Ten years ago, we embarked on a journey that would take us places, physically and emotionally, one that would change us as artists and people, forever. Two and a half years. Fifty-two shooting days. Freezing cold. Scorching heat. Metric tons of Little Caesars, potential tetanus, and good, good times. — The filmmakers
Shortly after dying in a car crash, Faith, a devout Christian, arrives in Heaven — only to find it a barren wasteland ravaged by an apocalyptic war, populated by otherworldly, demonic-creatrues, and ruled by Zerach, a treacherous arch angel who has overthrown Heaven and enslaved God.
Her faith in tatters, Faith joins Judas, Thomas, and a team of rogue Apostles. Together, they lock n’ load to find an exiled Jesus Christ and reclaim Heaven’s throne.
This film — as with my recent, rabbit-hole discoveries of Mayflower II and 2025: The World Enslaved by a Virus — is a pleasant streaming surprise: one made for a mere $40,000. And when you experience the scope of this action-comedy/horror-fantasy hybrid, you’ll come to appreciate the filmmaker’s abilities to squeeze the most of out their slight budget.
Looking over the resumes of Chicago-bred co-writers and directors Mike Meyer and Chris Sato, along with fellow co-writer Jason Kraynek, you’ll realize they’re a trio of experienced filmmakers — ones with a lot of miles between them via various shorts, web-series, and music videos. And it shows in the frames of this Chicago-shot Christploiter that takes those outlandish, Italian and Philippine, post-apocalyptic knockoff flicks of the ’80s to task: only this is so much better than a chintzy Bruno Mattei or Cirio H. Santiago joint*.
Those apoc-sloppers, of course, got their start with John Carpenter’s Escape from New York; it’s important to mention that iconic film, because the spirit of Carpenter’s own action-comedy/horror-fantasy hybrid, the purposefully hammy Big Trouble in Little China, permeates, here. Simply remove the martial arts exploitation and a insert a little exploitation of Christianity. And let’s not forget the writer of that film, D.W Richter, also gave us The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension — which spins in the same wheelhouse as Heaven is Hell.
However, looking over the two, lone IMDb user reviews, Heaven is Hell is a film with no middle ground: Christians are offended, referring to it as being “atheist,” “Satanist,” and flat-out “anti-Christian.” Secularists appreciate and applaud the parody.
The same derision met Luis Buñuel’s (Simon the Desert) surrealistic, but not as parody-driven, The Milky Way (1969). The British-made Monty Python’s Life of Brian, itself offering us the concept of “an alternate-universe Jesus,” suffered the irritations of Christians and Catholics, even though Eric Idle and his cohorts insisted the film was a goof on organized, man-made religions — and not a spoof on Jesus or The Holy Bible, itself.
Such a film is Heaven is Hell, again: a film made for $40,000.
Putting any offensives one may have regarding the threading of Christianity and Catholicism beliefs through the eye of the apocalypse, aside: there is no denying this is a very well-made movie, with all of the respective film disciplines firing on all cylinders. The actors “get” their material (as did the cast of the recent, parody-excellent S**t & Champagne) and the movie is all the better for it. It’s unfortunate the joke that the “sequel” Heaven Was Hell: 2 Holy 4 Eva was coming soon . . . never had a punchline.
You can learn more about Heavenis Hell on their official Facebook page and watch the full movie as a free-stream on You Tube. You can also sample the trailer.
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. He also writes for B&S About Movies (links to a truncated teaser-listing of his reviews).
Editor’s Note: This cinematic journey will take us from 1970 to 1983, as we explore 36 films.You’ll find links to individual, expanded reviews for some of those films, which will, in turn, have links to watch the films online. There is, admittedly, a lot to unpack here. So bookmark this article — and come back, often — for your one-source guide to discovering Christian films, films that exploited the genre, and other films that searched for the deeper meaning and purpose of man.
Trailers and/or the full films for each film we’ve reviewed can easily be found online through a wide array of video hosting and streaming service.
We dove deep into the radioactive, post-apocalyptic pools with our two-part, two-month long September and October 2019 extravaganza with all manner of “End of the World” flicks — as well as a few from the Christian Cinema subgenre of biblical prophecy-based films.
Since then, as is our obsession with niche genres, we went a little bit overboard as we reviewed more of the puritanical pablum. So, let’s round up all of those “Christian Cinema” reviews — along with a few new ones, and a few you won’t expect — as we learn more about the beginnings of the genre and its post-apocalypse subgenre concerned with the Apocalypse as foretold in the Book of Revelations of The Holy Bible.
Christian Cinema is known by secular audiences as Christploitation or Godsploitation, and as with any “-ploitation” sub-genre of films, such as Blaxploitation or Hicksploitation*, someone is exploited. So instead of African-Americans or Southerners, Jesus Christ is used to gain financial success. Only, instead of clipping taboo trends or lurid content concerning sex and violence into the frames, these proselytizing flicks center around Christian practices. As is the production model of any -ploitation film, Christian Cinema product takes their “wholesome” plot points way over the top (even more so than secular exploiters), where all non-believers are inherently evil (and ripe for the guillotine, fiery pits, or mass graves), Russians, Chinese, and Israeli peoples are behind the “end times” and are inherently damned (at least in the older, more crazed films), and Christians are perpetually oppressed for their (cheesy) patriotism (e.g, a gun is put to a believer’s head as they are told to renounce Christ; they’re bound, then dropped on spikes, etc.).
Christploitation films — even more so with their updated, ‘ 90s and ’00s versions — are in fact, not analogous to the secular, major studio biblical films of old; films that intended to inspire hope (but were “exploitative” none the less). Most of the films we explore on this list (and others we name drop within reviews) are intended to frighten you into believing. That is if they don’t make you, the secular viewer, guffaw, first. And that’s because Christian filmmakers, as well as Christian musicians, are creating their preaching-to-the-choir art solely for religious purposes, forgetting they need to create good art; a non-hokey art that will appeal to a mass audience beyond their respective Christian targets. Thus the reason for the major studio biblical-based films garnering more positive reviews and box office returns than their low-budgeted, Christian-indie counterparts.
In the pages of the book Media, Culture, and the Religious Right by Linda Kintz and Julia Lesage (1998; University of Minnesota Press), we learn that, in the 1940s, Christian film libraries emerged. Soon, Christian businessmen, most notably Harvey W. Marks, who started the Visual Aid Center in 1945, invested in the what became the earliest video stores, by creating libraries for the faithful to rent audiovisual materials and supplies churches with product. By 1968, Christian Cinema, a small theater in the Germantown area of Philadelphia, was opened by Harry Bristow to screen Christian-based films. That theater-based ministry continued its mission until its newer location in Ambler, Pennsylvania, ceased operation in the mid-1990s.
Subtly is not part of the narrative in most of the films we’re looking at or referring to; most wear their earnestness (especially those of the post-Cloud Ten Productions variety; now PureFlix has entered the fray alongside Albany, Georgia-based Sherwood Pictures) on their sleeves, leaving one with a sanctimonious, but never dull (well, sometimes; okay, most times) film. Whether or not the film is irreverent or irrelevant to one’s life depends on the secular or Christian insights of the viewers. Christian cinema isn’t for everyone, as is horror films based/set within the Bible (such as The Exorcist or The Omen) are for everyone.
While biblical-based films have been produced since the silent era and the earliest days of the “Talkies,” (1915’s Civilization, 1935’s Golgotha, and 1941’s all-Black production The Blood of Jesus are worthy of mention) the genre hit its stride in the 1950s, with the major studios’ “Books of the Bible ” epics of Samson and Delilah (1949), David and Bathsheba (1951), Quo Vadis (1951), The Robe (1953), Salome (1953), Slaves of Babylon (1953), Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), The Silver Chalice (1954), The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), The Big Fisherman (1959), Solomon and Sheba (1959), Esther and the King (1960), The Story of Ruth (1960), Barabbas (1961), Francis of Assisi (1961), King of Kings (1961), A Story of David (1961), Sodom and Gomorrah (1962), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and The Bible: In the Beginning(1966). Also released during this period were Luis Buñuel’s (Simon the Desert) surrealistic take with The Milky Way (1969) and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s neo-realist (a really fine must-watch) The Gospel According to Matthew (1964). Other faith-based films released during this period included A Man Called Peter (1955), Mother Joan of the Angels (1961), Satan Never Sleep (1962), Lillies of the Field (1963), The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), A Man for All Seasons (1966), 7 Women (1966), and The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968). And while it is looked upon as a war film, Sergeant York (1941) chronicles the faith-based life of Alvin C. York, one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War I. (The faith-based life of World War II conscientious objector Desmond Doss is chronicled in 2016’s Hacksaw Ridge.) Then there’s the “western” Stars in My Crown (1950), where a pastor preaches in a dangerous town — with a gun on his side.
Of course, all of those early, major studio, secular versions of the bible were rife with A-List stars, such as Stuart Granger, Charlton Heston, Paul Newman, and Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, with the “faith” aspects of the film’s source materials taking a backseat to the glitz and glam of Hollywood (even more so with 2014’s later, competing Sfx spectacles Exodus: Gods and Kings starring Christian Bale and Noah starring Russell Crowe). It was time for churches and faith-based production companies to begin making their own films to get the story, straight.
Prior to the Christian Cinema industry that we know today becoming big business in the ’90s and ‘2000s, courtesy of widespread, mainstream theatrical and cable television showings, as well as those Christian media concerns embracing the DVD format to distribute their proselytizing wares, the church-financed indie-genre started out as “roadshow” films.
Those were the days when films literally “hit the road,” traveling from church showing to church showing, from tent revival to tent revival. No secular drive-in or indoor theater would offer a free screen for such fare, and the organizations behind these early Christian Cinema flicks weren’t about to pay to “four-wall” a tour of secular venues (a marketing venue that worked for the much later, Christian-oriented film, Flywheel, from Albany, Georgia’s Sherwood Pictures). So, the first exposure for the many (well, the followers of a particular church or pastor) of several of the films on this list were inside church auditoriums, chapels, and revival tents. Some may have had additional showings on local/rural UHF-TV channels in the 1970s, as well on the 1973-incorporated, UHF-based Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Then, with the advent of the home video market, these once lost, underground church n’ tent films broke away from their puritanical obscurity into the secular, VCR-inclined curiosity seekers during the home video ’80s.
As the home video marketplace completed its transformation from analog tapes to DVDs, Christian author Tim LaHaye, along with writer Jerry B. Jenkins, inspired a Christian-leaning post-apoc industry in 1995 with their first book in the 12-title Left Behind adult novel series. The books, replete with elements of sci-fi, horror and action, became a series with critical acclaim and sales that matched the secular works of Stephen King and Tom Clancy. In the pages of a February 2005 TIME magazine interview, world renowned pastoral leader Jerry Falwell said, “In terms of its impact on Christianity, it’s [the Left Behind books] probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible.”
And as with King and Clancy before him, Hollywood optioned LaHaye’s works for theatrical adaptions, which became a tetraology franchise by Canadian’s Paul and Peter LaLonde Christian-based Cloud Ten Pictures, a studio that specializes in end-times films. The original three films were Left Behind: The Movie (2000), Left Behind II: Tribulation Force (2002), and Left Behind: World at War (2005). The films were so successful in the home video and cable television marketplace, a big screen theatrical reboot starring Nicolas Cage (be sure to visit our exploration of Nicolas Cage’s career),Left Behind, was released in 2014.
But let’s step back for a moment.
In between the paranoia-driven insights of Donald W. Thompson, with his decade-long, four-part Thief in the Night film series, and secular exploitation filmmaker Ron Ormond teaming with Mississippi evangelist Estus Pirkle to let loose a half-dozen films, most which dealt with the tales of the Apocalypse, mainstream studio 20th Century Fox stole their “thunder,” if you will, to give us Richard Donner’s influential The Omen (1976). Its tale of the coming Antichrist not only spawned four sequels between 1976 to 1991, as well as a 2006 remake, it spawned a puritanical plethora of Italian and Spanish knockoffs**.
Prior to The Omen, William Peter Blatty’s 1971 horror novel, The Exorcist, more so inspired the European film industry**, with the book’s 1973 film adaptation by William Friedkin. But those films, as they wore on, shed their religious elements and concentrated on the horror, to the point the “faith element” that served as the soul purpose of the films by Donald W. Thompson and Ron Ormond, were lost. Some of those faith-based elements of early ’70s Christian Cinema found their way back in the major studio system, with Columbia Pictures’ apocalyptic-horror drama The Seventh Sign (1988) and New Line Pictures took a break from the Freddie slasher flicks to produce their biblical thriller-drama, The Rapture (1991).
And that takes us back to 1995 and Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’s debut, best selling book, Left Behind.
Inspired by LaHaye’s books, the LaLonde Brothers, prior to their optioning of Left Behind as the best-distributed film from Cloud Ten Pictures, produced their own tetraology based on the end times chronicled in the Book of Revelations. The first in the series, known as Apocalypse (1998) during its initial release, was retitled Apocalypse: Caught in the Eye of the Storm for the home video market. The next films in the series each carried “Apocalypse” colon prefixes with Roman numerations for the sequels Revelation (1999), Tribulation (2000), and Judgement (2001).
