

You didn’t see his contribution “The Box” in the Japanese portmanteau Three Extremes?

Just stop it. You’re embarrassing yourself. Isn’t there a Jennifer Aniston Oscar-chasing-never winning boondoggle you need to stream?

Sure, everyone drops the justified “David Lynchian” critical modifier to help us dopey Americans get a handle on the twisted insanity. And yeah, I am sure Guillermo Del Toro and Eli Roth — who offer up their own insights with their joint interview with Miike on the DVD — are the go-to guys for Gozu Intel with a whole-lot-of-what-do-we-need-this-digital-critic-from-Pittsburgh-for scoffing.

So, let me give an overview . . . for the ones who haven’t experienced the . . . something else . . . world of Miike. And that the title’s literal translation is: Yakuza Horror Theatre: Cow’s Head. And a caveat: Forget the guy with the cow’s head: if the killing of a chihuahua — an “attack” chihuahua — bothers you: stop watching. No. Watch. Just close your eyes for about twenty-Mississippis, well, in context: twenty-Shinano Rivers, then open. But there’s that gooey . . . and the slimy. . . .

Yes. Gozu is about — partly — a cow’s head. It’s also a gangster film. Then it’s not. Then what is it? A horror film? A comedy? There’s nothing is the works of Lynch, be it from film with Eraserhead to television with Twin Peaks, that can prepare you for this tale of an up-and-coming yakuza who receives orders to assassinate his boss, who happens to be his best friend. And when his boss catches wind, he goes into hiding. And if our young yakuza doesn’t complete the sanction, he dies. So begins our journey into a twisted, mysterious town where nothing is as it seems or nothing is as it should be — with a nightmare that would make Lynch flinch.

Dumplings: More crazy, Asian cinema of the Lynchian variety.

This is a film where you can’t rat-a-tat-tat the plot in a review; for in the tradition of the best Spanish and Italian horrors of ’70s, Gozu — or any Miike Joint — is probably not going to make a hell of a lot of sense (see Dead or Alive and The Happiness of the Katakuris). And the character’s motivations are dumbfounded and sometimes lacking in any development for you to care about them (One Missed Call). But as with those overseas horrors (this is black-comedy-cum-horror, like Sam Raimi’s comedy-gore of The Evil Dead, if that helps) of old, we never came for the plot or the characters in the first place: we came for the atmosphere and what-the-hell-why not Chunk King-toss to the walls. And Miike is brilliant for it.

You can watch the trailer and an extended interview with Takashi Miike on the making of Gozu on You Tube.

You can free-with-ads stream Gozu on Tubi. If fact, Tubi streams several of Miike’s films. They have the sci-fi’er Terra Formars, which I really liked: how can I not, as it’s about cockroach men on Mars, as well as the really fine 13 Assassins. Remember when, in the 2000s, when every single J-horror movie was getting Westernized? Don’t do it: go to the source.

And the “source” is Takashi Miike.

— R.D Francis writes for B&S About Movies.

Jigoku Kôshien (2003)

Jigoku Kōshien means Hell Kōshien or as we refer to this movie in America, Battlefield Baseball. It’s based on the manga by Gatarō Man, who also wrote this movie, and it tells the story of Seido High School and their baseball team, which finally has a chance to play in the Koshien Stadium Tournament for the first time in decades.

The only problem is that the Gedo High School stands in their way and their team doesn’t leave the field until they kill everyone on the other side.

The story revolves around Jubeh, a pitcher so dangerous that he killed his father while playing catch and therefore has vowed to never play baseball again. But when he’s killed by an explosion cause by the Gedo team, he goes to Heaven, meets his father and gets the inspiration to come back to Earth and play high school baseball.

Yūdai Yamaguchi would go on to direct plenty other strange movies like Meatball Machine and this film’s spiritual sequel, Deadball, which continues the story of Jubeh Yakyu.

Let me say it now once and for all: baseball would be so much better with cyborgs, senseless violence and people being brought back by the tears of a juvenille delinquent.

Joshua and the Promised Land (2003)

Wow.

