There are movies that pleasantly surprise you. Then there’s this third feature film by the Lammiman brothers, Dallas and Greg: Greg’s the writer; Dallas is the director. The “surprise” behind the film: it eschews the usual apocalypse trappings of man battling the prophesied Beast of Revelations.
Instead — with an influence of such Young Adult Films as The Hunger Games and Divergent franchises, but with the scrappy-inventivness of a Roger Corman ’80s space opera, e.g., Battle Beyond the Stars — we get a science fiction updating of the tale of the Mayflower. That fabled vessel and its passengers left England in 1620 to separate themselves from the Church of England, so as to find religious freedom; they eventually ended up in a “new Promised Land” in America, where they established the Plymouth Colony on the coast of Massachusetts.
Now, the new Mayflower II will transport persecuted Christians to an established utopian colony on Mars. However, as with most secular science fiction films dealing with “utopias” — for me, since I recently reviewed it, the Italian sci-horror import, Crucified (2021), comes to mind — that “promised land” is more corrupt and oppressive than the land the downtrodden left behind: this one overlorded by a defacto-styled Antichrist named Nero.
The questions the film ponders: As a believer, where do you stand with God? Faced with persecution for your beliefs, will you chose to follow the authority of man or rise up in revolt and remain faithful to God? Which is the greater fear in your life: God or man?
Needless to say, we are up against-the-budget, here, so, as with most Christian films: the main goal is to spread the world of the Lord, while providing wholesome, alternative entertainment for those off-put by secular science fiction films. As such, and referring back to films such as the Kendrick brothers’ (of Sherwood Pictures fame) really fine Flywheel: we’re dealing with a lot of first time actors and crew members, some professional; others volunteers, so the acting is rough in spots; some thespin’ better than others.
There’s very little in the way of shot-in-camera practical effects (what film today really has them), and what practical effects there are, well . . . the weapons look like (expertly) retrofitted Nerf rifles and pistols — and probably are (the lightning-bolt disruptor rays are decent, as are the holograms and touch screen controls; the surveillance drones are production-solid). There’s not much in the “futuristic” costuming department, but what little there is — in the way of the old, retrofitted hockey-motocross geared-up soldiers gag, and the off-the-Nutcracker-costume-rack military dresses — it looks just as good as any VHS’er of the video shelf ’80s or the Syfy Channel (before the double “y”) direct-to-DVD romps of the ’90s. The space ship interiors aren’t as effective as an old Roger Corman ’80s space opera, but certainly better than, and not as goofy-chinzy as, an Alfonzo Brescia ’80s Star Wars rip (Star Odyssey). The CGI work, however, while not exactly Star Trek: The Next Generation — but wants to be — is (very) effectively close to the style of that series.
As for the story . . . well, if your into secular science fiction, and appreciate obscure, low-budget productions (such as my recent “Outer Space Week” reviews of Hyper Space and Space Chase, for example), you may be willing to watch. But even I have to agree: the woe-is-me, Christians-are-perpetually-persecuted plotting is a bit hokey-to-swallow. But we are dealing with the tale of the Mayflower meets the prophecies of Revelations, and, as far as Christian believers are concerned: that future threat is real and they’re committed to that belief. And you have to respect that spiritual focus.
And this film from the Lammiman brothers is an equally committed film. And a commendable one at that. And I appreciate their focus on creating wholesome, yet relevant, entertainment. I am glad I discovered Mayflower II, by accident, as I descended down a Tubi rabbit hole. I enjoyed watching it and I await the Lammiman brothers’ next, ambitious production.
“Between the worlds and music, something evil was tearing them apart.” — Vidmark’s alternate, copywriter hornswogglin’
As the televangelist-inspiring carnival barkers of old once said, “Step right up! You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
So, if you are keeping track of your rock ‘n’ roll flicks, and we know you are, you know that Michael Paré (Moon 44) and Sean Patrick Flanery (Boondock Saints, forever!) each made two of them: Sean Patrick Flanery made this, and the even more obscure grunge chronicle, Girl (2000), while Michael Paré made this, and Eddie and the Cruisers.
In Girl, Flanery was an ersatz-Cobain who becomes the love interest of a wayward, college-bound high school girl. In Eddie and the Cruisers, Paré was an ersatz-Jim Morrison who faked his death.
Here, Flanery’s aspiring, oh-so-not-metal rocker (which a film of this genre needs: metal) runs afoul of Paré’s, well, faux-Tom Cruise — if his Stacee Jaxx from the abysmal Rock of Ages was running Scientology and brainwashing teens into hard rock zombies, like Damian in Black Roses. Oh, only if this film were as cool as that last sentence. . . . If this film was as cool as American Satan.
I just don’t know how to describe Raging Angels . . . this political sci-fi rock n’ roll heavy metal horror romantic musical (Phew!). I don’t know how to assume the “Christian” intent of the film, if any . . . what was its spiritual inspiration? And with five screenwriters (well, two on “story” and three scribes) — and with our fair director taking an “Alan Smithee” credit (plot spoiler: It’s Asian actress Hisako Tsukuba aka’ing on the writing front as Chako van Leeuwen; this is a “Chako Film International Production,” after all) — there’s no way to know whom is wholly responsible for this biblical-plot plethora pathos of analog schadenfreude. (One of the scribes taking a pass on it was Kevin Rock, who worked on sequels to The Howling, Warlock, and The Philadelphia Experiment, as well as Roger Corman’s rights-holding tax shelter, The Fantastic Four.)
Imagine Menahem Golan’s biblical tale of the Book of Genesis‘ Adam and Eve colliding with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust in The Apple, with its subplot regarding the power of love and music . . . and you thought producer Richard Zanuck greenlighting Russ Meyer, an independent X-rated filmmmaker, and Roger Ebert, a first time, inexperienced screenwriter, for a 20th Century Fox “sequel” with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was a weird picture, with its cautionary tale of innocent hopefuls chewed up and shat out by the Tinseltown music industry.
I just don’t know. . . .
Did the tape of Jon Mikl Thor’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare end up inside the VHS sleeve of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead on Hisako Tsukuba’s personal home video shelf? Perhaps, after watching Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate — and taking into consideration his work as a metal head and musician River’s Edge and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure — Tsukuba decided to re-imagine Al Pacino’s Lucifer-as-a-lawyer as a cult-leading rock star? Perhaps it was one too many spins of the likes of ’80s Christian (aka “White Metal”) bands Stryper, Believer, Deliverance, Holy Solider, Messiah Prophet, Whitecross, Trouble (okay, settle, they’re “Doom Metal”), and X-Sinner? (If only I just rattled off the soundtrack listing with that sentence, but alas, I have not.)
Oh, the majesty of it all, with this film’s pinches from Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (Gramercy’s concert hall headquarters; the concert assassination), They Live (recruiting the wayward homeless to boost their ranks), and John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (conspiracy, subversion, and government overthrow).