Paul and Jan Crouch’s TBN, which began airing these modern-day biblical apoc flicks to ratings success, weren’t going to be “left behind,” so they bankrolled their own “End of Times” flick with Six: The Mark Unleashed (2004). That film, starring faith-based actor David A.R. White, led to his forming his own studio, PureFlix (think Netflix, only for Christians). The studio, in turn, produced their own Rapture films with The Moment After (1999), The Moment After 2 (2006), In the Blink of an Eye (2009), and Jerusalem Countdown (2011). Of course, the biggie for TBN was the theatrically-released The Omega Code (1999) starring Casper Van Dien and Michael York, which spawned an equally-successful sequel in Meddigo: The Omega Code 2 (2001).
Each of these proselytizing flicks, as with the Left Behind series, upped their Christian Cinema game by casting past-their prime actors, but reliable and dependable actors none the less, such as Stephen Baldwin, Corbin Bernsen, Gary Busey, Jeff Fahey, Margot Kidder, Nick Mancuso, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Mr. T, and Eric Roberts. And, as with Cloud Ten Pictures, those films also achieved significant sales, rentals, and ratings. They also failed with secular critics, with the word “worthless” accompanying their zero-to-half-star reviews. But evangelical reviewers — the intended audience — loved the films, lamenting their “transformative messages” for the masses.
Transformation or movement of the Holy Spirit was, of course, not the goal of the obviously superior produced End of Days (1999) directed by Peter Hyams and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and The Book of Eli (2010), backed by producer royalty in Joel Silver and starring Denzel Washington. Those films backburner the faith-aspects and placed the obvious sci-fi, horror and action elements prevalent in the books written by John (the Apostle or of Patmos; opinions vary) to the forefront. And once Christian-based studios, such Cloud Ten Productions, PureFlix, and Sherwood Pictures began breaking box office and retail rental records (with films like Do You Believe? and Let There Be Light), the major studios responded with, again the likes of Exodus: Gods and Kings (Christian Bale as Moses), Noah (Russell Crowe as the crazy boat guy), and Mary Magdalene (2018; Rooney Mara as Mary and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus).
Now, let’s see if we can transform you with our reviews to these lost premillennialist flicks — with a few tangents that question who and what is the purpose of man — of Christian Cinema. Remember, we, as a society, just came out of the Vietnam War and were still feeling the dread of the Korean War. Man needed answers. And Hollywood was ready to answer the calling to instill either apeirophobia (the fear of eternity) and ouranophobia (the fear of heaven) in movie goers to make a buck. For you need not be a Christian to exploit Jesus Christ. Amen.
Aliens mixed with your bible was big business in the ’70s, much to the chagrin of the traditionalist fire-and-brimstone brigade (who believe UFOs “are Devils” sent to distract you) — and this is the film where The History Channel’s Giorgio A. Tsoukalos got his ancient aliens schtick. First released as Erinnerungen an die Zukunft, a German-produced film based on Erich von Däniken’s 1968 worldwide best-seller Chariots of the Gods? , this ancient aliens trailblazer extrapolates aliens and interplanetary craft to the Holy Bible’s Book of Ezekiel.
When this raked in $26 million in U.S. box office and received an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, documentaries on the mysteries of Earth and space, were thou loosed. A down-on-his-luck William Shatner got into the ancient-biblical astronauts game with Mysteries of the Gods (1977), while Rod Serling pulled a paycheck in 1973 with In Search of Ancient Astronauts, In Search of Ancient Mysteries, and The Outer Space Connection — all released by Sunn Classics, the studio behind Chariots.
On a personal note: I had a pastor tell me that there can’t be life on other planets, as Jesus doesn’t have the time to go from planet to planet, flying from galaxy to galaxy on a chariot, dying for everyone’s sins.
But isn’t Jesus the Son of God who turned water into wine and fed the 5,000-strong multitudes with five loaves and two fish? Can’t Jesus do everything? Aren’t all things possible with God? And why does Jesus have to fly on a chariot? Can’t he just “appear” where he needs to go in an instant?
Then I was forced to watch a Rom Ormond-Estus Pirkle flick in the chapel for our mandatory Wednesday service to wise up my inquisitiveness. For the rule is not to question: It is DO as Pastor says . . . or it off to the “bible room” you go. Yes. The Bible Room. (It’s not as bad as Carrie White in the closet, but it’s damn close to it.)
Christian Cinema of the ’70s boils down to this trailblazer based on the worldwide, 1963 best-seller on the life of Pentecostal pastor David Wilkerson (45 million-selling ’50s pop singer Pat Boone) who — alone and with no money — goes to the mean streets of Brooklyn to witness to street gang members. He comes to meet Nicky Cruz (Erik Estrada), the leader of the Mau Maus, whom he eventually transforms though Jesus Christ. A box office success — directed by actor Don Murray (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) — the film was dubbed into 30 languages and has been enjoyed over the years in 150 countries.
Erik Estrada would impress, again, in his second film, one that is also critically (criminally) remembered as a Christploiter — but is not the least exploitative — the musician-cautionary tale, The Ballad of Billie Blue (1972). Don’t let the presence of Pat Boone deter you: both he and Estrada, are excellent; while Don Murray proves as a solid director who should have made more films.
The first exposure of this early Christian post-apoc’er by secular audiences was the film’s dialog appearing on Negativland’s albums Escape from Noise (1987) and Helter Stupid (1989) (which subsequent garnered mainstream press in alt-rock publications, a first for Pastor Pirke). Courtesy of the “modern” technology of VCR, this once forgotten film, not seen outside of church services and tent revivals, found a new audience on home video. After one viewing, we, the secular, sinning hoards were hooked; we sought out the rest of the utterly insane Ormond-Pirkle canons.
If you were unfortunate enough during your middle-to-high school life subjected to 16-mm shorts regarding drugs, vandalism, and teen pregnancy during social sciences and civics classes (which also played in private schools), that’s what we have here: the same slanted, low-budget drive-in styled production values, only as a pastor’s sermon unfurls with docudrama reenactments of his message. Footmen‘s production came about after Westerns and exploitation drive-in purveyor Ron Ormond survived a single-engine plan crash; upon “finding God,” he woke to the literal, fire and brimstone teachings of Mississippi pastor Estus Pirkle. Together, they’d make three films; Ormond, with other pastors, made a half dozen faith-based films, in total.
If you want to see a film where good Christian folks are subjugated by Communists, forced to renounce Jesus Christ and accept Fidel Castro as their personal savor (at gunpoint) this is the film. But be warned, this Ormond-Pirkle debut is rough watch . . . and not because of its production values, but of its squeamish violence. Christians are wiped out by machine gun; they’re stabbed, hung, tortured and murdered. Children — children — are made to hang, then dropped on buried pitch forks — at least the ones who don’t have their hands bound behind their backs, only to have bamboo shoots shoved into their brains through their ears, leaving them to puke their guts out.
Mind you, this film is meant to inspire you. But as is the case with most of the films on this list, Christians prove they’re sicker than Satanists and excel in shilling their outright fear equals inspiration marketing technique. Seriously, the kids really go through the ringer in this one, to the point of it almost being a pedo-snuff film. I need to stop talking about this film, now, as its upsetting me.
Next up for Ormond-Pirkle traveling salvation show, The Burning Hell.
* We love this movie so much so that frequent guest writer Herbert P. Caine took another swipe at it as part of our 2022 April Movie-thon. Yes, pardon the pun, but Estus Pirkle is a celluloid god in these here parts. Fear the Reaper, ye sinner.
We know. We know. Why is an exploration of ’70s Christian Cinema starting off with a crime-horror that warns “Death is the only way out,” as brought to us by Cinemation Industry — the Drive-In shingle that gave us the likes of Teenage Mother (1967), I Eat Your Skin (1971), and an X-rated cartoon in the form of Fritz the Cat (1972)?
Well, it was the ’60s and Charles Manson-inspired films, such as The Love-Thrill Murders (1971), were all the rage — and when you’re director Lee Madden of Angel Unchained (1970) fame, you work in a little Jesus teachin’ and preachin’ into the counterculture frames to upend the religious establishment. And Madden did just that. When it comes to the Christploitation genre — even in the shadow of Estus Pirkle’s admittedly honorable films — this is a real scrape through the rusted bottom of the barrel.
Ex-20th Century Fox starlet Jeanne Crain co-stars with director Alex Nicol (Point of Terror) as a preacher’s wife on the run from a faux-Manson and his “Jesus freaks” hippie minions after they crucified (literally) her preacher-husband. They, of course, get off, only to lay a revenge-siege to Crain’s country home.
So, yes. It’s an unconventional Christploitation listing. But after Pirkle jamming sharpened bamboo shoots through children’s ears, this film is — while offensive — still a peaceful stroll to Damascus. Just thank us for our decorum in not including the Christ-Sexploiters Girls in Trouble (1971), The Astrologer (1975), and Dark Sunday (1976). (Hey, we just did!) Ditto for the Bette Midler musical screech-fest, The Greatest Story Overtold, aka The Thorn (1971) — which is less enjoyable than an Estus Pirkle bamboo shoot in the ear. Oh, Bette . . . being nailed down to wood would be more enjoyable.
The pedigree is the thing in this imperiled-musician-in-a-spiritual crisis tale (Starcrossed Roads in its VHS shelf life), with our director being none other than Kent Osborne of the counterculture dune buggy romp Wild Wheels (1969); as an actor he appeared in Al Adamson’s Blood of Dracula’s Castle and Five Bloody Graves. The scribe behind this Christploitationer, Ralph Luce, also wrote Wild Wheels; and that’s Robert Dix and William Kerwin from Satan’s Sadists and Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast, respectively, in the cast, as well as a pre-CHiPs Erik Estrada (in his second, faith-based film and second film overall; his first was The Cross and the Switchblade).
It’s the tale of a drug-and-boozed out country music star — our faux-message “Jesus Christ” of the proceedings — sent to prison, aka Hell, on a bum murder rap; he finds God by way of a prison preacher and a Christ-following country music star.
Regardless of its secular, exploitative pedigree, this was Rated-G — and it ran as a “Special Church Benefit” in rural theaters, as well as in churches and tent revivals. But, unlike a Pirkle movie: no children were harmed to get its salvation message across.
6. Pilate and Others (1972)
It took forever to find a copy of this on VHS with subtitles, but the days of pre-Internet grey market catalogs came though — and this film didn’t disappoint.
Andrzej Wajda touched on biblical adaptations with his art house take, Samson (1961), a philosophical amalgam that sets World War II to the Old Testament tale of Samson. While that film is not well-know outside of its Polish homeland, Pilate and Others was rediscovered upon its showing at the 2006 Berlin International Film Festival where Wajda received and honorary Golden Bear.
Wajda’s satirical take, set in 1930s Germany, is based on the 1967 Russian novel The Master and Margarita (1967) by Mikhail Bulgakov (set in Moscow). U.S. audiences didn’t know or care about the film until it began appearing on video after the BIFF showing; suddenly aware, now U.S Christians had issues with Wajda ‘s contemporary take on Pontius Pilate, which placed the Roman governor of Judaea on the same Nuremberg platform where Hitler gave his speeches.
Yeah, no one wants a New Testament-based biblical set in Germany. That’s their loss. There’s several other Euro adaptations of Bulgakov’s multi-language best-seller, but Wajda’s is the best known.
So, you think Donald W. Thompson, with his four-part A Thief in the Night series, had the sci-fi end of the Christploitation spectrum locked up? Think again: Thompson may have made it to the tents, first (in March ’72), but this imaginative, against-the-budget apoc’er by writer Marshall Riggan (the secular debut Cry for Poor Wally, the later psych-horror So Sad About Gloria) is, by far, the superior film. The quality comes courtesy of the always-dependable Joe Turkel (ironically, of the later, influential apoc’er, Bladerunner) starring as a Colonel in command of a secret mountain-computer brain facility when the Rapture, then Armageddon, breaks out.
Shown exclusively at churches, tent revivals, and Youth For Christ centers into the ’80s (yes, part of another Wednesday Chapel “Media Day” we had once-a-month at school), it was re-discovered by the booming ’90s Christian film market and reissued on DVD as 666: Mark of the Beast. If you’re a fan of Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), Silent Running (1972), and the trapped-in-a-bunker-by-bats apoc’er Chosen Survivors (1974), then you’ll enjoy this science fiction-inflected Christploiter.
Donald W. Thompson is an indie writer-director not well-known in secular circles as Ron Ormond who began in secular films, but when it comes to Evangelical Christian Cinema, Thompson is a prolific filmmaker who created 16 films centered around his faith. His best known work to secular audiences — due to its Good Life TV Network showings (Inchon) — is the Christian-romantic drama All the King’s Horses (1977). The many have sought out that film, as it stars an early Dee Wallace (who we came to know in The Howling) and Grant Goodeve (Mark Hamill’s replacement on TV’s Eight Is Enough).