This film was created almost entirely over four years by one person, somehow named Jim Lion* and if you think God plays dice with the universe, well, I offer you this movie.

Joshua Carter and his guardian angel, Christopher Andrew Eugene Bozioni, escape the sadness of Joshua’s home life and go back to the Old Testament to relive the life of the real Joshua. Except that, you know, everyone is a lion and no one has paws, a tail or manes. They all look unfinished. They all look incredibly harrowing, to be be frank. I guess maybe the guardian angel is a wolf? And what’s with the narrator and floating demon purple blobs?

I mean, this is the kind of movie that interrupts combat to have a soldier use a mallet like a video game character and then reminds us, in the midst of all this fun, that Moses had to die in the desert because he struck a rock instead of speaking to it, so God told him that since he didn’t listen, he’d never see the promised land. Perhaps this needs to be better explained to children than by floating characters that aren’t properly synched to their dialogue. Also, Moses made his followers drink wet cement when he was mad at them, so perhaps that also needs some discussion with the little ones this is intended for.

What a fun trip Chris has taken Joshua on, one in which he faces death, learns how to kill other lion people, is alone for forty days and nights before wandering for forty years in an unforgiving desert before he finally goes home to cut a demon in half. Also: mass murder is justified by a child.

Despite the promise of an angel, Joshua is still late for dinner.

If you come to my house after the pandemic, you will be forced to watch this movie.

Until that happens, you can watch this on YouTube.

*There’s a Joshua and the Promised Land: Reanimated coming soon. I can’t wait.

The Glow (2003)

Jackie and Matt Lawrence (Portia de Rossi and Dean Cain) have moved into a fancy apartment with a view of Central Park thanks to the generosity of some older folks like the Januszes (Hal Linden and Dina Merill) and the Goodsteins (Joseph Campanella and Grace Zabriskie).

If we’ve learned anything from occult movies, it’s that you never trust old Hollywood. This applies to TV movies, so don’t trust Barney Miller, the evil socialite from Caddyshack II, a soap star and Sarah Palmer all that much either, because they’ll take your young body, suck out all the energy and keep themselves young.

This was directed by Craig R. Baxley, who also helmed Action JacksonStone Cold and I Come In Peace. He’s working from the words of Gary Sherman. Yeah — the very same director who made Poltergeist III, Death LineDead & BuriedWanted: Dead or AliveVice Squad and Lisa.

Hal Linden should be in more horror movies where he plays evil old men who steal souls. Someone has to say it.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

As much as I don’t like the Platinum Dunes era of remakes, I can admit that Marcus Nispel* is a good director and that it was cool that Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel served as co-producers, Daniel Pearl returned to be the cinematographer and John Larroquette reprised narration duties.

A big difference is that the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre only hints at the gore that the Sawyer family metes out. Here. bodies are slashed in half, people live agonizing moments after being impaled on hooks, faces get torn off and even Leatherface loses an arm.

August 18, 1973. Erin (Jessica Biel), Kemper (Eric Balfour) Morgan (Jonathan Tucker), Andy (Mike Vogel) and Pepper (Erica Leerhsen) have just bought two pounds of weed in Mexico and are on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert when they make the same mistake as another set of teens by picking up a hitchhiker. However, this one is in shock and eventually pulls a gun from between her legs and blows her brains out.

That’s when this movie hit me in the face, as it slow motion had smoke coming from her mouth and pushed the camera out of the bloody hole in the back of their car. That blood, that broken glass, that death — they are no longer in our world of reality but trapped in the deepest, darkest and deadliest place in America.

Welcome to Texas.

Instead of giving us killers to identify with — or sympathize with, as other films in this series seem to do — Leatherface and the Sawyer clan are brutal and uncompromising killers who take what they want and operate with ruthless efficiency.

Meanwhile, this film looks absolutely stunning, with sweeping camera moves and probably the best use of that 2000s gunmetal blue color palette I’ve seen. Other movies try and fail at what this film does so well.

Plus, R. Lee Ermey seems to be having a blast here.

