Apocalypse Review – Turns Out It’s Not So Scary” width=”560″/>
What better material for sheer, gibbering, pants-falling-down horror can you find than the end of the world, especially as depicted in the Book of Revelations? It’s got eyeball-studded calves, sword-spitting Messiahs and massive oceans of blood. Drop on top of that the right wing Christian belief that the apocalypse will leave unbelievers behind to endure seven years of rule by a One World Government headed by Satan, and you’ve got Invasion of the Body Snatchers + 1984 + The Omen .
Christploitation flicks work the same way that blaxploitation movies do, playing to their base with cheap budgets and bad acting balanced by fist-pumping validation and the sheer thrill of the target audience being recognized as one deserving of its very own movies. In the late 90’s, bigger stars and, relatively, bigger budgets came into the picture, as with The Omega Code (1999), starring Casper Van Dien. Cloud Ten Pictures, a Canadian outfit hoping to become a conveyor belt for End Times Christploitation flicks, turned the best-selling Left Behind book series into the lukewarm franchise starring Kirk Cameron, but before that, their first foray into filmmaking was the four-film apocalypse series: Apocalypse (1998), Revelation (1999), Tribulation (2000) and Judgment (2001), now available collectively on DVD. I previously watched the Left Behind series and was underwhelmed by its timidity. But maybe in this first series of films, real horror would rear its dripping head?
Apocalypse starts with a bang:
Two women sitting on the couch watching TV. This will be a visual theme
returned to thorughout the series — people watching TV. In this flick
it makes sense because a) it saves money and b) it’s a tie-in for the
movie’s producer, Jack Van Impe.
If you watch late-night TV you’ll quickly recognize this
accordion-player-turned-preacher, known as “The Walking Bible” due to
his ability to quote scripture at the drop of a hat.
Leigh Lewis (from the TV movie To Catch a Yeti)
plays Helen Hannah, a news anchor with a British accent, and the only
actor to last for all four films. A Rapture that sucks believers up to
Heaven and leaves nothing behind but “neatly folded piles of
clothes”… leads to the hysterical image of characters screaming with
fear as they encounter carefully folded blouses. It also leads to the
brink of global thermonuclear war but the world is saved at the last
minute by the president of the European Union, Franco Macalousso, who
is also the Antichrist. The world believes him to be their savior and
the Christians are labeled “Haters” and shipped off to camps, end of
In terms of sheer horror, this is the best of the bunch
— but not for the reasons that the filmmakers intended. The actors
stand on threadbare sets and emote with such insane intensity to the
slightest provocation that they start to seem slightly unhinged, like
watching androids short circuit. The queasiness is heightened by stock
footage which hijacks real life tragedies; by the time the film gets to
a long montage of grieving mothers and fathers sobbing over their real
dead children in war zones, even the most sleaze-hardened viewer is
going to feel like they need a shower.
In the sequel, Revelation, supermodel-turned-actress Carol Alt is on hand as a blind Christian freedom fighter and Lost‘s
Jeff Fahey plays a terrorism expert named Thorold Stone. On the horror
front, there’s a full-blown Satanic ritual featuring purple candles,
black robes and a flaming cross, but the show gets stolen by Franco
Macalousso. Here he’s played by Nick Mancuso, whom horror fans will
remember as the psychotic phone caller from Black Christmas . Sporting a little tiny pony tail, he keeps cutting loose and channeling his Black Christmas
vocal pyrotechnics, and he does a spot-on impersonation of Benito
Mussolini at the end. Otherwise, the only other highlight of the movie
comes when Fahey is beaten up in virtual reality. Yes, this movie
features virtual reality. As an instrument of darkness.
is the most bizarre entry in the series and not just because the plot
is based on the salvation of Howie Mandel’s soul. This time out, the
film takes place in a parallel universe when a cop, Gary Busey,
receives a blow to the head that transports him from our normal
universe to the world of the previous films where Franco Macalousso
holds sway. Margot Kidder plays Busey’s ultra-religious sister, and she
slurs her way unsteadily through a lot of tortured dialogue about
salvation. Watching Busey and Kidder argue over their belief in God is
like watching two hideous, drunken hobos fighting over which is better:
Mad Dog 20/20 or Night Train.
having a few scenes of demonic possession, another Satanic ritual (with
tailored black robes this time) and a budget for squibs and an
explosion, this flick ultimately disappoints. And the fourth in the
series, Judgment, is the worst of the bunch, even though it co-stars Mr. T and LA Law’s
Corbin Bernsen. Leigh Lewis, having survived the previous three
pictures, is put on trial for crimes against humanity and Bernsen is
her defense lawyer. Pulling out the Nazi defense (“She was just
following orders!”) he says that the real criminal is God — and so God
goes on trial. Mr. T stands around and utters priceless T-isms like,
“If they want fire and brimstone, they’re going to get it!” but even he
can’t save this movie.
With so much potential, what’s wrong with
these movies? I mean, besides the cheap sets, bad acting and leaden
dialogue? Simply, that these are horror movies that don’t understand
that they’re horror movies. Movies about the end of the world should be
filed under “Horror! Scream! Run! Terror!” but these four films are
like low budget versions of Star Wars with a small group of rebels fighting an unwinnable war against an evil empire using their mystical abilities.
The Wizard of Gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis,
realized back in 1963 that even on a small budget, you could still
terrify audiences by showing one act in excruciating detail. It’s a
lesson that low budget filmmakers took to heart, and while many
Christian filmmakers may consider pop culture devoid of value, it’s a
lesson they would do well to study.
Grady Hendrix is one of the founders and programmers of the New York Asian Film Festival. He writes about Asian film for Variety at Kaiju Shakedown and should have found something better to do with his life by now.Read More