But it was Thompson’s pioneering “Rapture” tetralogy series — all written by Russell Doughten, who produced and did uncredited direction on The Blob; no really — that that had the greatest impact among evangelicals searching for non-secular entertainment. The prolific films, concerned with biblical “End Times” prophecies, crafted two decades before Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series of novel and films, dispense with the family-friendly evangelism of Thompson’s other films (and the fire and brimstone mania of Ron Ormond’s later films), placing the bible into a contemporary sci-fi/horror context.
While A Thief in the Night wasn’t made as a TV movie, but for roadhouse showings in churches (where I got stuck watching them during Wednesday chapel), it certainly all plays as a TV movie. And if you know your TV movies, these religious apoc’ers come complete with the same, strained acting, harshly-lit flat production values, and all the stock music cues you expect. Thompson, however, effectively hits all of the plot points (a one-word UNITE organization, marking of hands and foreheads, etc.) from the rash of all the of the bible-poc films produced in the Left Behind backwash, so it makes for a fascinating watch. Even more so considering Thompson produced his film — and was most likely inspired by — Hollywood’s mainstream, post-apocalyptic sci-fi craze with the likes of The Omega Man (1971), Soylent Green (1973), and The Ultimate Warrior (1974).
Strangely enough, as it is peppered with radio and black and white TV broadcasts (and awful stock music), A Thief in the Night plays as a Christian version of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead — sans the zombies, which are replaced by disappearing, i.e., raptured, people. Oh, and instead of the Communists of the Ormond-Pirkle gospel train, it’s the U.N — the United Nations themselves — which will lead the world’s demise.
Should you watch? Well, it’s purported that over 300 million have seen the film and converted (i.e., scared) more people to Christ than any other Christian film. What proof Thompson can offer to back up that claim, is questionable.
Next up: A Distant Thunder, aka A Thief In the Night II.
This odd-duck documentary-portmanteau trilogy of “true tales” narrated by Rod Serling doesn’t really belong here, but the second installment, The Darkness, is concerned with “a hole to Hell”: a real-life hole to Hell that swallows a dog and drives a man insane. You can’t get more biblical than that or find another reel of tabloid filmmaking any finer.
The studio behind it, American National Enterprises, returns with Mysteries from Beyond Planet Earth.
10. Godspell (1973)
As with Andrzej Wajda’s contemporary bible take set in Nuremberg, Germany, faith-based audiences weren’t keen on a Broadway musical adaptation of parables from The Holy Bible‘s New Testament Gospel of Matthew set in contemporary New York City. One look at John the Baptist gathering disciples (aka, ’60s hippies) to follow Jesus Christ (decked out in a Superman “S” tee-shirt and suspenders), who then take to the streets as a roving acting troupe to reenact Jesus’s parables . . . well, out came the picket signs. The pickets didn’t matter: the secular reviewers were split and generally towards the positive, but the film’s box office barely broke even.
The “Jesus Rock” soundtrack, however, is fantastic, courtesy of the four musicians from the original stage production and cast album — Steve Reinhardt on keyboards, Jesse Cutler on acoustic and lead guitar and bass, Richard LaBonte on rhythm guitar and bass, and Ricky Shutter (Bo Diddley and Gary U.S. Bonds) on drums and percussion — returning for the film. Assisting in the studio are Hugh McCracken (Van Morrison, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel’s early recordings) and Paul Shaffer (of David Letterman fame and A Year at the Top, which has its own religious bent to it).
Columbia Studios, Universal Studios, and Paramount all got into the “Jesus” game with their respective films Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. So Johnny Cash easily pitched his country-gospel musical take on the life of Jesus to 20th Century Fox, who released this in March amid those films — and met the same public and critical indifference. Narrated by Johnny Cash, his heartfelt (and not the least exploitative), self-financed production that shot on location in Israel came with an accompanying double album of all-original music penned by Cash, June Carter (who stars as Mary Magdalene), and Kris Kristofferson (who doesn’t star, but would have made a great Jesus).
12. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
Before he let thou loose Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on an unsuspecting world, Robert Stigwood produced this Norman Jewison directing effort based on the 1970 Broadway rock opera.
The film goes meta, as it begins with the cast and crew traveling by bus into the Israeli desert to re-enact the Passion of Christ. They set up their props and get into costume as the story begins, concentrating on the conflict between Jesus and Judas during the week of the crucifixion of Jesus.
As with Godspell released in March, the August release of JSC met to mixed reviews — with outright criticism from religious groups. The film, however, garnered Golden Globe nobs for its lead actors Ted Neely (Jesus), Carl Anderson (Judas) and Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene).
You can stream Jesus Christ Superstar on Amazon Prime, Vudu, and Google Play Movies.
The September 17, 1981, cover of Rolling Stone #352, with a picture of Jim Morrison emblazoned on the cover, proclaimed: “He’s Hot, He’s Sexy and Dead.” In the early ’70s, the same could be said about Jesus Christ, for the Son of God rules the airwaves and theater screens.
So, with Columbia and Universal releasing their competing films versions of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973 (in March and August, respectively), the odd-studio out, Paramount, wasn’t missing the “Jesus Rock” boat. So they optioned writer Richard Bach’s 1970 best-selling novella, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. And since the book — as did the two stage-to-films that inspired its production — didn’t come with a soundtrack, Paramount, through Columbia Records (his label), contracted Neil Diamond to write a companion piece to the book/film. Yes, Neil Diamond, the bane of one’s musical existence (not me) made a “Jesus Rock” album — and topped the album and singles charts.
If you enjoyed the book — which many (criminally) dismissed as metaphysical drivel and thus, hated the movie — you’ll love the movie, a movie that is of its time and place: a time when seagulls could talk and Jesus was, in fact, “hot, sexy and dead.”
While Ron Ormond and Estus Pirkle’s debut film If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? turned your stomach — courtesy of its child abductions, bondage and murders by communist soldiers — this film tells you of the aftermath of those sinners who failed to follow Jesus — and will give your outright nightmares. Again, fear equals inspiration.
According to the statistical preaching of Pastor Pirkle, people enter Hell at 60-bodies per minute to the tune of over 3,000 each hour of every day, where those worms will eat you forever and ever and ever and ever. People — as with all Christian films obsessed with swords and guillotines — are beheaded. People are actually seen burning in Hell, covered in blood, sores, and soot, while chased by devilish, fanged centaurs. Yes, we do see real worms and grubs crawling on people — and not even the most discriminating Italian zombie purveyor will hold back the puke. Fear Factor contestants wouldn’t make the background-extra actor grade, as they’d run screaming from the set.
Hey, scoff if you will at Pirkle’s sermons, but Ormond’s against-the-budget depictions of Hell, as well as his actors, are impressive (considering they’re non-pros working for free-for-Jesus) and on equal to the previous depictions of Hell imagined by Jose Majica Marins as Coffin Joe in (the obviously better made) This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse. Yeah, it’s all a bit goofy, but still powerful.
And, with that, the Ormond-Pirkle “grindhouse gospel” train rolled into the station and Ormond made The Grim Reaper (1976). Their next dual-project is a companion piece to The Burning Hell, known as The Believer’s Heaven (1977), which does for Heaven, what this film does for Hell. However, between the making of The Burning Hell and The Grim Reaper, the Ormond family made the “travelogue/documentary” feature, The Land Where Jesus Walked (1975).
If there’s a cinematic kitchen sink to the freak-out-the-puny-humans genre of ancient alien-cum-biblical films, then his entry from exploitation sausage factory American National Enterprises (also gave us the previously entry, Encounter with the Unknown), is it. No theory is too obscure nor too crazed for discussion. Biblical clairvoyant Edgar Cayce (who believed Jesus was the reincarnation of Adam) talking about Atlantis and UFOs? You bet. Then there’s the Bermuda Triangle, Telepathy, ESP, firestarters, Kirlian photography that captures auras, and examinations on plants being able to communicate. And there’s still frames left to discuss witchcraft, Satanism, Black Masses, the Hollow Earth, Bigfoot, black holes, genetic engineering, clones, and cryogenic suspension and reanimation.
You need more weirdness and unexplained Earthly phenomenons concerning Edgar Cayce, Bigfoot and Atlantis? Then you need to watch The Force Beyond (1977). Bankrolled by FVI – Film Ventures International (see our “Drive-In Friday” feature on the studio), it’s directed by William Sachs (Van Nuys Blvd.) and Orson Welles, the voice behind another film on our list, The Late Great PlanetEarth, narrates. And don’t confuse The Force Beyond — remember, it was the Year of Our George Lucas — with The Unknown Force (1977), in which Jack Palance bellows about psychics, miracle healers, and Man’s and the Earth’s untapped energies.
Needless to say my church and youth pastors (Sam?) preached against and warned our parents not to let us see Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica. For UFOs, again, “are Devils” and “there is no life on other planets” . . . because Jesus just haven’t enough time in his enteral life to die for everyone’s sins, and God didn’t “seed” other planets to then “seed” the Earth. Oh, the memories . . . that Wednesday chapel service when my blue-plaid blazer and pink-striped tie pastor went off the deep end, saliva spraying, collecting in the corners of his mouth, ranting-to-aneurysm about George Lucas and Glen Larson as the “false prophets” of Satan. Horrifying, good times? You bet! (Maybe it’s true: God punished George with Howard the Duck and Glen with Buck Rogers, after all.)
Ron Ormond’s third Christsploitation flick — sans Estus Pirkle and his cheap suits — is a loose rewrite of The Burning Hell that dispenses with the preaching-documentary reenactments of If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? and The Burning Hell. This time, the Baptist propaganda pedaled is a drama about a family asunder amid a crisis of faith.
A God-fearing mother and her preacher-aspiring son toil as her husband and stock car racing other son refuse to attending church. When their son dies in a race, the father falls under the spell of a fortune teller, communicating with the dead, so as to comfort his wife and keep her out of the graveyard. Meanwhile, a pastor (Greg Pirkle, the son of Estus) refuses to perform a sermon for the dead son, because the son rejected Jesus and was cast into Hell.
Oh, this movie . . . when the fortune teller connects to the after world, with the winds, the screaming, and the photo-trickery imposed ghosts. When Frankie, the son, comes out of a wall, crying out for “his momma.” Then there’s momma’s flashbacks, the stock car racing, Estus’s wife, Julie, showing up as a Spirit Halloween-cackling witch, and appearances by Jack Van Impe and Jerry Falwell. . . wow, this one has it all: all played serious and straightforward, which makes is all the more entertaining. Again, Ormond’s against-the-budget Hell scenes are effective. If you take away the heavy-handed Bible message, you have a scrappy, little Drive-In horror exploiter cash-in on The Exorcist and The Omen, here.
Don’t fret, dear believer. The agit-preaching of Pastor Pirkle returns in The Believer’s Heaven.
A documentary based on the best-selling book by David Balsiger made by Sunn Classics (Hanger 18) on the cheap and quick in Park City, Utah, was bound to happen. The main point of all of this: Noah’s Ark “has been found” on Turkey’s Mount Ararat, yet physical and political challenges have kept mankind from studying the ark any further.
Sunn’s magic worked: In Search of Noah’s Ark was the number nine movie for all of 1976, up against the likes of Rocky, the aforementioned The Omen, King Kong and Silver Streak. Sunn made this movie for next to nothing and it grossed $55 million in the U.S. So, there, take that, you gomorrahites of Tinseltown.
My life’s current mission statement is to instill an obsession in B&S About Movies’ boss Sam Panico equal to my own over this religious-variety show pastiche. Think of an adult version of TV’s The Monkees obsessed with the parables of Adam and Eve and Noah and the Ark from The Holy Bible. Then envision ’70s song and dance man Ben Vereen — decked out in green sequence suits and red dump jumpsuits, as the Devil — singing the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Oh, ye believer, yes there is more, as you haven’t begun to scratch the surface of watching TV’s Mary Tyler Moore whisked off into a disco-ballet version of The Wizard of Oz.
No, I am not explaining my own LSD trip. This is real. This films exists. This film is an epic disaster on equal with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Italian-produced religious-disco disaster that is White Pop Jesus. And we thank God that Ms. Moore opted to sing Cat Stevens’s “Morning Has Broken” and not the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” for the big “Flood” set piece. And while the proceedings are bad, it is still not as awful as Bette Midler’s foray . . . which, now, just got two more mentions than it deserves in this “Exploring” feature. Stop it, Bette! We are not giving your train wreck of a movie a full review, no matter how many times you interject!
The ecclesiastical crowd wasn’t thrilled with British biblical scholar Hugh J. Schonfield’s published translation of The Holy Bible‘s New Testament — from a Jewish perspective. And everyone — especially the Catholic Church — wasn’t thrilled with his controversial non-fiction work, The Passover Plot (1965).
A decade later, the book was pretty much forgotten. But the Jesus train was rolling down the tracks and the major studios optioned all the best materials. So leave it to our old ’80s video junk cinema buddy and exploitation bandwagoner Menahen Golan (who gave us his futurist Adam and Eve new wave musical The Apple in 1980) to adapt a controversial book that concluded that the Holy Savior’s death and resurrection was a conspiracy purported by Jesus — who drugged himself to feign death — and his followers.