Here’s to growing up and giving movies more of a chance than casually dismissing them.

*To the director’s credit, he was against the idea of remaking the film and said that it was blasphemy to his longtime director of photography, Daniel Pearl. Pearl, however, had shot the original movie and wanted Nispel to direct the film so that he could start and end his career with the same movie. He also realized that if just copied the original movie shot-for-shot, there was no reason to make this movie. So he shot it like a traditional movie and not a documentary.

How weird is it that Pearl shot Chainsaw and Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” and “Butterfly” for Mariah Carey?

Midget Santas Are Our Superiors (2003)

All this movie has going for it is a great title, box art and idea. A creepy Santa doll is possessed, has an Irish accent and kills a whole bunch of people in the summer. All of the editing is done in-camera, the quality is the level of a birthday party shot by a drunken relative, everyone is probably drunk (I hope they are) and there’s a lot of blood. The effects are abysmal, given away by everyone ripping open their own blood packets, and the Santa attacks are kind of like Bruno Mattei throwing Rats onto Geretta Geretta.

It’s not good — it’s vehemently not good — but man, with that title, I had to enter the breach for you, my dearest readers. Consider it my holiday gift to you. Because I don’t feel like Christmas means anything anymore. I hate getting dark and dismal, but one look outside our doors will show you that this time when we’re all supposed to come together to celebrate good will toward men surely isn’t happening, so if I can bring some light into your life with a bunch of moronic kids abusing one another with a Santa figurine, then so be it. Ho, ho, ho.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Apocalypse: The Film Series (1998 – 2001)

We’ve mentioned this influential film series in the context of a few of our other reviews this week. And it is “influencial,” as it certainly had an effect on David. A.R. White and his Christian Apoc-science fiction adventures through his PureFlix shingle: his first was Six: The Mark Unleashed (2004), followed with The Moment After and Revelation Road franchises, In the Blink of an Eye, and Jerusalem Countdown. And the producers behind his debut film, TBN, Paul and Jan Crouch’s Trinity Broadcasting Network (through their son Matthew), jumped into the apoc frays with their own, The Omega Code (1999).

The Apocalypse franchise’s roots date to 1994, when the brothers LaLonde, Peter and Paul — inspired by Hollywood’s A-List glut of films concerned with the world’s post-apocalypse survival*, such as Waterworld (1995), Independence Day (1996), Escape from L.A. (1996), and The Postman (1997), along with the “Lucifer’s Hammer” one-two punch of Armageddon and Deep Impact (1998), and Peter Hyams’s End of Days (1999) — formed Cloud Ten Pictures in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, to self-fiance their own, wholesome, family-oriented “end times” Christian films.

The four-film box set that’s easily purchased — as well as the individual films — online at secular and faith-based sites.

As they should: God invented the apocalypse, after all, in The Book of Revelation in The Holy Bible. It’s just not fair that the Somdomites and Gomorrahites of Tinseltown have the secular market cornered on what rightful belongs to Christians in the first place. Estus Pirkle has whole films (If Footmen Tire You, The Burning Hell, and The Believer’s Heaven) based on the Christian belief that God-hating Communists will jam sharpened bamboo shoots through our ear canals, cut people down from trees onto buried pitch forks, and dump the bodies of those who will not deny the Christ, into freshly bulldozed mass graves. Oh, and the child stealing and indoctrination centers where children will praise Fidel Castro.

Hey, don’t be scared, ye philistine. For the LaLonde’s are not as bibically crazed as Pastor Pirkle and a bit more subtle in frightening you into believing. Sure, with the same, faithful vigor as Christian apoc-progenitor Donald W. Thompson with his A Thief in the Night tetralogy franchise, but only with A-List (well, let’s just say, better) production values backed, not by church volunteers and “saved” community theater actors: but by real, actual actors.

Oh, what a cast these movies have!

The LaLonde brothers’ films have nothing on the early Revelation-based apoc’ers Six-Hundred Sixty Six (1972), and the Gospel Films (studios) 1981 double-whammy of the non-sequels Early Warning and Years of the Beast. Oh, yes, ye B&S About Movies Sadducees: If the subject matter’s rhythm doesn’t get you, the off-the-A-to-B List thespians surely will.