The beauty of Raging Angels is that it is inherently meta: The filmmakers (well, again, Asian actress Hisako Tsukuba, who co-produced Joe Dante’s Piranha, as well as ALL of its sequel/remakes) are using film to push what is best described as a (Tsukuba’s) socialism viewpoint; that a united, one-world welfare state under a supreme leader is the only way for the world to succeed in perpetual peace — which is the very message pushed by the film’s rock star-cum-celebrity spokesperson, Tom Cruise, er, Colin Gramercy (Paré). Ah, it turns out, Gramercy (in a plot twist), isn’t Satan-as-a rocker; he’s been brainwashed by Satan (a George Soros-styled billionaire philanthropist) as the chief advocate for a dopey, 501 c3 tax-evading pseudo-religion masquerading as a “self-help” book and tape-schilling amalgamate.
Like Daddy Rich pimpin’ his prosperity theology says: “There’s a good place in this world for money, and it’s right here in my pocket.”
Yes, praise Green Jesus, by watching this film . . . you will see the light! For watching Raging Angels will quell the “raging angels” within. This film will lead to your spiritual enlightenment . . . as you will learn how to be “your own god.” Yes you can! Just like “prosperity gospel” (i.e., “money gospel”) megachurch overseers Joel Olsteen and Creflo Dollar, whom “God tells” to pick the pockets of the flock to buy the Houston Astrodome and private 747s (fitted in real gold-plated fixtures, natch) to spread the good word. Hey, God can’t live or fly in junk, dear flockster. Forget that utility bill and tithe to Gramercy, for “God” will provide the water, light, and curb-side pick-ups. The Coalition for World Unity will provide the room and board and you’ll never have to work again . . . as long as you “obey” the word.
Eh, sorry, Ol’ Scratch, for I’ve stopped believing. Your attempt to brainwash me into socialism via a bad movie . . . you created a recruitment video for atheism. Besides, your film doesn’t even have backmasking? How can you make a movie with this subject matter and not have someone playing records backwards!
Anyway . . . our not-so-metal-warrior, Chris D’Amico (Flanery), is an arrogant, temperamental rocker on the way up who believes in his hype; and with his alcohol abuse out of control, his band sacks him. And the band he fronts is . . . none other that the aforementioned Holy Solider — ripping through Ronnie James Dio-era Rainbow with “Gates of Babylon” (on screen), which is this film’s lone high mark (on the soundtrack we also hear their original, “The Pain Inside of Me“). And Chris ends up like Pete Best and Chad Channing (know your Nirvana heritage), as Holy Soldier nets a deal and achieves great success . . . as a metal band . . . during the height of the grunge era (put a pin in that, for more, later).
So, our now penniless rocker, who has beat the bottle and stowed the cockiness, needs a gig. He and his musician-girlfriend, Lila Ridgeway (ex-daytime TV actress Monet H. Mazur, in her feature film debut), audition for gigs in Colin Gramercy’s new, worldwide satellite-cable concert (Paré, unlike in his star-making turn as Eddie, actually sings here, with “The Hunger”). And Colin wants Lila as a back up singer, who quickly falls under the cult-rocker leader’s spell (for all good televangelists have that enclave of chicks to help work through those sermons), but not Chris.
Uh, oh . . . but Lila is changing. She’s not the same girl, anymore. And the drinking didn’t make Chris wreck his car, it was Satan (literally; a ghostly image appears in the windshield). But Lila ain’t buying the excuses, anymore. She dumps him on Gramercy’s word.
Cue Chris’s Grandma Ruth (Shelley Winters!), who, thanks to her horrific dreams and visions (that screws up his new band’s audition), starts with the nagging warnings that “Chris is in danger.” Well, the demons won’t have any of that. Let the demon attack begin. But not before our dead Grandma recruits the eccentric, religious-psychic-preacher Sister Kate (Diane Ladd!) to save Chris and Lila’s souls from eternal damnation. The demeaning of Jesus Christ down to evil-warding, biblical-verse spells and religious trinkets, ensues.
Eh, on the upside: everyone is trying. Grandma Shelly and Aunt Diane are going at it with gusto, and Sean Patrick and Paré always sell the drama — no matter how awful it usually is, as is the case with most of their films.
Yes, the final good vs. evil showdown we’ve been waiting for at Colin’s global, subliminal worldwide satellite concert, is here — the concert that will transform the citizens of Earth to the Coalition for World Unity way-of-life once and for all! Well . . . I think it’s best you watch the clip of the final battle, for the rest of the story.
See what we mean?
Where’s Jon Mikl Thor when we need his bare-chested, bad-ass metal warrior self? Where’s Billy Eye Harper, Lynn Starling and Headmistress with the epic concert show closer? Ah, now I see why the CWU needs to subliminal message their concert: because the concert, with their screeching Christian symphonic rocker signing, Mozart (“One World”), and Colin Gramercy’s “life changing” epic, “The Hunger,” is — as is any Christian “rock concert” held in a church’s chapel-cum-gymcafeditorium that I’ve been too — absolutely, utterly awful (and when you realize the music sucks, they “kidnap” you by blocking the door and will not let you leave before the show’s over . . . and not even then. Screw you, One Bad Pig. Your Red Hot Chilli Peppers-for-Jesus schtick, sucked. At least Ronnie James Dio didn’t abduct me and force me to listen and indoctrinate me).
And that is what is ultimately missing from Raging Angels, the one thing that would have taken this Satan-steals-souls-with-rock-music mess over the top: a soundtrack on the level of the “No False Metal” classic Black Roses. For Raging Angels needs the likes of Lillian Axe, Lizzy Borden, and Carmine Appice’s King Kobra masquerading as the faux bands of the film. This film needed Metal Blade Records’ Brian Slagel as its music consultant to transcend it as the “No False Metal” classic it so wants to be . . . and utterly fails to be.
Granted, Sean Patrick Flanery impresses here (yes that is him singing, with “Come In My Mind“; in fact, here he is belting “One Step Forward” in Girl), but for as much as I enjoy any film with the ‘Flan, his character and the related songs are a bit too — through no fault of his own — douchy to pull off the demonic side of the proceedings. The rest of the soundtrack’s mostly B-Side castoffs — faux-Led Zeppelin’ers Kingdom Come (“What Love Can Be”), Golden Earring (?) (“Twilight Zone”), Boston (“Livin’ for You”), The Mission U.K (“Wasteland”), and well, what do you know, the aforementioned Stryper (“To Hell with the Devil”), and Sweden’s “dance rockers” Army of Lovers (“Supernatural”) (a big deal in Europe, but not in the U.S.) — just aren’t lathing the grooves on my vinyl. And, yes, shockingly, that snippet of “Arrow” by a band called Candlebox is the very same, we-relocated-the-band-to-Seattle-to-be-a-grunge-band, Candlebox. (Odette Springer, who scored Cirio H. Santiago’s Mad Max-rips Dune Warriors and Raiders of the Sun, scores here, as well as co-writing, with Hisako Tsukuba, Monet Mazur’s character’s vocal showcase, “I’m Crying Out for You.”)
And if the lack of metal in this Satanic music flick ain’t cuttin’ it, then, chances are, neither are the not-so-special effects.