Now, you say you’re not up for a biblical conspiracy flick, but would the fact that Michael Campos, he of the early ’70s Oliver Reed post-apoc’er Z.P.G. (1970) and the Blaxploition classic The Mack (1973), directed it, interest you? Perhaps that Zalman King portrays Jesus (and shot the rape-sleaze fest Trip with the Teacher the year previous)? That Donald Plesence is Pontius Pilate? That TV character actor Dan Hedaya (Joe Versus the Volcano) is one of the Twelve Disciples?
Not since Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ — penned by Paul Schrader of Taxi Driver fame, based on Nikos Kazantzakis’s (equally forgotten) 1955 novel of the same name — with its depictions of Jesus Christ pulling himself off the Cross and engaging in sexual intercourse (it’s all symbolism, not literal; exploring spiritual conflicts), caused more rabid outrage and protests than The Passover Plot. But let’s not forget Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), which set solely on the horrors of Jesus’s suffering, The Da Vinci Code (2006), with its claims Jesus Christ was married, the German-made Pilate and Others (1972), with it’s satirical take set in 1930’s Germany, and Jesus of Montreal (1989) with its contemporary take in Quebec by a down-on-their-luck acting troupe hired to put on The Passion Play.
You can free stream The Passover Plot on You Tube and Vimeo. (We’ve since given this film a full review proper, in honor of cinematographer Adam Greenberg, who shot Lemon Popsicle, and its American remake, The Last American Virgin. So controversial, Pat Boone, the star of The Cross and the Switchblade, purchased national syndicated TV time to create an hour-long show asking people not to go see The Passover Plot.)
Ron Ormond follows up The Grim Reaper with this fourth film in his “Christian Exploitation” phase. This time, Ron produces and directs with a script by his producing partner Estus Pirkle (who wrote Footmen and The Burning Hell). In this biographical tale-cum-documentary, real-life fire-and-brimstone preacher Estus W. Pirkle conveys to his followers what a Christian Heaven looks like, according to his interpretation of the Bible. (Immense marbled chapels supported on Corinthian columns; everyone wears white robes and sports a pair of — in a nice, budget effect — transparent angel wings.) Thank God, Estus toned it down. After the first three, horrific-saving films, we needed something a little more upbeat.
Nope. Think again. Thou let it loose, Estus.
We’re only three minutes in and we’ve already had a bubbling pit of boiling mud and an earthquake, along with post-quake famine and plague, and heavy equipment digging mass graves. Yeah, the depictions of a literal Hell are back. And Dear Lord, more dead children, piled up in a mass grave? How did the Estus convince the parents to convince the kids to portray dead bodies in a big hole in the dirt? How? Why are children always tortured and butchered in Estus’s films? Thank god no sharpened bamboo sticks are jammed into brains via ear canals.
I need to stop talking about this film. I’m getting upset, again.
21. Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
Passing on a film by director Franco Zeffirelli (1967’s The Taming of the Shrew; 1968’s Romeo and Juliet) isn’t an option. Originally a miniseries backed by Sir Lew Grade (Saturn 3) and airing simultaneously on ITV in the U.K., Rai 1 in Italy, and NBC-TV in the U.S. and running at 382 minutes, the current DVDs run at a criminal 10-minutes short at 374 minutes; the older VHS is even shorter, at 270.
The casting is the thing, here: Robert Powell is fantastic as Jesus, as is Ian McShane (of the recent John Wick franchise) as Judas Iscariot. Then there’s Ernest Borgnine (Escape from New York) as a Roman Centurion, James Farentino (The Final Countdown) and James Earl Jones appearing as disciples, along with Rod Steiger and Anthony Quinn, and Micheal York as John the Baptist.
Watch this, if just for the great filmmaking and acting. It’s a magnificent epic.
This second entry in the A Thief In the Night series is pretty much a retread of the first film, only this time it’s not a “dream”; the premonitions have become real. Although there’s been a six-year gap between productions, most of the original players are back, with Patty, who, it turns out, didn’t jump off the bridge to escape the Mark of the Beast in the first movie. Again, that was the “dream,” remember?
Now, she’s awake and awaiting execution — by guillotines — for her refusal to accept the Mark. She escapes and spends the rest of the film avoiding the murderous U.N. troops, which is now known as UNITE (and now, instead of those nifty red, white and blue vans (well, one) from the first film, now we’re stuck with a drab, UPS-styled brown van. And how’s about those nifty, drab-green Cuban military uniforms to keep pushing that evil Communist angle?
As hokey as a Jack T. Chick’s track can be, the production values are non-existent, but creative, and the non-linear scripting is inventive, with flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks. Then there’s the subplots about the evils of UFOs (again, with UFOs are demons, ugh), how credit cards and the “Mark” aren’t the same thing (oh, the folly of those who believe we are “already marked”), and the guillotine are back. Oh, how turn-the-other-cheek Christians rejoice in their razor-sharp guillotines and sinner-head removals.
Next up is part three in the series: Image of the Beast.
Roger Ebert listed this as one of his most hated movies on his site and it’s one of the entries in his book I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie. (That’s two for him on this list: the other was Jonathan Livingston Seagull.)
Eh, what did Sunn Classic producer Charles E. Sellier Jr. care? He said of his juxtaposition between revival house and grindhouse that he “believes God wants me to do the films I do, otherwise He wouldn’t have made me a success.”
As with Sunn’s previous documents we’ve reviewed in this feature, In Search of Noah’s Ark and the later In Search of Historic Jesus, this documentary on the “science” behind Christianity cleaned up at the box office, as Sunn Classics four-walled it in out-of-the-big-city rural drive-ins and single/dual-plex theaters.
24. Born Again(1978)
Frank Capra, Jr. produces this uplifting, biographical film on the life of Richard M. Nixon’s Special Counsel and Watergate co-conspirator, Charles Colson (Disney stalwart Dean Jones). He comes to his conversion to Christianity while in prison and incorporates the Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Courtesy of the full cooperation of the federal government and the Episcopal Church, this AVCO Embassy Pictures’ production (yes, they brought you Escape from New York) gets a lot out of its budget — even though it was, at the time, the highest-budgeted religious film and the first religious film released by a major distributor. Dean Jones, as well as Anne Francis as his wife (TV’s Honey West, Forbidden Planet), are both excellent throughout. Highly suggested.
You can watch this courtesy of the Jesus Wept Movies You Tube portal. If you need the other side of the story: consult Alan J. Pakula’s critically acclaimed All the President’s Men (1976).
How can you pass up a film by nature film purveyor Pacific International (Challenge to be Free, Mountain Family Robinson, and The Adventures of the Wildness Family) based on a 1970 international biblical gloom n’ doom best-seller — complete with narration by Orson Welles interspersed between biblical reenactments, chicken-little-the-sky-is-falling talking-head academics, stock footage of war, starving children, gibberish about entomology cross-breeding of bees, planetary alignments, and supercomputers running Ronald Reagan through numerology algorithms to determine if he is the dreaded Antichrist?
This movie rocks, for it is a mutual obsession between myself and Sam Pacino, the head honcho around here. I know Sam the Bossman, with his overexposure to all things post-conversioned Ron Ormond, can relate: freaked out and obsessed when the Rapture was coming — and if we had a “ticket” to ride. Sure, we can laugh at it now over our Rolling Rocks (Olde Frothingslosh, if you got ’em), but back in the day, this movie scared the crap out of us and other Church-laden kiddies.
Since this was a major studio film, there were no copies to play for Wednesday chapel. So a school field trip was planned. I hated school field trips (long story), so I played “sick” that day . . . and received an “F” for the day — in all subjects.
26. The Nativity(1978)
The great Bernard L. Kowalski — for whom we did a week-long tribute — expertly directs John Shea and Madeline Stowe, both in their feature debuts. They star as Mary and Jesus, in this against the-budget television movie based on the canonical Gospels of Matthew and Luke. There’s not much middle ground with this (well-down, IMO) adaptation: fundamentalists appreciate the acting (you’ll recognized many, familiar character actors), but not the fictional liberties taken with the Holy Bible’s text.
There’s no online streams, but you can enjoy the trailer and these clips (1 & 2) on You Tube.
When your on-the-cheap documentary on Noah’s Ark grosses $55 million is U.S. box office, you know Brother J will get his own docudrama — and score box office gold. Again, the casting is the thing, so if you want to see John Rubinstein (who would go on to play Daniel Webster on Netflix’s Sabrina and Einstein of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow) in reenactments as Jesus, then this is your movie. And if you wanted to know more about the Shroud of Turin, well, you get that in the frames, as well.
Sunn Classics also hit box office gold with The Bermuda Triangle (1979) and (the scary as hell) Nostradamus romp with its own post-apoc slant, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (1981). Yeah, no one did the mysteries-of-man documentary genre better in the ’70s than Sunn Classics.
28. Jesus, aka The Jesus Film(1979)
After the musical versions on the life of Jesus from the hands of Columbia Studios (Godspell), Universal Studios (Jesus Christ Superstar), Paramount (Jonathan Livingston Seagull), and 20th Century Fox (The Gospel Road), it was time for a movie proper on Jesus of Nazareth — and this finely crafted drama was Warner Bros. late-to-the-major-studio-Jesus-Game offering. And it’s a very well-made film, one filmed at over 200 locations in Israel.
Based on the gospel of Luke in the New Testament, and unlike any other film on Jesus, this six-million dollar production shot in full English, with actors also speaking in their character-appropriate Aramic, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. That latter multi-language version is then voiced-over in numerous languages for its international distribution — and noted as the most translated film in history. Regardless of those efforts to assure the film appealed to and was accessible to everyone, with its historical and culturally accurate take and high production values, many were taken aback by a jovial Jesus; non-stoic savior, laughing in glee as a newly converted-to-God tax collector returns his ill-gotten gains to those he’s cheated.
Now, you probably do not want to watch a historically accurate drama on Jesus Christ. But I think you would watch one where Jesus is portrayed by (incredible) British actor Brian Deacon; he who starred in Paul Naschy’s cohort Jose Ramon Larraz’s Vampyres (1974). Mostly working in British television, Deacon currently works as a video game voice artist.
Other, later dramatic depictions on Jesus you may be interested in, courtesy of the casting, is Jesus (1999), with Gary Oldman as Pontius Pilate, and Last Days in the Desert (2015) with Ewan McGregor as Jesus. Then there’s the supernatural bonkers The Young Messiah (2016) that may interest you — since it’s based on a book by vampire purveyor Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (2005), centered on the Holy Savior as a young boy.
You can stream a copy at the Jesus.net You Tube portal.
29. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Sure, Eric Idle and the Python troupe will inspire you to watch a parody on the Holy Scriptures. But we’ve been here before with Luis Buñuel’s (Simon the Desert) surrealistic, but not as parody-driven, The Milky Way (1969).
Remember Python’s take on the Beatles with The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978)? Well, it’s like that: an alternate-universe Jesus, if you will, with Brian (Graham Chapman) born at the same time as Jesus — and Brian gains his own following. Of course, Christians and Catholics alike lost their minds, even thought Idle and his cohorts insisted the film was a goof on organized, man-made religions and not a spoof on Jesus or The Holy Bible itself. And so it goes.
At least Life of Brian is funny. The same can’t be said for Bette Midler’s (never understood the fascination; singer or actress) utterly abysmal The Greatest Story Overtold, aka The Thorn (1971), where she screeches as a trope-laden Jewish mother. (Oh, come, Bette! Three times? We’re not going to do a full review. Stop it.) The same goes for the awful, religious satires In God We Trust with Marty Feldman (who we love, but), and Wholly Moses with Dudley Moore (both 1980), not because of their subject matter — but because they’re just inherently stupid. Watch the Python’s version . . . and just leave the Jesus parodies, at that. Moving on.
There’s Blu-ray rip on You Tube to enjoy — and you will!
Ron Ormond returns with his fifth directing-producing effort in this follow up to The Believer’s Heaven. This time, Ron goes the bioflick route with the story of Ed Martin (who appears briefly on camera and narrates; Ormond’s son Tim, in addition to scripting, also stars as the younger Martin), a former chain gang convict who converts to Christianity in 1944 and founds the HopeAglow Prison Ministry. Martin gets his “big break” when the prison’s God-fearing warden inspires Martin to take over for an absent preacher on the prison’s Sunday services — and Martin comes to convert a convict intent on murdering him.
Clocking in at an hour, in terms of old fashioned, drive-in style “chain gang” movies, this is a pretty good flick. Granted, this is no Cool Hand Luke, but Tim Ormond was shaping up as a pretty decent actor, here, in his first leading-man role carrying an entire film. While appearing in all of his dad’s Christploitation works — except for The Second Coming — he also appeared in Ron’s secular works Girl from Tobacco Row,White Lightnin’ Road, and The Exotic Ones. (Ron’s other pre-salvation movies we’ve reviewed include Please Don’t Touch Me and Mesa of Lost Women.)
