Condoleeza Rice's "birth pangs" are rumored to be a code that signifies the beginning of the end times. Indeed, many fundamentalists consider that the violence between Israel and Palestine is a major sign. Add that to an astounding array of recent revelations - a major world leader is clearly an idiot, a recent hit film shows that we are destroying the Earth, magnetic stripe technology is running rampant, America's #1 star may well be the Antichrist - and, heck, even I am starting to become convinced.
But before you start stocking up on bottled water and duct tape, you need to sit your butt down and embrace the glorious and terrifying world of the end times thriller. No, not some silly Schwarzenegger vehicle (though his presence in the political arena is certainly another sign). We're talking about the real deal, here. This shit is in The Bible, yo!
The Book of Revelation is arguably the most bat-shit crazy part of all the religious fables - and has consequently inspired a variety of bat-shit crazies. While getting ready for The Rapture is far from a new hobby, it's heyday as a cinematic experience began in 1972 with A Thief In the Night.
This action-adventure Christsploitation series starts with the events of The Rapture, where the pure ascend to heaven and leave behind an array of still-running appliances. The story then runs across three sequels - A Distant Thunder (1977), Image of the Beast (1981), and The Prodigal Planet (1983) - following those left behind as they witness the rise of the Antichrist, avoid taking "the mark", and try to survive within the United Nations Imperium for Total Emergency (aka, the New World Order).
The films were the brainchild of Russell S. Doughten, a devout believer who knew a thing or two about entertainment, having produced the classic B-movie The Blob. Made with a miniscule budget in his home-state of Iowa, the films feel like Roger Corman productions with a strange religious twist. Their late seventies sensibility, ridiculous dialogue, and, of course, the rather over-the-top subject matter help make for some enjoyable viewing - that is, if you weren't already scared (and scarred) by the films as a child.
There aren't many film clips out on the internets, but here is an excellent essay with the history and synopsis of the Thief in the Night series. All four films are now on DVD, but you may have to wander into your local Christian bookseller (or online retailer) in order to get a copy.
Thanks to the phenomenal success of this series, imitators were soon to follow. From Seattle came Years of the Beast (1981), a sort-of condensed version of the Thief films, with a much better cast (including popular TV guest star Sarah Rush) and an effects-heavy "return of Christ" payoff. See the trailer here. The same year also saw Early Warning (trailer), an action-packed mystery where an obnoxious young Christian woman and a reluctant yet intrepid reporter plan to bring down the New World Order. It almost works - if only it weren't for those meddling hillbilly militants living in the mountains. And of course there is the cultural phenomenon of The Late Great Planet Earth (1976), Hal Lindsey's best-selling book that was made into a "documentary" narrated by none other than Orson Welles!
While the late 70s and early 80s were the early heydays of the Rapture film, the genre is currently in the midst of a booming resurgence - partly because of the steady, bubbling rise of the religious right, and partly because, you know, the time may well be nigh (though, heck, they've been saying that forever). The modern films are shot on video with slicker production values and cheesy digital effects, and with scripts that are decidedly more dialogue laden and "preachy". But these thrillers more than compensate with laughably dull stunt casting.
Fire and brimstone televangelist Jack Van Impe was among the first to reenter the fray with the simply titled Apocalypse (1998). It of course spawned a series of sequels, the best being 2001's Judgment, a maudlin "man sues God" courtroom drama with Corbin Bernsen, which becomes insanely entertaining whenever Mr. T is on screen, refusing to take the mark and threatening instead to blow Satan away with his uzi (trailer). 1999's The Omega Code, featured failed Tarzan Casper Van Dien, Michael York, and Michael Ironside, and proved to be a surprise box office hit. The Left Behind series, based on the frighteningly popular books (15 volumes so far!), is a rather bland update of apocalypse theory with flashier warfare, but is notable for showcasing Kirk Cameron's religious growing pains. And speaking of has-beens, some Hollywood siblings, including a Baldwin and a Roberts, are unleashed in Six: The Mark Unleashed (2004), produced by another great paranoid televangelist, Paul Crouch.
More on the recent wave of Apocalypse films in this 2002 article from Salon.com.
So, what do we learn most of all from these Apocalypso lessons? That it is always best to have a good cult film aesthetic or the most desperate C-list actors on your side!
Speaking of desperate - has anyone else checked out Pat Boone's blog?