When was this made? Well, based on the dated-soundtrack, certainly not during the post-1990 grunge-era. Raging Angels reeks as a film shot at some point during the hair metal ’80s — courtesy of its à la Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, practical-sfx rubbery monsters (taking into account that film’s epic “Plan 9 from Outer Space” Satan vs. Angel battle) and burgeoning-technology CGI. Yeah, the dank n’ moldy aromas of years-languishing on the shelf — as most “Alan Smithee” films do — to then be thou looseth on the shelves of oneth’s local Blockbuster Video, permeates.
In the end, what we ultimately have in the frames of Raging Angels isn’t a errant, “No False Metal” heavy-metal horror film: we have an evangelical Christian Cinema precursor to the rash of low-budget, direct-to-video evangelical Revelation/Apocalypse films triggered by Christian author Tim LaHaye’s mid-’90s end-of-the-world Left Behind novel series. Those best-sellers were, of course, produced into a tetraology franchise by Canadian’s Paul and Peter LaLonde Christian-based Cloud Ten Pictures, which specializes in end-times films.
So, forget about the Black Roses and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare analogies. The true spiritual cousins to Raging Angels are those proselytizing flicks starring past-their prime actors, such as the Apocalypse tetraology (1998 – 2001) with Gary Busey, Corbin Bernsen, Jeff Fahey, Margot Kidder, Mr. T, and Nick Mancuso, Six: The Mark Unleashed (2004), with Eric Roberts and Stephen Baldwin, David A.R White’s dopey Rapture-flicks, such as The Moment After (which rip off Schwarzenegger’s End of Days to lesser-and-lesser effect), and the biggie of the bunch: The Omega Code starring Casper Van Dien and Michael York. Raging Angels is all of those premillennialist flicks — only with a Satan-recruits-with-music plot device, and worse production values.
Eh, whatever, ye leaders of the CWU. If douchy music from tapered haircut and scruffy soul-patched dudes is the way to global peace, then give thee chaos. At least Satan has better music to-be-brainwash-by. At least I learned that the way to rock is to sling my axe behind my back and wear glittery tank tops.
The VHS tapes are out there, but watch out for those DVDs, they’re grey DVD-r rips. And while they look really good, I am still not jammin’ on those Euro Region 2 copies, either. Emptor the caveats and know your regions before you go hard digital, kids.
In all of my years coveting this film for the VHS collection, I never found a copy. Sure, I could easily buy a copy online these days, but, well . . . it’s just not the same as discovering a copy in a video store’s cut out bin — or at today’s library book drives or second hand stores, is it? For the joy is the thrill of the analog chase and the celluloid discovery . . . and then having your expectations deflated as you struggle to get through the movie, and then apologize to your VCR.
Eh, I’ll just free-with-ads stream it on Tubi with ya’ll.
Hey, Scorpion Releasing! You need to do for Raging Angels what you did for The Apple and get this out on Blu-ray. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. . . .
Coming the first week of December. . .
We’re reviewing a week of classic — and heavy-handed — early ’70s Christian Cinema with our upcoming, our “Exploring: Christian Cinema of the ’70s” featurette. So, join us on Wednesday, December 1 through the Sunday, December 5 . . . “join us . . . join us. . . .”
During the earliest days of the site, we put together a loose, in no particular order, Top Ten listing of “Ten Possession Movies that Aren’t The Exorcist.” We’ve since teased, on a few occasions, we’d do a list to honor the Italian and Spanish film industry’s next favorite horror film to copy: The Omen.
Well, it took the power of the Internet three years to compel us to finally make up the list. Feel free to share it on your social media and comment on your favorites, below.
1.The Tempter, aka The Antichrist (1974) — Okay, so the business model here is The Exorcist — with a dash of Rosemary’s Baby. Yes, this was made before The Omen, but this was also made under, and originally released as, The Antichrist, so there you go. Alberto de Martino (behind one of our favorite Giallos with Strange Shadows in an Empty Room) weaves a tale about a Mia Farrow-cum-Rosemary lookalike who, under a psychiatrist’s care, goes into past-life regression therapy and becomes possessed by a Spanish Inquisition ancestor. Yes, the ancestor is the feared Antichrist. Yes, the nudity and swearing is mind-numbing in is ferocity. Yes, this movie is out of control in its crazed ripoffery. And it only gets stranger with de Martino’s next ode to the Dark Prince.
2. Holocaust 2000, aka The Chosen (1977) — We still haven’t figured out how Stanley Donen convinced Kirk Douglas to star in Saturn 3, and here’s the three-time Oscar nominee starring in an Antichrist romp directed by Alberto de Martino, back for another bit of the Crucifix after giving us The Tempter. So what’s this Italian-British co-production all about? Well, it seems the dreaded beast of the book of Revelation . . . is actually a nuclear power plant built near a sacred cave in the Middle East by Kirk’s industrialist, Robert Caine. Oh, and as in Saturn 3, regardless of his age, Kirk’s a virile young buck shacking up with a woman half his age. Oh, and his son, the aptly named Angel Caine, turns out to be the Antichrist.
3. Fear No Evil (1981) — Sure this is a low-budget Omen rip, but this tale of a high school student who, upon turning 18, discovers he is the prophetized Anitchrist is oh, so good. In a pinch taking from Carrie: Andrew is a dorky, weirdo bookworm who spends his days as a bully punching bag. Before you know it: Andrew has paralyzed his mother, his dad is in the booby hatch, and his mortal enemy, Tony Idavino, spouts breasts. Yes, the baby Jesus is murdered — don’t worry — its during the town’s annual Passion Play. Then Andrew — looking more like an ’80s glam rocker than a demon — lays waste to the town with a zombie apocalypse. Yes. It is as awesome and strange as it sounds.
4. The Inquisition, aka Inquisición (1977) — Okay, so this is more about “witch hunting” than the rise of the Antichrist. However, unlike Michael Reeves’s Witchfinder General (1968), Michael Armstrong’s Mark of the Devil (1970), and Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971), the sexually depravity and spiritual corruption of Witchfinder Bernard de Fossey (Paul Naschy, who writes, but also in his directing debut), actually conjures a reincarnation of Satan. And when Naschy conjures an “Antichrist,” rest assured that his Ol’ Scratch enjoys (plenty) of naked women and nipple-ripping.
5. The Visitor (1979) — Did you hear the one where Ovidio G. Assonitis (Tentacles) and Giulio Paradisi (who worked with Fellini on 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita!) decided to cash-in on The Omen with a cross between Chariots of the Gods meets Rosemary’s Baby? So goes this tale regarding the soul of a telekinetic young girl at the center of a war between God and the Devil. Franco Nero is a space god? Check. Sam Peckinpah — yes, the director of western classic The Wild Bunch — as an abortionist who removes one of the space babies? Check. John Huston — yes, the director of The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen — as an angel to stop Zathaar, aka Satan, the “bad alien” from succeeding? Check. Lance Henriksen (Near Dark, Aliens) as an ersatz Ted Turner media mogul who wants the power? It’s all there . . . and it just goes on and on . . . The Bad Seed meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Okay, if you say so. And we thought Jodorowsky’s El Topo was a chore to interpret.