Yeah, we can trash on the “prosperity preachers” of today: we’re talking at you, Joel Osteen and Creflo “fifteen-year-old daughter beater” Dollar (Senator Grassley didn’t dig enough on you, Ceffy; you can’t hid behind the bogus 501c3 paper trail, forever). However, not all pastors are false prophets, such as “Brooklyn Bishop of Bling” Lamor Whitehead (finally caught for his thievery). Ed Martin was one of the (very, very few) real deals actually “called” by God; a true apostle who served people with a legitimate compassion on equal with the calling of Christ’s original twelve. (David Wilkerson of the aforementioned The Cross and the Switchblade, is another.)
This is a touching film that’s only undone by its budget. And highly recommended.
31. The Day Christ Died (1980)
After Sir Lew Grade and NBC-TV gave us their take on the life of Christ with Jesus of Nazareth (1977), CBS-TV was bound to get in the game with this effort bankrolled by 20th Century Fox for overseas TV and theatrical distribution.
An adaption of Jim Bishop’s 1957 book of the same name, it’s adapted by James Lee Barrett, he who scripted bible epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). So, yeah, this 142-minute dramatization (that survived cuts and made it to video, intact) on the last 24 hours on Jesus Christ’s life is that good. Really good.
Of course, everyone lost their minds — as with The Gospel Road (1973) and Jesus (1979) — of a jovial Jesus who laughs and plays with children, and in this case, of Chris Sarandon’s (Fright Night) Jesus playing an ersatz game of primitive football with the Apostles. For our Lord Savior must be a perpetually dour, stoic contemplator who never smiles.
Oh, the youth sermons denouncing this film! My youth pastor went off the deep end with the verse and overhead slides. I am talking red, pock-marked cheeks obsessed to the point of a brain aneurysm. “Jesus doesn’t play games! He’s the Christ sent to save our souls, not to play games! While he’s wasting time playing a game, a soul is not saved and lost!” Then, we were subjected into force “witnessing” labor; for if we did not witness to a person, and that person goes to Hell, we too, shall go to Hell. So, thanks, for that, Chris Sarandon. But you’re still the best Jesus, next to Robert Powell, and Brian Deacon, in that order.
Scoff if you want at this third installment in the A Thief in the Night series, but even-against-its-budget, the production values, scripting, and direction is improving with each film. And it’s even more intense that the previous A Distant Thunder.
Yes, Patty’s back, but not for long: Uh-oh, we are flashing back to and fo, and forward again, and within — again — as Patty, finally, looses her head to the guillotines. Amen.
So, now, we meet David, Kathy, and Leslie, a trio of freedom fighters, aka warriors for Christ. And it’s this film’s focus on these Christian guerrillas battling the evil UNITE forces — with its budgetary pinching of the paramilitary police state plotting of Escape from New York, as the Antichrist is full-on dictator mode and God rains down his golden bowels — that gives third installment more of a sci-fi vibe over the first two films. Then there’s the computer hacking, the evils of UPC codes, the manufacturing of fake Mark chips, literal giant locusts swarm the Earth (not seen due to budget), and a nuke drops.
Just wow. This one has it all. And there’s still one more film to go: The Prodigal Planet.
Ron Ormond comes full circle with his sixth and final production, which serves as the directing debut and second writing credit of his son, Tim Ormond (he served as an editor and cinematographer all of his father’s Christploitation films). The story returns to the apocalypse, as a troubled man continues to avoid church — and fails to pay heed to the Bible stories unfolding before him — even as the end of the world draws nigh.
Sadly, Ron Ormond died during the film’s pre-production, which Tim and Ron’s widow, June, to complete the film as a final testament to his life. While there’s six other pastors spewin’ the brimstone, here, Ormond’s fans (moi) miss the paranoid mania of Estus Pirkle’s crazed scripting and dedicated preaching. As with 39 Stripes prior, for a production on a shoestring budget, Tim was shaping into a decent filmmaker (the vision of King Nebuchadnezzar, Jesus arriving on a horse-clouded phalanx, and the John Carpenter-styled “new world” police are impressive). While he stopped acting in 1979, Tim continued to work behind the camera on a half-dozen faith-based film into the late ’90s — even one starring Jim “Ernest P. Worrell ” Varney (but not as that character).
There’s no trailer or streams to share of this lone, lost Ron Ormond film. If Sam and I had the resources, we’d restore this film as part of an ongoing Ormond box set series: secular and religious. We love ya’, Ron!
In a tale that predates the Tim LaHaye-inspired “religious thriller” industry by a decade, a Christian woman, who is part of an underground rebellion, teams with a newspaper reporter to warn the world of the dangers behind the ever-growing One World Foundation. Along the way, unlike most Christian films, real actors show up — in the form of Alvy Moore (an astronomer-cum-Christian scientist) and Buck Flowers (a scruffy desert rebel, natch). Needless to say, their (minor) parts are the only ripples of hope in this otherwise flat production — but it’s still an ambitious, inspired effort.
Film and television sound editor David R. Elliot, in his lone writing and directing effort, was certainly influenced by Donald W. Thompson’s and Hal Lindsey’s eschatological works that we’ve discussed. I, however, can’t help but think the post-apoc visions of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York served as an influence, here, courtesy of the (slightly) above-the-usual (non) production values of low-budget Christian films — especially ones that veer into sci-fi territories — as Elliot gives us car chases under helicopter sniper fire by black-clad soldiers, over-the-cliff car crashes, and some techo-trinkets.
This watching-paint-dryer possesses none of the charms of the Russell Doughten (Six-Hundred & Sixty Six) and Donald W. Thompson’s (A Thief in the Night) PreMillenialist Dispensationalism flicks we talked about in this feature, and it lacks the techno-trickets of David Elliot’s take on the last days.
The copywriters on this claim this is a “fast moving, dramatic” film. I’m not sure what movie they were watching, as this overly-talky, proselytizing pablum moves at a dry, snail’s pace (and dry snails don’t move). If this film’s goal was to “convert” the non-believer to Christ, well, it pushed viewers towards Satan-rock loving atheism (see Raging Angels).
If the title hasn’t already given it away, the Beast, aka the Antichist, has risen and driven his heel into the backs of the world — a world where money is now worthless; a world besieged by every manner of natural disaster, government corruption, and oppression. Seattle is (low-budget) nuked. Of course, we experience none of this, in camera: we learn about it from a whiny, out-of-work college professor and the once kindly, now Machiavellian small-town Sheriff who will force the Mark on our collegiate — no matter the cost.
So: Years of the Beast, Early Warning, or Six-Hundred Sixty Six in the apoc-religious sweepstakes: the latter — easily, by three-lengths — for the win. Yes, even beating Thompson’s fourth and final. . . .
Well, it took Donald W. Thompson a decade (1972 to 1983), but he final wraps up the A Thief in the Night series with this fourth and final film. As with Patty back in part II, aka A Distant Thunder, David, our hero from Image of the Beast, didn’t die. He’s been rescued from the chopping block by Connie, a UNITE double agent with BUMS (Believers Underground Movement Squad) from the previous film, an organization that weeds out Christians for beheading. Of course, Connie’s con is to have David lead her to the rebel’s hidden base (yeah, the sci-fi crazed Star Wars era certainly had something to do with this).
Oh, this film has it all! It’s pure ’80s post-apoc, with non-believers stuck with a leukemia outbreak and facial legions, monk-adorned, wasteland-roaming monks, helicopters, and God cleaning up the mess with a battery of B-roll ICBMs. Oh, and the maps and sermons dispensed via flashback, directing us through the plot, as is the norm in the series . . . are back, and more than ever before.
It’s an indie-Christian roadshower like this that gives films like Years of the Beast a bad name. For this may be hokey, but it is — unlike Years of the Beast — never boring. Not for one single frame. For Donald W. Thompson was the man when it came to Christian apoc-mania.
Our list of these 36 films is by no means complete in our exploration of Christian Cinema — and its exploitative perimeters — in the 1970s. You’ll also find uplifting, faith-based messages in the following films:
Witchhammer (1970) — Czech Republic filmmaker Otakar Vavra adapts the best-selling Czech history novel Kladivo na čarodějnice (1963) by Vaclav Kaplicky; the 17th century tale chronicles the real-life, human rights atrocities of the North Moravia Witch Trails of the 1670s by Witchfinder Inquisitor Boblig von Edelstat in which 100 people were murdered. While dismissed as an early Euro-horror film, it is, in fact, an important literary-cinematic lesson of man’s ills in political-based paranoia and political prosecution that ranks with with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953).
Brother John (1971) — James Goldstone (later of Rollercoaster fame) directs Sidney Poitier’s passion project regarding a man who can sense death and appears to offer spiritual comfort to the troubled. A valiant film that was a box office failure for Columbia Pictures.
Johnny Got His Gun (1971) — Directed by Dalton Trumbo and co-written with Luis Buñuel (of the aforementioned The Milky Way; 1969), this anti-war statement adapted from Trumbo’s own 1939 novel of the same name, stars Timothy Bottoms and Jason Robards. A powerful film, but not an easy one to watch.
Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972) — Franco Zeffirelli, who also gave us the previously reviewed Jesus of Nazareth, directs this tale on life of Italy’s Saint Francis of Assisi. The Saint’s life was examined four times, previously: by Federico Fellini (1950), Louis de Wohl (1961), Liliana Cavani (1966), and Pier Paolo Pasolini (1966). Cavani explored the Saint once more in 1989 with Francesco, starring Micky Rourke as Francis. Both versions — all, in fact — are must watches for their stellar filmmaking.
Pope Joan (1972) — Directed by Michael Anderson, Liv Ullmann and Franco Nero star in this examination of — be it literal or myth (this film treats it as fact) — the legend of the female Pope that ruled the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. Not a great film, but the familiar cast of Lesley-Anne Down, Trevor Howard, Patrick Magee, and Maximilian Schell, captivate, none the less.
Soul Hustler (1973) — Shooting in San Diego (at a 1971 Osmonds’ concert) under the title That Lovin’ Jesus Man, then reissued on the drive-in circuit as The Love-In Man and Matthew, then The Day the Lord Got Busted (1976), this plays a lot like The Ballad for Billie Blue (1972) — with its concerns about a faith-crisis “Jesus Rock” musician. Matthew Crowe, a hard luck musician (Fabian Forte; A Bullet for Pretty Boy), joins a preacher’s touring tent rival. As the evangelist’s career rises, so does Matthew’s; the usual drugs and sinful carousing intervenes. Christsploitive to the extreme, the act is known as Matthew, Son of Jesus: Matthew wears a white robe and sandals and sings at a mike’d pulpit; his band adorns in brown monks’ robes.
Luther (1974) — Stacy Keach, who impressed in the better-known American neo-noir The New Centurions (1972) and boxing drama Fat City (1972), is equally stellar as the German theologian and Augustin monk who brought about the 16th-century Reformation. The directorial quality behind the lens comes courtesy of Oscar-winning cinematographer Guy Green (Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, 1946; the multi-nominated A Patch of Blue, 1965, as a director).
Christmas Lilies of the Field (1979) — A made-for-television sequel — produced by the Osmond Family (yes, as in Donnie and Marie) — to the 1962 theatrical feature Lillies of the Field starring Sidney Poitier. Now played by Billy Dee Williams, Homer Smith returns to the Arizona desert to build a school and orphanage to go with the chapel he built in the previous film. International, multi-award winning Austrian-Swiss actress Maria Schell (1974’s The Odessa File) as the Mother Maria is, of course, excellent.
Peter and Paul (1981) — Anthony Hopkins and Robert Foxworth star as the disciples Peter and Paul in this CBS-TV four-hour miniseries based on the Book of Acts concerned with their apostolic missionary in the wake of the death of Jesus. The top-flight cast is rounded out by Herbert Lom as Barnabas, along with Eddie Albert, Raymond Burr, Jose Ferrer, and Jon Finch. Shot on the Greek island of Rhodes, it was nominated for two, and won one Emmy (for make up; the second nod was for costumes).
* Be sure to visit our other film-genre explorations with our ongoing “Exploring” series:
About the Author:You can read the music and film reviews, as well as short stories by R.D. Francis based on his screenplays, on the Medium portal. You can learn more about his work on Facebook.He also writes for B&S About Movies (the link guides you to a text-only site-listing of all of his reviews).
There’s nothing like a hit movie — in this case, a direct descendant of Death Wish (1975) — to dislodge the writing and directing debut its auteur would rather not have seen reissued to the ’80s home video fringes.
The Death Wish rip and auteur we’re speaking of is The Exterminator (1980; yes, we know we linked Part II) by James Glickenhaus. A critically-lambasted action film “of little action with grotesque violence and distasteful scenes” concerned with a vengeance-seeking Vietnam vet with a flame thrower, grossed $35 million against $2 million.
Of course, when a distributor exists in a post-Guyana, Jonestown Massacre world, and the shingle needs to up the exploitation quotient, said movie is renamed as Suicide Cult* to align it with the Jim Jones legend and get it on the shelf as quickly as possible next to the Stuart Whitman debacle that is Guyana: Cult of the Damned (1979). (Well, that’s actually trashy-good, as Stuart does it with gusto.) Better that the film ends up in the “Horror” section of a local video repository because, with the film’s original title of The Astrologer, it would have ended up in the “Science Fiction” section next to the Star Wars-ripped, space opera oeuvres of Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash) and Alfonza Brescia. At least Uncle Lou’s and Uncle Al’s films had action and cheese . . . without the expositional yakity-yaks.