Prior to delving into the feature films business, the LaLonde brothers produced their own television series: a syndicated series that dealt with the very subject matter of their films: This Week in Bible Prophecy. That lead to their creating a series of hour-long documentaries between 1994 and 1997: The Gospel of the Antichrist: Exposed, Final Warning: Economic Collapse and the Coming World Government, Startling Proofs: Does God Really Exist, Last Days: Hype or Hope?, and Racing to the End of Time. Courtesy of the ratings and retail response to those early products, it was time for a (low-budget) sci-fi thriller based on upon their TV/video teachings. That first film became Apocalypse (1998), which spawned the tetralogy franchise: Revelation, Tribulation, and Judgement.

So successful the franchise that, by the time of the release of third film and before the fourth film, Cloud Ten Pictures was able to option the very book that inspired their film series: the 1995 worldwide best-seller Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Their 2000 – 2005 film trilogy based on that book series, which starred Kirk Cameron (Saving Christmas), culminated with a bigger-budgeted, crtically derided theatrical reboot, Left Behind (2014) with Nicolas Cage.

Okay, enough with the back stories. . . . Lets throw away the melon rind on the way to Eden and unpack the prophe-verse of Franco Macalousso and his deadly O.N.E. (One Earth Nation) squads. (In Donald W. Thompson’s franchise, it was known as U.N.I.T.E. – United Nations Imperium of Total Emergency, if you’re keeping an apoc track of the proceedings.)

Apocalypse I: Caught In The Eye Of The Storm (1998)

Unlike the rest of the films in the series, we’re dealing with a list of no-name (Canadian) actors fronted by the “leads” of Leigh Lewis and Richard Nestor (that’s them, disembodied floating-headin’ the cover, by the way) and Sam Bornstein, each with limited-and-fades-away resumes; Leigh Lewis’s Helen Hannah character is the lone throughline of the series.

As with Kurt Cameron’s Cameron “Buck” Williams in the Left Behind trilogy, Helen Hannah and Bronson Pearl (Richard Nestor) are award-winning journalists who stumble into the deadly plans of Franco Macalousso (Sam Bornstein), the President of the European Union. When the prophesied Rapture occurs and throws the world into chaos, Macalousso proclaims himself the true Messiah and enforces his will upon the world.

You can watch this one Tubi. And we have to note that the video suggestions link to all three of Kirk Cameron’s Left Behind films and Casper Van Dien’s The Omega Code duet, if you’re up to the challenge.

Apocalypse II: Revelation (1999)

What a difference “three months” after the last film, makes: Satan has transformed Franco Macalousso into (wait, he is Satan) . . . Nick Mancuso, of Nightwing and Death Ship?

This time, the tale centers on the exploits of Thorold Stone, a counter-terrorism expert . . . played by Jeff Fahey of The Lawnmower Man? A non-believer hellbent to prove The Rapture is a conspiracy, he stumbles into an underground, Christian resistance movement led by Helen Hannah, from the first film. But since actress Leigh Lewis is way out of her thespin’ element, here: bring in (not much better) supermodel Carol Alt as part of the resistance.

Oh, and Alt’s character is blind. And the European Union, now ruling the world as One Nation Earth, watched John Carpenter secular They Live one too many times, since O.N.E distributes virtual reality headsets to everyone on Earth to celebrate the “Messiah’s Day of Wonders.”

So, to make sure you’re following along: Satan, and not aliens, are doing the VR brainwashing of the puny humans. You got that?

You can watch this on Tubi.

Apocalypse III: Tribulation (2000)

Well, okay . . . so we lost Jeff Fahey and Carol Alt. But we still get a little bit of Nick Mancuso . . . and gain a Gary Busey, a Margot Kidder, and a Howie Mandel. We also get just what we do not need: a non-linear timeline that splits in half across the events that happened before Apocalypse I . . . then we flash-foward — two years — after the events in Revelation, aka Apocalypse II, you got that?