6. Bloody Sect, aka Secta siniestra (1982) — Spain’s “Roger Corman,” Ignacio F. Iquino — in his only horror film — takes no chances with his take on the birth of the Antichrist as he clips scenes not only from The Omen, but Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, as well as The Shining, Suspiria, and Rabid, along with stylistic soupçons from Dario Argento, Joe D’Amato, Ruggero Deodato, Jess Franco, and Bruno Mattei. It’s a tale of a woman artificially inseminated with the sperm of Satan (!) by a fertility doctor. It’s also a tale that never lets up as it piles on the plot absurdities — refer to your favorite Mattei opus — amid the gore and the sleaze.
7. The Late Great Planet Earth (1978) — Narration by Orson Welles intersperses the biblical reenactments, as chicken-little-the-sky-is-falling talking-head academics babble to stock footage of war and starving children, then tell us about planetary alignments and supercomputers running Ronald Reagan through numerology algorithms to determine if he is the dreaded Antichrist. Nuff said, for we love you, Hal Lindsay: you frightened us kiddies unlike no other Spanish or Italian ripoff purveyor before or since.
8. Prince of Darkness (1987) — Basically, John Carpenter did a remake-retool of Hammer Studios’ Quartermass and the Pit (1967) for $3 million dollars. As the characters prattle about theoretical physics and atomic theory, we learn that a canister of green liquid discovered in an abandoned church is the essence of The Antichrist. Yeah (yawn), before you know it: we are back in Carpenter’s old 13th precinct haunts with another variation on Rio Bravo as we hear about theories that Jesus is actually an alien and the Catholic Church covered it up and the world will end in 1999. (For the record: I’m the “yawner”; Sam likey. We are still friends, canisters of green goop, be damned.)
9. God Told Me To (1976) — According to Larry Cohen (The Stuff): God is one of the most violent characters in literature. Take that insight, then concoct a police procedural drama about a cop mixed up in some ancient astronaut tomfoolery à la Chariots of the Gods as a series of killings sweeps New York City in which the perpetrators claim, before their own suicide, that “Gold told me to.” Of course, it’s not “God,” but Bernard Phillips, the Antichrist, who according to his mother, was a immaculately concepted aliens, you know, just like Jesus.
10. The Sect (1991) — Is there a real life, worldwide Satanic “army of evil” responsible for the Manson Family and Son of Sam murders? Well, Michele Soavi (Stage Fright, The Church) answered the call with this story about a German schoolteacher impregnated by a giant bird that opens a glowing, blue gateway to Hell in a basement that will unleash the Antichrist to Earth. And that’s the short version synopsis, which doesn’t even begin to describe this film’s crazed, biblical non non sequiturs.
Never say “ten” movies. Never.
11. Reborn (1981) — Okay, so we are cheating one more . . . and there’s no actual “exorcism” . . . but it’s all for the love of Bigas Luna. Mixing the erotic with the spiritual, it’s a religious fantasy piece that questions faith, explores Luna’s own Catholicism, and the mysteries of one’s acquiring healing powers. Then things go bonkers, more so, as Dennis Hooper shows up as the maniacal Rev. Tom Hartley — our “Antichrist” — an American televangelist-head of a racketeering revivalist church who wants to exploit a young woman’s abilities of “hearing” the Holy Ghost, for his own, greedy purposes.
12. Raging Angels (1995) — Okay, so we are cheating two . . . and this is actually a “Satanic Panic” flick about the Devil using rock music to control the world. Released in the ’90s but made during the end of the Hair Metal ’80s, Michael Paré stars as a religious rocker fronting an organization pushing for a one-world government. An aspiring rocker played by Sean Patrick Flanery of The Boondock Saints fame tries to stop the Rapture and the rise of the Antichrist. Hey, Christian metal band Holy Soldier shows up to belt out Ronnie James Dio-era Rainbow with “Gates of Babylon” . . . as you ponder the awful CGI of it all amid Shelly Winters and Diane Ladd doing what they can to battle the evil.
Honorable Mentions Roman Polanski’s pre-Exorcist/Omen game changer that is Rosemary’s Baby, Al Pacino’s tour de force as the Antichrist in The Devil’s Advocate, James Glickenhaus’s debut oddball, The Astrologer, aka Suicide Cult, and the Richard Matheson TV movie-penned The Stranger Within. Does The Godsend fit in here? It has a creepy devil kid, but it’s more sci-if . . . eh, why not? Can we toss William Girdler’s The Manitou — with it’s tale of a gigantic growth on a woman’s neck that ends up being the reincarnation of the Native American spirit Misquamacus? That’s short of “Antichristy,” right? Eh, The Next One with Keir Dullea and Adrienne Barbeau? Yeah, Keir may or may not be an alien washed up on a Greek island — and he may or not be Jesus Christ (or the Antichrist; been so long, I don’t recall, fully) — but that’s a sci-fi flick and not the least bit horror.
What’s your favorite? Did we miss it? Let us know in the comments, below.
About the (hyperlinked) Review Authors: Sam Panico is the founder, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, and editor-in-chief of B&S About Movies. You can visit him on Lettebox’d and Twitter. R.D Francis (who wrote this piece) is the grease bit scrubber, dumpster pad technician, and staff writer at B&S About Movies. You canvisit him on Facebook.
Grindhouse and drive-in purveyor Earl Owensby, who made his producing-acting debut with the 1974 one-two punch of a Walking Tall (1973) ripoff called Challenge and its sequel, The Brass Ring, tossed a clergy collar on his ersatz Buford Pusser — and changed his name to the Reverend James Lowery — for this, his third movie: a Death Wish (1974) rip off. Since the film has a priest dolling out the justice, Dark Sunday ends up as a weird, obscure sidebar on many a Christploitation, aka Godsploitation, lists.
Regardless of Dark Sunday ending up on those critical lists, Earl Owensby will always be known best for his fifth film, Buckstone County Prison (1978), a film which crossed the chain-gang classic Cool Hand Luke with the biker-karate-Indian actioner Billy Jack. There’s fourteen more films to chose from Owensby’s vanity-producing resume — of which he acted in eleven. Sure, none of them have a lick of originally between them, but Owensby is always committed to his leading man role and his films are never not entertaining. And, most importantly, they always made bank in the big city, sticky-floored in-doors and backwater drive-ins — Buckstone being the most successful of the bunch.
You need need a ripoff of Burt Reynolds’s Hooper when that’s missing from the rental shelf? Earl’s got one: Death Driver (1977). Smokey and the Bandit rented out? Pick up a copy of Hit the Road Running (1987). Need a wolfman flick? Check out as Earl as the cursed Colin Glasgow in Wolfman (1979). In the mood for a killer dog flick? Check out Earl as a backwater sheriff fighting off government-bred mutts in Dogs of Hell (1983). Need another Cool Hand Luke rip to fill the void of Clint Eastwood’s Escape from Alcatraz being rented out? Grab a copy of Chain Gang (1984). Heck, Owensby has done it all: even portraying (a faux) Elvis — with a Roy Orbison vocal assist — in Living Legend: The King of Rock and Roll (1980). Yeah, Earl also jumped on the slasher bandwagons to the lands of Carpenter with Day of Judgement. You need a retro-horror omibus, well, a “3-D” bandwagoner? Earl’s got one: Tales of the Third Dimension in 3-D (and both are also very “Godsploitation” and Christ exploity).