The irony, however, is that this debut effort by James Glickenhaus is neither a horror or science fiction film: its a pure Christploitation, aka Godploitation, romp . . . er, well, since some video-prints tossed an “. . . in the tradition of The Omen” tagline on the box, maybe this Glicken-joint is a horror film. . . . What the hell, why not: Kirk Douglas’s trollsploitation mess (the male version of hagsploitation**) that is Holocaust 2000, with its Alberto De Martino’s The Omen-Antichrist-Apocalypse hornswogglin’, was on the horror shelves next to De Martino’s own Christploiter-cum-Exorcist*˟ rip with The Tempter, aka The Antichrist (1974).
Honestly, if you were stocking shelves at a video store, where would you put a film that is part spy-government conspiracy flick (the thriller/suspense part) with a secret agency that uses astrology and biorhythms (the sci-if part) to track down the Antichrist (the horror part) and the coming of the “new” Virgin Mary (the Christploitation part)?
To say this film is bonkers, yet exciting . . . and expositionally boring . . . at the same time, isn’t an understatement. But hey, all filmmakers have to start somewhere, right? At least Glickenhaus went on to produce Maniac Cop, Frankenhooker, and the Basket Case franchise. As a writer-director, the Glick gave us — at least I think he did — two, pretty cool flicks with Shakedown (1988), starring buddy-cops in Sam Elliot and Peter Weller, and the actioner McBain (1991), starring Christopher Walken. Oh, and don’t forget the mercenary romp, The Soldier (1982), with Ken Wahl, which I saw in theaters.
In the New York Times article “At the Movies: Jennifer Leigh and her trip from X to R,” Chris Chase sat down with Glickenhaus, who spoke about his debut film:
“I’d inherited some money and I took all of it and lost it making a movie called The Astrologer. I’d been to film school, but film school was oriented more toward the avant-garde in those days, and I didn’t really know what a master was or a cutaway or a closeup. And I had great trouble conveying ideas, except in dialogue. So, The Astrologer, which was about 79 minutes long, was probably 60 minutes of dialogue. I mean, it was interminable. I didn’t think it was interminable then. I thought it was great and interesting and fascinating to listen to [the film took me two years to produce from start to finish].”
So, with that bit of insight from Glickenhaus, now you know you’re getting into a film that A) is boring, yet, B) fascinating, because C) it’s bat-crap crazy with its mix of religion, science, and political intrigue.
INTERZOD, a secret government organization, has developed a method of using computer technology and astrology (i.e., using an individuals zodiacal charts correlated to the environment . . . etc.) as a modern-day “Nostradamus” to predict threats to the world. The latest threat is Kajerste, a Jim Jones-inclined cult leader, wanted for an array of crimes in three countries, who they believe to be the prophesied Antichrist from The Holy Bible‘s book of The Revelations.
The wife of Alexei Abernal (he oversees INTERZOD), an advisor to theoretician Mother Bogarde (read: Madame Blavastky; Wikipedia), is possessed, and in need of a cleansing because, get this: she is possibly the new Virgin Mary, one that Immaculately Concepted a baby (because she won’t/can’t/don’t care have sex with Alexei), which she gave to the Catholic Church.
So, mind you, we learn all of this through talking . . . and talking . . . and, for some reason, this means that INTERZOD must assassinate Kajerste — with a combination of tranquilizers and video tapes (?), and a Congressman — who the Cult subsequently kills due to his betraying the leader (foreshadowing what J.J did in Jonestown that brought on his downfall).
After that . . . well, you’re either lost-in-the-plot, or half asleep, or in a coma. You know, just like when you watched the pre-Wiseauian efforts of director, producer, psychic to the stars, and actor Craig Denney with his zodiacal epic, which, to make this all the more confusing, is also known as The Astrologer. Now, that doesn’t have a Virgin Mary, or Immaculate Conceptions, or Antichrist-slanted cult leaders, but it does deploy a movie-with-a-movie plot about diamond smuggling, high-finance, and murder, so Denny can become the world’s foremost psychic and movie mogul.
Oh, Mr. Denney. If you only had the vision of Mr. Glickenhaus to include an Antichrist subplot or insights on man-made, organized religions, you’d have a Christploitation epic beyond compare.
There’s no trailer to share for Suicide Cult, but you can enjoy the full movie on You Tube. Shockingly, there’s also a copy on Tubi.
* We previous reviewed this film as part of our “Ten WTF Movies” featurette, as well as one of the site’s earliest reviews back in August 2017. It’s also part of our “Cannon Month” of reviews. Yep! That’s B&S About Movies pull-quoted on the Severin reissue; they also pull-quoted us on their reissue of Delirium.
** You need more trollsploitation flicks with aged-out and down-and-out A-List actors reinventing themselves in a horror film? Then look no further than Tony Curtis in The Manitou and BrainWaves (the latter also with Keir Dullea), Rock Hudson in Embryo, Fritz Weaver in Demon Seed, and Mickey Rooney in The Manipulator.
We had this faith-based film from Johnny Cash on our long list for our most recent “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” (which is actually musically diverse), then our Christian Cinema, aka Christploitation Week, came together, so here we are.
By the time Johnny had the clout to make the movie he always wanted to make — a film that professed his faith — he was already a seasoned film veteran, making his first transition from behind the microphone to the silver screen with a guest-starring role on TV’s Wagon Train (1959) and Shogun Slade (1959). After two more bit roles on The Rebel (1960) and The Deputy (1961), Cash made his feature film debut in Five Minutes to Live, aka Door to Door Maniac (1961). He soon followed with the lead role in the TV movie The Night Rider (1962) and held his own alongside Kirk Douglas in A Gunfight (1971) directed by Lamont Johnson (The Last American Hero).
At the time, “Jesus Rock” was big business, which lead to the film adaptations of the Broadway “Rock Operas” Godspell (via Columbia Pictures) and Jesus Christ Superstar (via Universal Pictures), and Neil Diamond taking the music reins on the film adaptation of the international best-selling novella Jonathan Livingston Seagull(via Paramount Pictures) — all of which were issued in 1973. So, when Johnny Cash pitched his version of the Gospel of Christ set to his original tunes, 20th Century Fox got on board the gospel train. The studio, however, only distributed the film: the production was fully financed by Cash and his wife (who plays Mary Magdalene).
To direct his version on the story on the life of Jesus, his death and resurrection on location in Israel, Cash, the producer, chose noted cinematographer and documentarian Robert Elfstrom, who directed Cash’s 1969 documentary Johnny Cash! The Man, His World, His Music.
As inspired Cash’s idea is — of his black-clad self narrating the story via an acoustic guitar performing original tunes composed by himself, his wife June Carter, and Kris Kristofferson — critics outright hated the movie (Michael Medved even gave it an entry in one of his Golden Turkeys books). Sure, the theology is skewed, the narrative is sappy, and the acting is rough in spots. But there’s a lot of heart (that Medved missed, big surprise) in the frames, and none of the negatives my production-critical eye sees today, as I revisit The Gospel Road all these years later, doesn’t detract from the fact that this was a big deal when it debuted in 1973. I have found memories of going to the theater and watching it as a family. I enjoyed it then, and still, today.
What makes it work is that Jesus (played by Robert Elfstrom) isn’t the pious, serious washcloth-wimp we’ve seen in other depictions. Johnny’s Jesus is a jovial messiah who takes to playing with children on the beaches of the Sea of Galilee. Beautiful stuff, indeed.
In addition to the film, the music in the film also served as Johnny’s fourth gospel album and 45th album overall, a double album issued in 1973. The music is, of course, absolutely fantastic.
Am I blinded by my Johnny Cash fandom? Probably. And this movie may not convert you, but it will certainly move you. Oh, yes. It will move you. Johnny has that way about him. And you can stream it for free on Godtube. You can watch the trailer on You Tube.
“The difficulty in making a Christian film, unless you’re telling an easy, gentle ‘forgiveness’ type story, is you’re always going to step on someone’s foot. Because they say, ‘Well that’s not necessarily the way I think it should happen. I think it should be this way.'” — Tim Ormond on his family’s films in the Christian genre
Talk about a Ron Ormond obscurity: this doesn’t appear on the IMDb or Letterboxd. It’s a Google trip to nowhere. And we thought we knew everything about Ron Ormond’s films.
It was during our failed analog excavations to find an online stream or trailer to share of Ron Ormond’s final film, The Second Coming, in which we discover an incredible, November 2007 interview with Tim Ormond, courtesy of the film review portal, Mondo Stumpo*.
In the context of that Mondo Stumpo interview, Tim Ormond disclosed a lost Ron Ormond film — made during the Ormond’s, what we like to call at B&S About Movies, their “Damascus Period.” The Land Where Jesus Walked was produced after the Ormond’s made their first two films during this period, with Estus Pirkle: If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971) and The Burning Hell (1975). Then the Ormonds, sans Pirkle, went off to make their third film (actually their fourth, when considering this review): The Grim Reaper (1976).
Tim Ormond explained to Mondo Stumpo that, after making The Land Where Jesus Walked for the Sword of the Lord Organization, Sword’s Dr. John Rice suggested the Ormonds make a “sure-fire soul winner” with Rice’s powerful friends of Jack Van Impe (later a producer of the Cloud Ten Pictures rapture thrillers) and Jerry Falwell. The two popular and influential pastors were a guaranteed marquee value on the Southern Baptist circuit. Each starred in their own segment, staring directly into the congregation via the camera’s lens while rallying against the “demonic forces” of God. That film became The Grim Reaper, which was, more or less, a reworking of The Burning Hell — made fundamentally different without Pirkle’s endless sermonizing, but with the basic framework, intact.
Tim Ormond continues: “So John Rice invited my Dad, and then my Dad, of course, said, ‘Well, I need to bring Tim, to go on the Holy Land tour,’ and John said, ‘And maybe you can photograph it.’ Well, that became The Land Where Jesus Walked. Which was the first film we did in cooperation with the Sword of the Lord [Organization]. And, basically, that’s not a great film, that’s more or less a travelogue, but then we inter-spliced it with some scenes. As we would come to, let’s just say, the garden tomb, and there would be John Rice talking to the tour group; then we would dissolve through and show a scene, [a scene] that we would fabricate ourselves back in the States, then cut them together. [Thus], it became a . . . I don’t know . . . a travel documentary, a travel feature? I don’t even know if there’s a term for that, but basically, [it’s just] a travelogue. (Or, as Mondo Stumpo sums it up, expertly: a dramalogue.)
“[The Land Where Jesus Walked} was pretty nice, and it had some limited success. But it wasn’t a dynamic ‘hit them in the guts’ film; it was more a gentle tour with John Rice that was illustrated. From there, [my dad and I] thought to ourselves, we’re no longer in association with Estus Pirkle, we wish him well — and we still do — but we no longer had The Burning Hell, but it had elements in it which were great for these fundamental circles, so what we can do is a similar type of film. That led to a second film with The Sword of the Lord [Organization] called The Grim Reaper.”
There is no trailer or online streams to share. We were unsuccessful in finding the film on used VHS or DVDs through various Christian online stores.
* Our thanks to Mondo Stumpo for preserving the works of the Ormonds, which assisted us in the additional documentation of this film. This great blog — which also assisted us in the same with the Ormond’s The Second Coming — is still active, but discontinued publishing in June 2012.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
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.
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 LaLondes 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 Collapseand 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 the 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.)
From the Editor’s Desk, December 2022: Each of the You Tube-based trailer embeds we provided for each film within this review were removed from the video-sharing platform as result of a copyright claim. However, all watch-links are still active for your enjoyment.
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?
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 ApocalypseI . . . then we flash-foward — two years — after the events in Revelation, aka Apocalypse II, you got that?
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.
In answer to reader comments regarding if there was another movie after Judgement (2001) to wrap the story line: if there were plans for one, they seemed to have vanished when the production company closed up their shingle.
* 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:
“After the destruction of the Vatican and the bombings in Florence, it seemed as though World War III was inevitable. Now, that was before The Man took power. And there were those, including the club of Rome and a large number of scientific and cultural societies throughout the world, who became quite concerned about saving the great works of mankind.” — Tallman, the Curator of the Museum of Man
It was the swingin’ ’70s: we just came out of the Vietnam war and the wounds of the Korean War were still fresh. We worried about, not “if” but “when,” the next war would occur. Man was disillusioned and afraid. And Hollywood loves to exploit man’s celluloid schadenfreude to turn a buck. So, after the one-two-three punch of Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, and Soylent Green, the Tinseltown apocalypse as was in full swing*.