No?

Hey, we feel you, because the plot is bat-crap crazy and all over the place. Gary Busey’s Tom Canbono — from what seems like another movie spliced in — stars as a bitter police detective battling a mysterious group of cloaked psychic warrior-assassins (no, we are not kiddding) after his wife, his sister and brother-in-law (Margot Kidder and a pre-bald/Van Dyked Howie Mandel). However, before Canbono can save them, the psychics take control of his car and cause him to crash. . . .

Then begins the “other” movie: Busey wakes up from a two-years coma to discover The Rapture has occurred, 95% of the world follows Nick Mancusco’s lead, and those who don’t allow themselves to be branded with a “666” on their head or right hand, in the grand tradition of all things Christian, are beheaded. (Yeah, Christians love their broadswords and guillotines in these movies.) As for the “third” movie cut into this mess: Leigh Lewis is pushed even further down the callsheets with her Christian resistance annoyances to expose Nick Mancusco as the Antichrist.

See? Told you it was bat-crap crazy — joke inferring Nick’s Nightwing — which I should be rewatching — instead of this, intended. Yeah, it sure is a long, hard fall from starring with Steven Seagal in 1992’s Under Seige, hey, Nick and Gary? Too bad Steven didn’t star in Jeff Fahey’s role for part deux to really give us something to QWERTY about.

You can watch this on Tubi. You just gotta: Busey battles psychic warriors!

Apocalypse IV: Judgement (2001)

First, we get a gaggle nobody-heard-of-them-or-seen-since Canucks making a Christian apocalypse film. Then we get an Antichrist ruling via virtual reality headsets forced onto Carol Alt by Nick Mancusco. Then we get psychic warrior-assassins after Gary Busey.

What could possibly be left, you ask?

How’s about Corbin Bernsen (The Dentist) and Jessica Steen (the aforementioned Armageddon) starring as a Christian-centric Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in Adam’s Rib (1949) — itself remade as the romantic rom-com box office bomb Laws of Attraction (2004) starring Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore. Only they were battling divorce attorneys. And Tracy and Hepburn argued a case of women’s rights.

So, what are Bernsen and Steen arguing: a copyright infringement case on the VR headsets? Gary Busey’s malpractice suit? Perhaps a copyright infringement over stealing the plot from the Stephen King’s The Dead Zone in the last movie? (No, not 28 Days Later, that’s not until next year.)

Nope to all.

Nick Mancusco — yes, he actually stuck around for three installment of this utter non-sense — is now, officially, the Antichrist and he’s “suing” Helen Hannah — yes, the out-of-her-thespian element Canadian actress Leigh Lewis is still hanging around, making us wish Carol Alt’s hot blind chick signed for the sequel — for her crimes against humanity. Corbin Bernsen is the troped, milquetoast attorney assigned to kangaroo-court our fair jounalist-turned-Christian revolutionist. Jessica Steen is his bitchy, natch, ex-wife prosecutor assigned by Nick Mancusco to railroad the leftover 5% from the last film that haven’t accepted the Mark.

Hey, wait. Mr. T is on the box! What’s he doing, here? We’ll, he’s spliced in from another movie: he’s heading up The D-Team to break Hannah from prison. Does he use one of those nifty VR headsets to pull it off?

Ugh, I just don’t care, anymore. And how come all of these Christian apoc flicks never end with Brother J showing up, in this case, to beat down Nick Mancusco? At least Estus Pirkle — his sharpened bamboo and mass graves, be damned — wrapped it up and took us upstairs to The Believer’s Heaven, while Tim Ormond has Christ arriving on white horseback with a band of angels in The Second Coming.

The Supreme Court vs. The Supreme Being. Let the Trial Begin,” so says the box copy.

No. Just let this all end. Please. I believe! I believe! I won’t accept the Mark. Anything to makes these movies, stop.

* Hey, we known what we are talking about: we’re self-proclaimed apocalypse experts! So check out these featurettes rounding up all of our reviews of apoc’ers from the ’50s through the ’80s:

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