Okay, enough with the Earl Owensby love. Let’s unpack Dark Sunday.
Reverend James Lowery is a skid row reverend helping young junkies to a better life through his homegrown flophouse and rehab center. Needless to say: a cured and Chirst-saved junkie is one less customer for “the Candyman,” a local drug dealer. So ol’ Candy sends his goons after the good minister for cutting in on his action — and they blow away the Reverend’s wife and kids at a riverside picnic. His wife and son, Eric, are dead. His son Jody, survives. And the Rev is left mute with a bullet-shattered voice box.
Let thou the seven seals of revenge be broken.
As with Death Wish (1974), as well as Dirty Harry (1971) and Magnum Force (1973), inspiring the Italian film industry with a series of gritty, brutal revenge films, aka Poliziotteschi, this Jimmy Huston-directed and Early Owensby-produced Bronson-Eastwood amalgamate — due to its way over-the-top violence — actually pinches from the Italian knockoffs. In fact, due to its ultraviolence, the revenge proceedings play as a “white” version of a blaxploitation actioner.
Yeah, sure, while well-shot and edited, everything about this against-the-budgeter from the Owensby House of Flicks is cheap and ripped off from other, better known movies. But Earl Owensby is an engaging, passionate actor on screen and he keeps you watching. And you can’t not stick around to see how much more violent this southern-baked grindhouser can get: for that “NR” rating on the DVD sleeve just ain’t whistlin’ dixie, Cletus.
After four films with Owensby — Dark Sunday being his debut, along with The Brass Ring, Death Driver and Buckstone County Prison — Jimmy Huston went off on his own. As with Owensby, Huston ripped off everyone, as well, starting with the (very) Carpenter-inspired Final Exam (1981), and the ’80s de rigueur vamp-comedy, My Best Friend Is a Vampire (1987). The last time we heard from Huston in the director’s chair was the Lou Diamond Phillips and Judge Reinhold-starrer, The Wharf Rat (1995). His greatest success was writing the Lethal Weapon variant Running Scared (1986) starring Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal.
If you love the grindhouse and drive-in cinema of old, make a point of watching at least one of Earl Owensby’s films in your travels — but more than one, if you can. You can watch Dark Sunday on You Tube. You’ll be glad you did.
You can learn more about the still-active Earl Owensby Studios (James Cameron’s The Abyss was shot there) and purchase Earl’s films direct from the studio’s website. There’s also a nicely written Wikipage on Earl’s accomplishments. In 1997, longtime Owensby associate Noel T. Manning produced a touching, feature-length documentary, Earl Owensby: The Man, the Myth, which is legally available on You Tube via Manning’s personal page.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
First, it’s confused with German director Eberhard Schröder’s Die Klosterschülerinnen, aka The Convent Students, which also made the rounds as Sex Life in a Convent, but is also known as . . . Girls in Trouble. Second, that film, and this Sybil Danning vehicle (well, not really) is not only co-directed by Schröder: both star German glamour model and Euro-sex kitten Doris Arden (1968’s So Much Naked Tenderness and 1972’s Nurse Report). Third, while it’s a softcore skinflick (uh, not really), it ends up on “Christploitation” lists due to its anti-abortion and pro-life slant in its chronicle of several pregnant women on their way to get abortions.
While it played across Europe in 1971, it finally made it to America during the height of the “Golden Age of Porn” on U.S. shores as The Joy of Love.
But this ain’t no porn . . . or the least bit golden. And there’s no joy in watching it. And it’s not a Christian flick . . . or the least bit saving. Everybody got duped with this one. No one was entertained by it and everybody hated it. But what else would you expect from a film that markets both the porn and God-believing markets?
Lacking a fluid narrative, the film actually plays as a series of documentary-styled vignettes. So what we really have here is an omnibus films of seven tales on the dangers and horrors of abortion. And now you see why it ends up on Christploitation lists.
In the first tale, two women are in court over a botched kitchen-abortion. Then, we meet a kidnapped and raped 13-year old girl forced to keep her baby because the law doesn’t allow abortions. In the third tale, a knocked up young lady has miscarriage forced upon her. Then, we’re inside a mobile — and illegal – abortion clinic. Then a secretary is raped by her boss, who then send her to the U.K. for an abortion. We also meet a woman who visits an abortion doctor who drugs her and takes porn-pictures of her to make some pocket change. And in the final, seventh tale, a young, pregnant girl begs a doctor for an abortion; he calls in priest to read her the riot act.
So, what happened back in that opening court room scene?
Well, the old bag with the kitchen knife who almost murdered the young woman, gets three years. The girl — who was almost murdered, mind you — gets six months in jail because, well, she’s a “slut” that already had a child previously that she gave up for adoption.
As you can see, this West Germany ditty is far from being a skin flick. And it’s just one of those oddball flicks you spotted behind the green curtain during the video store ’80s because Sybil Danning’s presence sells the tape — then you discover she’s only the wife of the judge from the first segment, she’s not an aborter or abortee, and she shows us no skin. And the whole movie is actually pretty disgusting and you start to wonder what the big deal was about you finally aging-in to get behind the green curtain.
Obviously, there’s no trailer to show you or links to stream it online. But make no mistake: this offensive lesson in tedium that would give Ed Wood pause, exists. Sybil Danning fans can skip this — we implore you, skip this — and go directly to Malibu Express or They’re Playing with Fire.
Oh, and beware of Eberhard Schröder skin flick rabbit holes. It’s a sexually twisted filmography you’d rather not know about. Trust us. Don’t do it. (But you know you will.)
DAY 19 — CAN’T YOU HEAR ME KNOCKIN’?: When you let an unexpected guest in, you may be in for a long night.
Editor’s Note: While we’ve included this — controversial — film as part of our Christploitation genre cataloging, we’ll also briefly delve into the Hagsploitation genre, turn you on to a few “hippie flicks,” as well as discuss other, analogouslylost, U.S. made Drive-In horrorsreleased around the time of this film.
I know. I know. Why is an exploration of ’70s Christian Cinema including a crime-horror romp that advises “death is the only way out,” courtesy of Cinemation Industry — the Drive-In shingle that gave us the likes of Teenage Mother (1967), Female Animal (1970), The Man from O.R.G.Y (1970), I Eat Your Skin (1971), Teenage Sex Report (1971), Son of Dracula (1973), Dynamite Brothers (1974), and an X-rated cartoon in the form of Fritz the Cat (1972).