However, while the end of the world was all the rage, it wasn’t a rage in which everyone could afford Charlton Heston. Or apes. Or contact lenses and monk habits. Or dump trucks with bulldozer scoops. But they could afford the dependable character actors of Bryon Clark (Weekend of Terror with Lee Majors) and the always awesome Joe Turkel (best known as Dr. Edlon Tyrell in Bladerunner and Lloyd the Bartender in The Shining; but this is B&S About Movies, so memory banks err to Free Grass, The Dark Side of the Moon, and his serial killer role in the biker flick, Savage Abduction). TV channel surfers may also recognize actor John O’Connell; he debuts, here, as Lt. Baldry. He matured into a respected, U.S. television career on shows such as Barney Miller, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, and M.A.S.H. as well as the TV Movie The Triangle Factor Scandal. Ed DeLatte, primarily a stage actor, here as Karsch, made his last film appearance in the family-friendly, Benji (1974). Our director, Tom Doades, briefly (and competently) appears as the Officer welcoming Turkel’s Colonel to the installation; the fifth member of the installation, the also-fine-in-his-role Al Chavis, is one-film-and-gone.
Unlike most of the film’s we’ve reviewed this week — as well as the past reviews we’ll recap in our “Exploring: Christian Cinema of the ’70s” feature to end the week — this Christian apoc’er has a secular pedigree behind the Brother Deluxe 700: Marshall Riggan. Making his debut with the counterculture crime-drama Cry for Poor Wally (1969) (which starred Sherry Miles, of another lost Christploiter, The Ballad of Billie Blue), he closed out his dramatic career (he transitioned into documentaries, after) with the more familiar, ’70s drive-in horror So Sad About Gloria (1973). In that film, Dean Jagger (Evil Town) stars in a tale of young woman released from a mental hospital; she relapses into visions — or gaslighted — and commits a series of axe murders. Think Let’s Scare Jessica to Death meets Messiah of Evil, and you’re in the ballpark of that forgotten, horror non-hit . . . from the guy who gave you one of the earliest films — long before The Omen appeared — concerned with calculating the identity of the Number of the Beast.
Yes. From a church-backed (well, a non-profit think tank) apocalypse flick to and early ’70s Romero-Friedkin-inspired horror film. Who knew? Well, we do. This is B&S About Movies, after all, where one’s oddball resume — in this case, Marshall Riggan — is king.
There’s nothing known about the film’s production history, outside of the fact it was produced by a concern known as the Evangelical Christian Research Center. Did a now “saved” Marshall Riggan pen the script on his own and the secular shingles he worked with passed on his Christian-slanted apocalypse tale? Was Riggan hired by the ECRC think tank to pen a science-fiction palpable “teaching and preaching” screenplay to spread the world of the foretold apocalypse? Again, the apocalypse was celluloid chichi at the time.
What we do know: Gospel Films, the distributor and co-producer behind my cherished childhood TV series Davey and Goliath, distributed this Riggan penner. Among Gospel Films thirty-plus productions over the years, the faith-based shingle also distributed the later, “Number of the Beast”-concerned Christian apoc’ers Early Warning and Years of the Beast (both 1981; reviews coming this week). Another known about the production: Tom Doades’s daughter, Lynn, commented on a trailer upload (embedded below) for the film by Brooklyn, New York’s Spectacle Art Cinema**, in conjunction with their special, 2018 screening of the film; she stated that she remembered when the film was made — and that her dad was Tom Doades; so we assume she means he has since passed away.
Anyway . . . with a Holy Bible opened next to his Deluxe 700 — and a little inspiration from Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), The Andromeda Strain (1971), and Silent Running (1972), as well as the (neither made yet) trapped-in-a-bunker-by-bats apoc’er Chosen Survivors and John Carpenter’s Dark Star (1974): We have group of scientists, military and government types trapped in a secret mountain-computer brain facility (the new “Tower of Babel” if you will) when the Rapture, then Armageddon, breaks out. (While not inspired by it: As everyone runs around the underground bunker, we can’t help but evoke the forth serial of the twelfth series of the BBC-produced Dr. Who with the great, Terry Nation-penned Genesis of the Daleks. Never seen it? Find the unserialized movie version; it’s fantastic.)
While not inspired by it, a closer — and better known — Fundamentalist cousin to Six-Hundred & Sixty Six is its-released-in-the-same-year doppelganger by Mark IV Pictures: A Thief in the Night. If you thought that eventual, four-part Donald W. Thompson series (across a decade) had the science-fiction/horror hybrid of the Christploitation spectrum locked up, think again: this lone effort by director Tom Doades — courtesy of Riggan’s smart script — is intelligent, imaginative, against-the-budget filmmaking at its finest.
That’s not to say the film — which is nicely framed and well-shot by Tom Doades — doesn’t have its flaws (and we’re not referring to the condition of the uploaded steamer we’ve linked; it’s a washed out, beat-to-hell “roadshow print” that’s to be excused). As result of its non-budget . . . well, sure, there’s a production value to the proceedings, overall, but there is nothing in way of any techno-trinkets; there’s none of the spinning tape reels or rows of flashing computer banks of the film’s sci-fi antecedents. In fact, with a just a little bit more budget, we could have had, instead of an underground bunker, the later Canadian apoc’er Def Con 4 (1985) — but just the cool, budgetary space station part, not the rest of the fell-to-Earth part (which sucks). It’s Doades creative framing that sell us the idea that we are, in fact, deep inside an underground military installation (e.g., Joe Turkel meets with a superior, walks into a chamber with a Star Trek-swooshway, cross-straps himself into a flight chair; add a sound-effect: poof!: he’s descending down a shaft. Riggan’s script also intelligently tech-predicts the use of microprocessors to store large banks of data).
To that end: If you read our reviews of the later — and equally intelligent — Canadian TV productions 984: Prisoner of the Future and Music of the Spheres, as well as PBS-TV’s Hide and Seek, then you’re familiar with their wall-to-wall talky scripts more suitable for the theater stage than the sound stage.
“The literature, art, the artistic expression, scientific thought; because we all knew what enormous damage the next war could bring. So we decided to store all the cultural treasures into the memory banks of computers and then bury those computers beneath a mountain, where they would be safe. The accumulated knowledge and wisdom and artistic expression of an entire civilization called Earth.” — Tallman, the Curator of the Museum of Man
When we first meet Colonel John Feguson (Joe Turkel), he’s the newly appointed Head of Operations Officer of what he believes is an underground missile silo; it is, in fact the world’s underground digital archive (much like ZERO, housed in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1975’s Rollerball — only with none of the prop pomp and circumstance of that A.I influencer*˟ ) created to preserve (i.e., save) man’s culture in the event of a war. We’re advised, via budgetary dialog, natch, that, through the use of “lasers and holographic memory,” the mountainous mainframe not only digitally stores books, but 3-D images of works of art and photographs of nature and architecture˟*. (There are a few convincing computer touches credited to the still-in-business, Midwest-based Communications Systems, Inc.; all of the set furnishing are courtesy the now-defunct, Lebanon, Pennsylvania-based “You’ll love it at” Levitz).
We also learn — again, in a budgetary, twenty-minute heavy, expositional dialog dump — in our not-to-distant future, the United Arab Nations, as well as the Soviet Union has fallen; China has grown in power. The world is split apart as warring Eastern and Western Hemispheres (a U.S./Europe political amalgamate, “the United States of Europe,” aka, “the New Roman Empire,” controls the latter from the capitol of Rome). As result of the ensuing political and religious unrest, both the National Museum in Venice and the Vatican were destroyed in bombings (both stopped World War III, it seems, at first) — and an organization known as “The Brotherhood of Man” has risen, with the goal of abolishing religion — to create a new, hodgepodge belief system based in Israel — as a way to a unified, world piece.
In an effective homage to Michael Anderson’s minimalist, 1956 Edmond O’Brien-starring production of George Orwell’s 1984 (which provides Tom Doades with production cues, in our opinion), an image of the world’s new leader, aka The Man, overloads throughout the film; at times, his words of wisdom echoes throughout the complex; meant to inspire, as are the perpetual poetry refrains and bible verses by the complex’s computer, Angela Company, the pontificates only demoralize. (Malachi Thorne, a long-time, respected, animated voice artist; but lots of ’60s and ’70s on-screen TV gigs, voices The Man; Helena Humann, credited in everything — from 1972’s The Last Picture Show to 1980’s Roadie to 1988’s Problem Child, along with lots of TV credits — serves as the A.I voice. Robert L. Crawford, Sr. an Emmy-nominated film editor and actor, who appeared in the late ’60s TV series, Manhunt, serves as the enigmatic image of The Man; his sons, Johnny and Bobby, appeared as child actors on The Rifleman and Laramie, respectively. Learn more with his Hollywood Reporter obituary.)
As Col. Ferguson’s assignment wears on, it’s clear the civilian-government overseer, Tallman (a great Bryon Clark), is already a wee-bit tweaked being cooped underground so long, as well as a wee-bit power mad in his job as the curator of all of the world’s historical information. In an event that foretells John Carpenter’s later remake of The Thing (1982), the mountain facility is rocked by a nuclear strike — so Ferguson and his men, think.
Cut off from the world above, the elevator damaged, and their life support systems compromised, with air, water, and medical supplies running out, the already-closed in walls, close in even more, paranoia ensues: just what Tallman needs to justify the executions of the bunker’s occupants to reserve resources. Then Ferguson and the rest of the crew — with the perpetual bible-verse and wisdom taunting of The Man and Angela, as well as observing “the end of the world” unfolding via the installation’s recording uplinks to the world’s satellites and computers (via dialog, not images that we see) — come to believe that it wasn’t a just nuclear strike on the installation: the bible-predicted apocalypse has, in fact, occurred.
As the quintet begins to decipher The Bible, plotting on maps, to figure out what happened . . . their mental state isn’t going to get any better. Then they learn, as the Euphrates River “mysteriously” dries up, China invades the Middle East; remnants of the Soviet Union and the New Roman Empire join forces to stop the invasion — and WW III breaks out at the foot of Israel’s Mount Megiddo. Ferguson, the eventual sole survivor, trapped in the complex, learns — finally — that The Man, numerically decoded, is the prophetic beast . . . and his number is Six-Hundred and Sixty Six. As with Burgess Meredith in “Time Enough to Last,” an iconic, 1953 episode of The Twilight Zone . . . Colonel John Ferguson is now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself.
In the end, that’s the goal of the Evangelical Christian Research Center: not so much to entertain, but to teach you — through rambling, Biblical-based conversations dressed in a sci-fi sheen — about bible prophecy. But why does it have to be so gosh darned dry and chat-chat-chatty slow?
Yes, again, Turkel and Clark are both excellent throughout, especially Clark, in delivering their slow-burn unraveling, but outside of a little bit of chasing an off-his-nut Tallman around the complex, and his dispatching one of his charges with a rifle-shot, the action is non-existent, as the narrative relies too much on woe-is-me contemplating (“The Eurphrates can’t just dry up! Nothing can stop the Chinese from invading Israel!”) and prophetic map-plotting to decipher Bible prophecy.
This could have made for a very taunt, suspenseful episode — sans of or a lightening up on the Bible prophecy angle — of the TV anthology series The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. To that end, considering most of the church and tent revival films of the day clocked-in at 60-minutes maximum, cutting this 90-minute apoc’er by ten-minutes to 80-minutes may have helped to rise the proceedings to the professional polish of a “real” apoc movie — and not just a proselytizing apoc one. Even Cornell Wilde’s No Blade of Grass and Richard Harris’s Ravagers were secular-apoc swings-and-misses, but even their dragging, too-long woe-is-me moments were punctuated with several fits of action: a little bit of “action” outside of the bunker; e.g., having Ferguson arrive by a helicopter with an exterior shot of the complex; showing us a missile launch or a missile striking the mountain complex, would have been welcomed gear-changers. (But that would taken away from the film’s purposeful claustrophobia, so we’ll still cut the film some slack.)
So, yeah, there’s a lot of lost potential, here. However, if you’re an apoc fan, as well as a fan smart scripting and (very) solid acting — and you don’t mind a little ol’ Bible study mixed with your sci-fi, well . . . you could do a lot worse than spending time with this final feature film written by Marshall Riggan that also served as the lone directing effort by Tom Doades. Speaking of “worse,” we have: Remember all of the money our ol’ Uncle Al Bradley, aka Alfonso Brescia, spent on Star Odyssey*˟*, his boondogglin’ Star Wars rip, with all of its fancy techno-trinkets and the WIZ supercomputer? Sure you do. See, a bigger budget doesn’t always equate to better.
Since Six-Hundred & Sixty Six is in the public domain, you can stream the trailer on Vimeo and watch it on the Internet Archive. If you search for a copy in the online marketplace, the film was reissued under the more exploitative title of 666: Mark of the Beast during its video ’80s shelf life to expand its audience beyond Christian bookstores.
“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:
Russia and/or Cuba
Catholics, ruling from the new world capitol of The Vatican
Israel and the Jewish Nation, for not believing in Jesus Christ
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.
Jenny Marshall (Delana Michaels; a slight resume, but still in the business), a Christian woman, wants Sam Jensen, an atheist newspaper reporter (Greg Wynne; in his acting debut, and with another slight resume), to publish an “early warning”: a cover-blowing story about the rise of the “bible prophesied” One World Foundation. Skeptical at first, Sam Jensen comes to believe Jenny Marshall (who was working on the “big story” with Sam’s old newspaper mentor; since murdered by the OWF) as result of her relentless pursuit by the foundation. A troubling romance, i.e., Christian woman falls in love with the atheistic reporter, but can’t be in love with a non-believer, yada, yada, yada (and yawn), ensues, as the sort-of-romantic duo try to take down the Antichrist.