Hey, this ain’t no trope-laden site ensuing with cliched, generalized lazy thinking, buddy pal-o-mine: this is freakin’ B&S About Movies in Pittsburgh, baby: we don’t write for stinkin’ food or for reissue DVD/Blu swag. We choose our God-Christploitation reviews the fracked up way because we dig the film at hand: no reissue promo-campaigning required.
Besides, it can’t always be about Estus Pirkle and Ron Ormond (The Second Coming will get you there, brother), which, if they kept making movies together, a proto-slasher about a serial killer twistin’ the Good Book probably would have been the next, logical celluloid-Pirkle step. Don’t forget: he’s the guy who jammed sharpened bamboo sticks into children’s ear canals. And when he’s not inducing them to puke, he cuts them down from hanging trees onto a field of buried pitchforks, then tosses them in mass graves. (no, really; we’re not making it up). The folks at Mondo Stumpo summed Pirkle’s psychotronic years, brilliantly: Christian Gore.
So, yeah. Estus Pirkle vs. Lee Madden. No contest. Pirkle wins. Hands down.
The Pirks’ celluloid triad If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?, The Burning Hell, and Believer’s Heaven (well, it’s a little bit more positive; but kids are still being tossed in mass graves) are still more gag-inducing and horrifyingly sick than this faux-Manson ditty brought to you by Cinemation — again, the studio that gave you the likes of the not-even-close, exploitative bile-inducer, I Eat Your Skin. As Sam the Bossman has opined in his Pirkle-Ormond opuses: all three films are stuck in our collective minds way longer than any blockbuster — or Christian film or horror film — we will see this year. Or any other year. Digital streaming or hard-copy reissues. Period.
Eh, well. Maybe not.
Madden really scraped the offensive bottom of — and broke through the rusted bottom of — the Christploitation barrel. And people lost their minds over The Exorcist and The Omen? I mean, a Catholic Priest crucified on his own cross? Top that, Mr. Friedkin and Mr. Donner. Well, actually — in terms of quality — you did.
Anyway, long before you youngins were exposed to Charles Manson by way of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood, there was a mini-cottage industry of “hippie flicks” that borrowed from the Manson myth — courtesy of instilling the idea that all of Haight-Asbury’s flowery-denizens were blood-thirsty killers. So, we got the likes of the hippie-crime romps Psych-Out (1968), the double bill to I Eat Your Skin with I Drink Your Blood (1970), The Cult (1971), The Love-Thrill Murders (1971), the document/reenactmentary of The Other Side of Madness (1971), the Andrew Prine with a goat insanity of Simon, King of the Witches (1971), the really fine Deathmaster (1972), Thumb Tripping (1972), the “Manson as a filmmaker” with Snuff (1976), and, of course, the incredible Steve Railsback as Manson in the exquisite TV movie, Helter Skelter (1976).
Yeah, there’s a “Exploring: Charles Manson on Film” feature to be had . . . someday.
Now, back to the Godsploitation, aka Christploitation, portion of today’s programming: a weird genre to begin with, depending on the critical whims of the writer (in the case, Sam Panico and yours truly), the films included, can be controversial choices. Even B&S contributor Bill Van Ryn of Drive-In Asylum questioned today’s movie choice. And when BVR furrows his brow, well, you’ve just hit celluloid pay dirt. And only God knows what the dude who hates it when we use the word “trope” in our reviews (and takes a moment from his day to let us know), will think. . . . The night the critic screamed, indeed.
Now, one would never consider a British horror film starring Christopher Lee as a “Christploitation” piece: but when your film is based on occultist author, paranormalist, and “secret society” founder Dennis Wheatley — a friend and collaborator of fellow occultist and Thelema religion founder Anton LeVey — the movie based on his book, The Devil Rides Out (1969), in which the big guy of the underworld, Baphomet, and his buddy, the Angel of Death himself, shows up — and both ultimately defeated by Christianity — the film ends up on the (my) list.
The same could be said for Die! Die! My Darling! (1965). Although it’s part of the psychobiddy sub-genre (i.e, old, crusty women terrorizing “sinning” young women, aka “hagsploitation”), when you have Tallulah Bankhead in crazed, full-on religious hysteria exorcising a corrupt Stephanie Powers, that films ends up on the stone immaculate perimeters of Christ/Godsploitation (my) lists. And our speaking of Tallulah Bankhead attempting to reignite her career in a horror film brings us to — gulp — Jeanne Crain, the star of The Night God Screamed.
Remember how the Smithereens’ Pat DiNizio lamented about British model Jeannie Shrimpton in the lyrics of “Behind the Wall of Sleep”; how he’d gleefully commit a murder if she so purred the request? Yeah, for me, it’s like that with the Academy Award for Best Actress-nominated Jeanne Crain — for her title role in 1949’s Pinky.
Yeah, I had it bad for Jeanne Crain. Sigh. Remember how Superman time-travel willed himself back to the past to hook up with Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time (1980): Calling Dr. Gerard Finney, time-hypnotize me to a Jeanne Crain romance.
As with Veronica Lake making her final bow with Flesh Feast (1970), Joan Crawford appearing in Berserk! (1967) and Trog (1970), and Wanda Hendrix (zoinks!) closing out her career at the age of 44 with a Gothic, Civil War tale, the really fine The Oval Portrait (1972), ex-20th Century Fox studio-starlet Jeanne Crain attempted an early ’70s comeback — her last film was Hot Rods to Hell (1966) — with a horror film: inspired by Charles Manson. Sadly, it was not meant to be. When her “big horror move” failed to spark interest, the divine Ms. Crain called it a day after working with — fifth-billed, mind you — Charlton Heston in Skyjacked (1972).
So, with Alex Nicol — an actor/director in The Screaming Skull (1958) and director for Peter Carpenter’s Point of Terror (1971) — thespin’ it up with an early James Sikking (Outland, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) — Jean Crain stars as family matriarch Fanny Pierce in a tale directed by Lee Madden.
Wait? Not Lee Madden of the biker flicks Hell’s Angels ’69 (1969) and Angel Unchained (1970), and the hunter-on-private island romp Night Creature (1978).
Oh, hell, yes. Strap on the popcorn buckets. Let’s unpack The Night God Screamed.
The reason this offensive, yet stunning movie failed: it’s a slow-burn, psychological thriller that, instead of the shocking gore and violence you’d expect from a Manson-inspired film, it’s all about the atmosphere. Another reason: due to its provocative title, small town and rural communities with theaters refused to carry the film; they acquiesce to the alternative title of Scream. The third reason: Jerry Gross was against-the-sprokets and Cinemation was going under . . . while barely releasing it in 1971, the film stumbled around as a second-biller until 1974, never to find its well-deserved audience. The same marketing snafus happened to the youth-seeking devil worshipers romp, Brotherhood of Satan (1971), the exquisite gaslighter, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), the dreamy The Velvet Vampire (1971), William Girdler’s debut Asylum of Satan (1972), the weirdly, Clint Eastwood-connected and released-stalled Die Sister, Die! (1972), the toy-making Devil worshiping of Necromancy (1972), Jean-Marie Pélissié’s art house-beauty, The Bride (1973), the utterly bonkers and also questionably-rated, The Baby (1973), the stellar post-Romero craze of Messiah of Evil (1973), and the flawed but captivating Warlock Moon (1973).*
Eh, so what else is new in the puritanical bread baskets of America?
So, rightoff the bat, the Fundamentalists are loosing their nuts: we open with a monk-hooded figure dragging a six-foot tall cruciform through the woods. And our faceless monk looks down from a hill upon a lakeside baptismal ceremony conducted by our ersatz Jesus, aka our ersatz Charles Manson, i.e, “Billy Joe,” as he complains to God about “the man” coming down on his faux-Chuckness because they dig Jesus, and do dope only to “turn on to” Jesus, and that they’re not a phony, money-grabbing ministry, lying and stealing from their flock. . . .
Oh, and the dude in the robe: he’s The Atoner. And the baptism? The Atoner drowns you, the “Judas,” into the afterlife.
So, with that bit of Christ exploiting out of the way; we finally get to this review’s raison d’étre: Jeanne Crain is Fanny, the put-upon wife of Pastor Willis Pierce (Alex Nicol) who oversees a small chapel and soup kitchen in a rundown, crime-ridden neighborhood.
The prim n’ snobby Fanny hates her life and wants out. And I want her to move in with me.
Anyway, the “path” to the way out leads the Pierces to run afoul of Billy Joe and his sidekick, The Atoner. And yes, they crucify Pastor Willis to a cross inside his church because, well, God has advised Billy Joe that the Pastor is a false prophet.
So, a year passes: Fanny is PTSD’d (I’d still put up with her; I’ve cohabited with far worse), hearing her husband’s and Billy Joe’s voices — even though hubby’s dead and our faux-Manson is in prison.
Then, taking cues from Charles Manson seeking revenge on Beach Boys associate Terry Melcher for reneging on a “deal” to record his music**, Billy Joe’s clan descends on the convicting Judge Coogan’s house to extract revenge: instead, they find Fanny, who came to work as a housekeeper and assistant to the judge, his wife and four teen (well, casting older-than-teens, natch) children.
Well, not really. Do we really have to explain “gaslighting” to you?
My poor, dear Jeanne really goes through the ringer in her final, leading role. Put your head on my shoulder, let me whisper in your ear, baby.
While not exactly graphic-bloody in A Bay of Blood (1971) sense, The Night God Screamed is, never the less, like The Baby before it, still a pretty brutal and intense movie — filled with religious imagery — for a PG-rated film. The trailer isn’t doing the film justice. As for “exploitation” critical descriptors, aside: Jeanne Crain is still a friggin’ hotter-than-hell MILF. Paging Dr. Gerard Finney, R.D Francis is seeing rainbows and skyrockets, again.
It’s hard to believe that, in a ’70s UHF-TV world that played A Bell from Hell (1973) — a movie with human-sized puppets playing pianos and women hanging upside down in an abattoir — The Night God Screamed never playing on TV is a crime against the ultra-high frequencies that white-noised my brains with the Drive-In delights that I was too young to see back in the day. Thank god for the VHS ’80s.
Sorry, kiddies. There’s no freebies or with-ads streams to share. But the DVDs are all over the online marketplace, VHSs are out there, for the ever-the-analog purist. And if there’s one, pure ’70s horror DVD to add to your collection, The Night God Screamed comes highly recommended. Do it.
There’s ripoffs of The Omen (The Visitor, The Tempter, Holocaust 2000), then there’s Spain’s “Roger Corman,” Ignacio F. Iquino — anglicized, here, for U.S. drive-in consumption as “Steve McCoy” — bringing on the double-live gonzos, Antichrist weirdness. (I’ll forever pair Iquino’s horror opus with Bigas Luna’s Anguish. I’m weird that way, anyway. . . .)
In his only horror film, Iggy wastes no time in serving up the gore and the sleaze — remembering his back resume is mostly softcore skin dramas that jumped on the Jess Franco sex-wave band wagon — in a tale of a woman pregnant with the Antichrist pursued by a Satanic cult (led by the sinister-good, yet one-film-and-gone Henry Ragoud). It’s a film that, as you watch, you’ll feel the proceedings are more Roman Polanski than Richard Donner — but there’s no arguing that Lucio Fulci’s gag-inducing influence is afoot in the frames. So yes, if you know your Fulci: eyes are gouged out. And the gallons upon gallons of blood belched would give Sam Raimi pause . . . heck, even Joe D’Amato threw-up in his mouth (and he knows a thing or two about inducing gags with his own, 1974 Antichrist romp, The Tempter, and 1979’s Blue Omega).
It all begins with Frederick, an ex-mercenary stuck in a loveless marriage with Elizabeth, his home bound, mentally and physically scared wife — an injury caused by his own misadventures with the bottle. He comes to fall in love with Helen — and loses his eyes via a red-hot fire poker (not before offing the maid) wielded by his now institutionalized wife. Now married and wanting to raise a family, Fredrick and Helen discover they can’t conceive (poor Fred . . . he loses his eyes, now he’s shootin’ blanks). Consulting a fertility doctor, they discover — too late — the good doctor is part of a Satanic cult . . . and he’s artificially inseminated Helen with “Satantic Sperm” to birth the Antichrist.
Yeah, the proceedings sometimes go down like a Bruno Mattei cheapjack joint (1980’s Hell of the Living Dead comes to mind) lacking in atmosphere that inclines more laughs that scares (the rubber bats! the devil baby!). The proceedings, however, are — without a doubt — outright mean and brutal with its eyeball operation (to at least fill in Fred empty sockets), abortions (the cult tracks down and kills the abortionist that kiboshed the last two Antichrist pregnations), and the big “Ruggero Deodato” move — only this time, it’s a (real) frog — in lieu of a river turtle — that gets the dagger holocaust. Then Elizabeth escapes the nuthouse (Diana Conca is off-the-chain and scene-chewing excellent throughout), Frederick’s obnoxious nephew is on the Damien fringes, there’s more nudity than a Paul Naschy joint, the cameras zoom and swirl, and the plot absurdities (also kitchen sink-clipping from The Shining, Suspiria, and Rabid) pile on and on and on as the pounding soundtrack sends Dario Argento screaming from the theater!
Remember how you felt when you witnessed the bat shite craziness of Magdalena, Possessed by the Devil (1974) and the great (!) Armondo de Ossorio’s Demon Witch Child (1975)? Well, Bloody Sect, as with those two post-Exorcist possession ditties, is never — ever — dull. And you get an Omen-Antichrist birth in the bargain, so what’s not to likey, here? Nothing. I love it all! Sure, we all remember Paul Naschy and Jose Ramon Larraz, but raise a pint for Ignacio F. Iquino giving it the genre-hoping, post-John Carpenter try, will ya?
Once very hard to find outside of Europe on VHS in the ol’ brick and mortar days — but the local comic book shop and VSOM/Video Search of Miami had the (poorly subtitled) greys for the taking — and utterly impossible to find on DVD, Vinegar Syndrome did this up right with a DVD/Blu-ray combo (that’s now out of print; but not to worry, Amazon has vintage copies).