Is it as dry and dopey-mopey, replete with weak acting and weakly-excuted action, as the Christian post-apoc’er Years of the Beast released in the same year? Eh, well, er . . . the scripting is (just a little) better than that end-times snooze-fest-o-rama. However, while I am not a fan of montage-newscast voice overs to set up the story, screenwriter David R. Elliot does eerily predict the very same issues we’re dealing with in 2021 (outbreaks of racial and religious-based violence, closing of churches and arrests of pastors, out-of-control gun violence, gun and explosive-possessing terrorist cells, male-only draft laws, the rebirth of Nazism, outbreaks of senseless murders and rapes) in his opening titles sequence. And the talk of one world banks, laser-engraved computer numbers, the rise of radical liberalism in schools as the plot unfolds has its intelligent-engaging moments.
While the proceedings are obviously on a low-budget, Elliot’s vision of the coming rise of the Beast is more technically proficient (his ability to stage car chases under helicopter sniper fire by black-clad soldiers, give us over-the-cliff car crashes, and some flashy techo-trinkets) courtesy of his being a filmmaker, first (he’s also worked on Stewart Raffill’s High Risk and, with Bo Hopkins, The Plutonium Incident). As result, the against-the-budget production values are higher than, and more effectively framed and shot than, a Thompson Christian-apoc production; however, Early Warning is still, very TV drama-flat and just a (slight) notch above a PBS-TV movie apoc-production (Hide and Seek, Music of the Spheres).
The acting is obviously above the non-pro thespian fray of Thompson’s end-time flickers, and it’s nice to have familiar actors Alvy Moore (ironically of The Brotherhood of Satan) and (George) Buck Flower(s) (a Carpenter go-to actor) show up . . . but neither is here long enough to balance against the other, weaker-unknown actors. While we get Flowers in the expected, desert-rat/survivalist role, Alvy Moore, god bless him, is one of the worst astronomers committed to film. (Did he just say, “I study stars n’ stuff” to explain his work? Could he be anymore “Hank Kimble” in his delivery?)
Oh, watch out for the ’60s Batman-era stock soundtrack: it’s arduous. And that flutes and clarinet stock music “chase sequence” music ain’t helping. Also of a particular annoyance: as with Carpenter’s post-apoc game changer, we have a (evil) society advanced enough to create laser-etching, ultraviolet-scanning computers to “mark” people — but it still all comes down to “mission critical” cassette tapes to put a stop to the chaos. Ugh.
Eh, look, it streams for free-with-commercials on Tubi and, as November 2022, Early Warning now appears on various Smart TV channel platforms (thus the odd, recent spike of reads of this review; and here we were simply scratching off an old Christploitation flick from our list). It’s something for the curiosity-seeking non-believer to fast-forward through on a slow Saturday night . . . to see the cinema drek Sam and I were stuck watching under revival tents and Wednesday Chapel’s once-a-month “media day” events. Yes, churches forced us kids to watch this stuff. And so it goes. . . .
You can also stream this — and other Christian movies we’ve reviewed this week — on the You Tube Christian Movies Portal. You can sample the trailer on You Tube.
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.
Editor’s Note: This was review was composed several months prior to the Alec Baldwin set-shooting incident. No offense to that tragedy is intended.The cinematic offenses of this movie, however, are.
And what does all of this have to do with backmasking in music? Read on, brother.
I come here, not to bury a Baldwin brother (in this case, Stephen), but to praise Eric Roberts (most recently of The Arrangement and Lone Star Deception), who, as you know, always gets a pass at B&S About Movies — even when the evil that he does is a Christian apocalypse flick (and shows us that he’ll never not take a movie offered). But, hey, Eric, like Brutus, is an honorable man in our good books, so I shall speak of this film, regardless of the fact that Paul and Jan Crouch’s Trinity Broadcasting Network — with their son, Paul, Jr., as the Executive Producer — bankrolled this script by faith-based actor David A.R. White (“Anthony Roy,” if you’re interested).
By the early 2000s Paul and Peter LaLonde’s Christian-based Cloud Ten Pictures — a studio that specializes in “end-times” films — created a worldwide phenomenon with their contemporary updating of the stuffy biblical prophecy films of old by “born again” drive-in purveyor Ron Ormond, with his debut film, If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971), and Evangelical films vendor Donald W. Thompson, with his debut, A Thief in the Night (1972), and Tom Doades’s own sci-fi take, Six-Hundred and Sixty Six (1972), then there’s the two Christian apocalypse progenitors also distributed by that film’s shingle, Gospel Films: Early Warning and Years of the Beast (both 1981).
The LaLonde Brothers broke home video rental records (at least within the Christian bookstore-verse) and found receptive cable television audiences (secular and non) courtesy of their major-studio slick adaptations of Christian author Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind adult novel series, with the films Left Behind: The Movie (2000), Left Behind II: Tribulation Force (2002), and Left Behind: World at War (2005), each starring the bane of a secular movie goer’s existence: Kirk Cameron (also of the 2008 Christian drama, Fireproof). However, prior to their productions of, and inspired by LaHaye’s books, the LeLonde brothers produced their own proselytizing The Apocalypse: The Film Series tetraology with Apocalypse (1998), and its sequels Revelation (1999), Tribulation (2000), and Judgement (2001).
Paul and Jan Crouch’s TBN, which aired LaLonde’s modernized biblical apocs to ratings success, weren’t going to be “left behind,” so they bankrolled their own “End of Times” flick with Six: The Mark Unleashed (2004). Released amid those rash of LaLonde productions (I binged watched all of them over a Library check-out frenzy, when libraries still had VHS catalogs), White’s contributions certainly don’t tread any new ground in terms of plot points and characterizations, but I kinda liked this one, as it is the most “sci-fi” of the pack.
As with anything touched by the hand of Crouch, secular critics are also not kind to David A.R. White’s writing or acting; and if you don’t like Kirk Cameron, you probably won’t like White, either. Beyond his secular, bit TV series roles as a “Pizza Guy” (Coach), “Room Service Waiter” (Melrose Place), and “Gas Station Attendant” (Sisters), White’s career wasn’t going anywhere in Hollywood. In fact, his most notable role was a six episode support run as “Andrew Phillpot” in the Burt Reynolds-fronted sitcom, Evening Shade. So, White decided to take the “beast” that is Hollywood by the horns and leave his “mark” on Tinseltown.
As with the struggling Tyler Perry before him, David A.R. White formed his LaLonde Brothers-styled studio, Pureflix (like Netflix, only for the Church crowd), along with his partner, Kevin Downes (as Christianity’s version of the secular Ben Affleck and Matt Damon), to produce (and stream, by others) faith-based films — which they sausage-vanity press one after another. Pureflix’s first films were the analogous apoc’ers The Moment After (1999), The Moment After 2 (2006), In the Blink of an Eye (2009), Jerusalem Countdown (2011), and the (very Mad Max-inspired, well, kinda sorta) Revelation Road trilogy. Perhaps you’ve encountered one of the four film from White’s dramatic God’s Not Dead series (which made it to theatres), since they starred Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo (Herc’s other for the studio is Let There Be Light). (Another studio, the one that really injected new interest in the Christploitation genre was Albany, Georgia-based Sherwood Pictures, with 2003’s Flywheel. Like the Christian Cinema films of the ’70s from Ron Ormond and Donald W. Thompson, that studio’s overseers in the Kendrick brothers got their start rolling out their debut film “roadhouse” style.)
As for Six: The Mark Unleashed, having Eric Roberts on board certainly pushes us through the digital propaganda (well, VHS for me), but it’s a pre-stardom Jeffrey Dean Morgan who, as expected, is instantly likeable and engaging (as a “born again” smuggler-cum-resistance fighter sold out by his “Marked” wife), which helps one accept White’s and Downes’s (who also directs) meh-to-serviceable acting (as fellow political prisoners to the new order; Roberts gets them busted, by the way). And while it’s fun to hate on a Baldwin brother, Stephen (best known for the Bryan Singer career starter, The Usual Suspects, and the Pauly Shore abomination, Bio-Dome), is good, here. Now that’s not saying the acting is great, it’s still strained and hokey, but it’s better than most Christian apoc’ers and, overall, the film is a cut above the Jack T. Chick bible-tract inspired flicks of the ’70s.
The Film Review
So, if you haven’t guessed already, it’s the last days of Armageddon (all of these films start with bible quote title cards, stock war footage, along with images of Hitler, Lenin, and Mussolini in short order) with a brutal dictator ruling the masses via forced chip-implant technologies (that triskelion on the video box) monitored by a global satellite network. On the ground, our Antichrist, dispatches his Gestapo-like Community Police Force, aka the CPF, to keep the masses in line. The rules are simple: If you do not accept your implant and become part of “The Community” (or become a double agent for the CPF) — after your mandatory, three week’s prison sentence, where you are tortured into accepting — you’re beheaded. (You’ll notice a pattern in these films with Christians obsessed with guillotines and rolling heads. It’s as if they’re rejoicing in glee that us Sodomities will loose our noggins. The only thing missing is Estus Pirkle’s love of fire in the frames.)
The usual lies and deceptions ensue as White and Downes (who lead here; Roberts and Baldwin, while on the box, are perfunctory players) “Escape from New York” with Morgan (on an obviously low-budget, which is why we’re inside a prison for most of the movie) to a purported safe haven known as Prodigal City. Dean, of course, plays his mission for the CPF — to kill resistance leader, Elijan Cohen (for all “leaders” in these films can never not have a “biblical” name) — close to the chest. As is any rumored “paradise” in these films, it ends up being a Gomorrah worse than the one from which our righteous protagonists escape.
Needless to say, if you’re a secular post-apoc fan, again, of the Escape from New York variety, or a lover of prison break films from the Escape from Alcatraz mold, there’s nada entertainment to be had. Secular reviewers pounced on this TBN production (despite its TV connections, there’s a theatrical sheen), while Evangelical viewers and Christian-industry reviewers, loved it, natch. Granted, it is not as slick as the LaLonde’s larger-budgeted films, but it is certainly not as scrappy-stuffy as those arduous Thompson and Ormond flicks of old.
You can watch Six: The Mark Unleashed — and all manner of Christian films — on the Pureflix streaming service, but we also found a freebie on You Tube. You can also watch it on-demand at ChristianCinema.com.
And now . . . a public service message on the dangers of rock music backmasking, bought to you by the fine folks of the Trinity Broadcasting Network
In the early, pre-Internet days of cable television, with its meager 40-channel (sometimes less) universe, there wasn’t a whole lot to channel surf (once you took out the Spanish and Sport channels), and with lesser channels, you sometimes ended up on TBN’s local UHF outlet and stumbled into things . . . that scared the crap out of you, because “salvation” via fearmongering, is key. So sayeth the Lord.
So, Paul, Jr., for you unaware, new wee-rockers to cause, lead the charge against Satan using rock music to indoctrinate children, with an oft-ran, 1982 two hour-long special on the evils lurking in the grooves of our records and the covers that encased them. Of course, instead of “saving us,” Paul, Jr. made our teeny-boopin’ VHS years all the sweeter, as he inadvertently created the Metalsplotation cycle of films, which we like to call “No False Metal” movies, in the process.
So, a toast and “horn flash” to Junior. Amen. For you put the Metal peanut butter into our horror film chocolate and gave us Billy Eye Harper and Sammi Curr.
Ack! As is the case with all things You Tube, the full special is gone (ugh, again?) But this clip and clip (also embedded below; since video links sometimes break) breaking down Led Zeppelin . . . again, scared us shitless. Then, when Pauly J. explained the meaning behind Ozzy Osborne’s “Mr. Crowley,” then opened the Eagles’ Hotel California gatefold to show us a shadowy, cloaked demon perched a dark balcony, the Electric Light Orchestra with their reversed “Christ you’re infernal” chants, Black Oak Arkansas ranting “NATAS,” and then pondered what the German band Accept was asking us to “accept” . . . we dumped those albums (along with Iron Maiden) at the used record store and put our trade-in money into the church collection plates and prayed ourselves into aneurysms for forgiveness.
And thanks to Paul, Jr., our “Friday Night Activities” at the local Baptist indoctrination center became a weekly “sermon,” with our blue-plaid jacket and pink-striped tie youth pastor, screaming with saliva flying, as he spun records backwards and overhead projector-burned “evil” lyrics and albums into our Playdoh minds. Then he started booking one awful “Christian Rock” band after another — bands that made Stryper look like Metallica. (Rizen and Chalice, you still sucketh. Don’t get me started on the screech that is Holy Right. Please, no more Holy Right. Please. I believe. I believe! Just make it stop!)
TBN was also behind the “young adult talk show” The Eagle’s Nest (. . . come, oh ye little ones to my ‘nest,’ ick), which retreaded the “Rock music is the Devil’s music” torch lit by Paul Jr., on an episode that you can watch in a three-part You Tube upload HERE, HERE, and HERE.