There’s no breaking of the Ninth Commandment, allowed. Not this time.
We know you’ve never seen or heard of this beautiful collision of a Christploitation flick and an ’80s SOV’er for the most epic, greatest SOV in the horror realms committed to video tape. And yes, video store owners, who had no friggin’ idea of what was distributed to them (see the great Spine shelving snafu), gandered at the words of “Heaven’s Gates” and “Hell’s Flames” and, instead of placing the tape in the “Family/Children’s” section (and this is not child appropriate in the least) where it belonged, they tossed it on the horror section shelves.
And there it was for me to score: in the horror section of the video store, a store sandwiched between a Falafel joint and an accident-attorney office.
Yes, I was a truly blessed, metal-head and VHS lovin’ youth that day of yore. . . .
So . . . this 50-minute Canuck Christploiter made in St. Catharine’s, Ontario by Reality Outreach Ministries portrays people of various ages and walks of life who die in a variety of unexpected ways (e.g., drug abuse, the bottle, car accidents, muggings-gone-bad, steel girders falling). The way they lived on Earth determines where they will spend eternity: Heaven or Hell.
Oh, and a warning: this is a stage play produced by the ministry and committed to tape.
BUT IT IS STILL EPIC! ROLL THE TAPE!
Dude . . . when this play’s depiction of Heaven kicks in, it is right out the Estus Pirkle playbook — but HGHF has nothing on The Believer’s Heaven and beats it by a few clouds. Then, when Hell kicks in — complete with a bastardized Gene Simmons-meets-King Diamond-cackling Satan — it holds no candle to Jose Majica Marins’s Coffin Joe depictions of Hell in This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse. Oh, ye reader, forget about Estus Pirkle’s multi-colored Rubic’s Cube face-painted Satan in Ron Ormond’s The Burning Hell, for Reality Outreach Ministries has just blessed you with the Satan you always wanted in your nightmares.
Oh, yeah. The rest of the plot.
Well, it’s a bunch of vignettes, as “actors” do “scenes” that warn, you, on the various horrors awaiting those who do not accept Jesus Christ. For example: We have a young couple on a nice, romantic evening in the park (two folding chairs on stage, natch). She speaks about “her psychic said romance is in the air” as her Christian boyfriend warns her on the dangers of “deceptive physics.” Then, a mugger shows up, steals her purse, and shoots both. Dead.
For reals. I am not making this up.
Now, we’re at the “Pearly Gates” and the boyfriend gets in. The girlfriend says, “Wait, why am I here? I’m supposed to be reincarnated!”
Cue King Diamond.
The King and two of his minions grab Blondie and drag her into the red-cellophane fires. Meanwhile, the best part, is the boyfriend pulls the ol’ I-told-you-so gag — with a glean in his eye. Why? Because Christians get off on the ol’ I-told-you-so-and-seeing-you-go-to-Hell gag.
Two construction worker-buds are on top of a high building (again, folding chairs on the stage). The saved worker witnesses to his troubled work-bro and turns him to Christ. Suddenly . . . a girder (actors, awfully, selling the drama) falls. Both die. Both go to Heaven. But, since the one guy just got saved . . . there’s a paperwork snafu, since there wasn’t time to write his name down in the Book of Life. But don’t worry. Jesus shows up to set the Angel in charge of the book, straight.
For reals. I am not making this up.
Okay, just one more. . . .
A little girl begs her busy, career-driven and charity-committed mom to go to church. “Next, week, Sweetie,” mom brushes her off. Suddenly . . . a car (again, actors — awfully — selling the drama), hits them. Mom and daughter are dead.
Then, mom gets the shock of her life: being a good parent, a loyal wife, and doing good deeds, alone, won’t get her into Heaven. But since the daughter went to church, she goes to Heaven. So, to Hell mom goes. Why? Because working with the homeless and the handicap wasn’t good enough for God — and you turned your back on His son. Yes, King Diamond shows up and takes away mom — to the girl’s screams and cries, begging Jesus to save her mom. Seconds later, Jesus shows up and touches the girl. All is well. The girl skips up the silver and gold staircase.
For reals. I am not making this up. It’s not a fever dream. It’s real.
And you thought Estus Pirkle’s sharpened bamboo into the ear canals of children was sick. We told you this tops a Pirkle joint six days a week and twice on Sundays. It’s pure insanity — stage production, be damned — so how can you not want to watch this? Okay, so it’s not as bonkers as Pastor Kenneth Okonkwo’s two-part, papier-mâché production, 666: Beware, the End is at Hand, but what zero-budget soul-saving epic, is?
Anyway, it goes on and on and on like this for a glorious 50-minutes, well, near 75-minutes, since the festivities are front and backended with a Pastor’s service. But name your sin: Abortion. Drugs. Sex. Not going to church. Reincarnation. Fortune tellers. The dangers of every and any sins, are depicted, here. Lovers and families are torn apart. People hug Jesus and go to Heaven without a tear or care of their loved one being dragged to Hell.
Yes. Jesus greets you, personally, each and everyone, with a hug . . . as you walk through a literal door, aka gate, under the Angel that’s perched on top of a golden pedestal, on top of the silver and gold staircase — you know, the Angel who makes sure you’re in the Book of Life, sans any paperwork snafus where you died two-second later, after just “being saved” by a buddy.
Now, hear me out for a second: Wouldn’t it be the “Christian thing” to do, that, when your loved one is about to be dragged to Hell by faux-Gene Simmons, that your “Christian Heart” would make the ultimate sacrifice and take your loved one’s place, so they can enter Heaven?
Oops. Sorry for allowing logic into the plot. Never pick at the plot holes. Especially not in Christian Cinema.
Look, it’s a fun and frolicking “SOV Week” at B&S About Movies, so we can poke (sorry) a little fun, here. However, honestly, for a stage play, the production values are pretty decent. The stage is one, single dressing. A simple lighting change is all it takes to transform the silver and gold of Heaven into the red and orange fires of Hell. Sure, it’s not an Oscars-level production, but still, for a church auditorium-cum-chapel gig, it leaves you impressed. Yeah, credit where credit is do: the stage manager, or audio visuals manager for Reality Outreach Ministries, really makes this all work, brilliantly. I wonder if he ever did a film, proper? I’d rent that movie.
However, what is not impressing, are the “actors,” who we assume are volunteering for the cause. The way they jump around, screaming and “rejoicing” on stage with their “I’m in Heaven. Woooo! This is awesome. Angel, is my name in the Book of Life? Yes, I’m in. I’m going to Heaven!” would be a flailing, arms-akimbo thespian tragedy if it wasn’t so gosh darned funny.
The caveat: The uploads are of two, different productions of the same play. In my opinion, the first version (with King Diamond) — the one I watched on tape all those years ago, is the stronger production of the two. The second version (with Gene Simmons; the second still, above) — which I didn’t know existed until this review — runs a bit longer at 90 minutes, due to it having more Pastor preaching than the first.
Both are still epic. Watch ’em both!
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.