Not that I want to spoil any surprises for you.
This first film focuses on the events during that first week, as seen through the eyes of two reporters. They witness the battle of Armageddon, the Rapture, and the coming of the false messiah. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Thousands of years ago Hebrew prophets were given a vision of the Apocalypse. The following story is based on what they saw.
How's that for a title card? The movie fades in on an elderly woman and her adult granddaughter (Leigh Lewis) huddled in front of the TV. There is trouble in the Middle East, which shouldn't surprise anyone. But it seems the armies of 60 nations are converging on Armageddon valley in Israel, and Grandmum is convinced this is sure to bring about the Apocalypse.
But before she can really proselytize, they are interrupted by the doorbell. Bronson Pearl (Richard Nester) is at the door. He's come to kiss his sweetheart goodbye. Lewis' character, Helen, and Bronson are both newscasters working for WNN, a global news channel. Bronson is being sent to Israel to cover the war, and wanted to get in one last hug before he goes.
I just want to note we're only a minute and a half into this film so far. But don't worry, all the background you need has already been laid out, and nothing else is going to unnecessarily complicate matters from this point on. Why are there 60 different nations battling at Armageddon? No idea. Which countries are they? No idea. How'd all those armies squeeze into Israel? No idea. What about our lead characters? How long have they been dating? Is it serious? Are they engaged? Were either previously married? Any kids? No idea.
Yes, the days are ticked off by giant title cards, just so we have an idea how quickly Satan and his minions work. Frankly, I am surprised, I always imagined hell to be a giant, lumbering bureaucracy, like the DMV, but the Antichrist proves to be very efficient.
Bronson Pearl is in Israel, reporting live on the battle of Armageddon, which is apparently being fought by opposing battalions of stock footage. He's also trying to convince the Israeli army to, what, surrender? No idea. But the Israeli general in charge reminds Bronson that all they have is their land, and they must fight, or face annihilation. Things are getting grim.
But don't worry, Franco Macalusso (Sam Bornstein), the EU president, is working hard to end the crisis. Just between you and I the European Union doesn't actually have a president, but I guess they've taken a little license here. Or maybe this is set in the future. Why does he have an American accent? No idea. But he has promised to do what God hasn't, stop the war and bring peace to Earth.
The stock footage conflict continues. Tel Aviv has been gassed. By who? No idea. But that ain't the half of it. An American aircraft carrier is nuked by the Chinese. Why? No idea. America (we assume) retaliates by blowing up the Chinese Ministry of Defense in Beijing. Yep, this is definitely getting out of hand. You probably know where this is headed, don't you? If you said nuclear war, you're right. Someone (Who? No idea) has launched missiles at Israel. When the general hears of this, he looks to Bronson, shouts "Samson's feast!" (see the Book of Judges for further info) and storms off.
Someone nukes Kamchatka. Who? No idea, maybe the Israelis, but footage of an atomic test from the 50s is carted out, scratches and all, so we can see it. The sad thing is, this is about the only effective part of the film. The fake newscasts inter-cut with reel after reel of stock war footage (even if some of it is fifty years old) actually manages to create some tension. But that quickly fades, as the movie veers straight into ridiculousness shortly thereafter.
The U.S. President, who is never named or even seen, only appearing as a voiceover, announces that several hundred nuclear missiles have been launched at the U.S. by "enemies of peace." Left with no choice the President launches a counterstrike, though he never says at who. Then things get silly.
The film cuts to the L.A. correspondent. And rather than describe what happens next, I'll just let him explain it. "It is unlikely that any kind of defense could be designed to protect us against such terrible weapons of mass destruction. I think probably the best thing we could have done would be perhaps to go home, say goodbye and perhaps... Oh my god, Charlie! Charlie! This is impossible, this is just impossible! I just can't believe it, I don't know what to say! My cameraman, Charles Taffis, he's just disappeared right in front of me! I don't understand it, people all around me seem to have been vaporized or something."
And yes, that's how it happens. That is how the Rapture is upon us. People all over the world suddenly disappear and leave behind nothing but a nicely folded bundle of clothes. Well, their shoes and shirts and pants, at least. I guess they took their undies with them.
You know those bumper stickers that say "In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned"? It turns out those are accurate. More stock footage attacks as chaos reigns over the planet. Cars spin out of control, planes crash, and the world's armies are thoroughly confused. Most are convinced it's a new type of weapon. You know, one that vaporizes folks while neatly folding their garments. The good news is all those nukes have vanished too.
The citizens of Earth may be confused, but Macalusso isn't. See, he claims to be the messiah, and it was by his intervention alone that the world has been saved. He's removed the hateful among us and destroyed the missiles. That's his story anyway. But lest you're unsure he might be evil, some very spooky Omen-esque music plays while he talks.
Helen rushes home to check on Grandmum. It's no surprise that Grandmum is gone. But she managed to leave a note and a key with her neatly folded bundle. "It's not too late for you," she consoles. Helen uses the key to open a lockbox Grandmum has left for her. And inside? Two videotapes of Jack Van Impe. (Am I the only one who finds his name a bit distressing?) Van Impe explains about the Rapture, and exposes the truth about the false messiah. Stunned, Helen watches the tapes, studies the bible and discovers all the signs are there. The only thing Helen can do now is turn her life over to the Lord.
Helen returns to the studio to find management has been replaced by Len Parker (David Roddis), one of the Antichrist's minions. (This must be based on Fox News.) He's bitchy, limp-wristed and probably homosexual. He and Helen are immediately at odds. Why? No real reason, other than he's evil and she's good and so it's in the script that way.
Now Bronson has returned to the studio too, just in time to watch Macalusso's big speech. People the world over are gathering for this event, it's the largest TV broadcast ever. Russia, France, Czechoslovakia, they all tune in. Wait, Czechoslovakia? So much for my theory that this is set in the future. Again, Macalusso proclaims himself messiah and declares this heaven on Earth. He details how Jesus was a liar and a deceiver and how only the true messiah could have saved the world.
Helen sees through this and lures Bronson away from the studio. This doesn't go unnoticed, and Parker has his two evil henchmen follow them. Helen and Bronson head to her home where she plays him Van Impe videos and tries to convince him that Macalusso is the Antichrist. They spend eight minutes debating this. A very long eight minutes.
Of course, this has all been caught on camera by the evil henchmen. They've managed to slip a pinhole camera under the door. And despite the door being down the hall and around the corner, they've still got a decent picture.
Bronson is unconvinced by Helen's pleas, and he storms out, certain she's nuts.
The filmmakers have now ditched the stock footage and resorted to using someone's home movies. We are treated to shots of decimated churches and Polish graffiti played over bad Christian pop music. Macalusso is not the Antichrist, the director is.
Parker confronts Bronson with the tape of his debate with Helen. He demands to know where she is, but Bronson refuses to give her up. Since the evil henchman followed her home and recorded the tape in her living room, I'm not sure why they can't find her now. Not trusting Bronson, Parker has a 12 second delay added to all broadcasts, just in case.
Macalusso meanwhile not only brokers a peace deal between stock footage Arabs and stock footage Jews, but also gets the leaders of the world to enact a new planetary constitution, making him president of the world. Not bad for Day Five. I told you he was efficient.
Again trying to convince Bronson of the truth about the Rapture and Macalusso, Helen slips out of the hotel she's hiding in to get a message to him. The evil henchmen are on her tail. I guess they know where she is after all. She manages to get a bible and an audiotape into Bronson's car before noticing she is being followed. She does her best to get away, and a high-speed chase ensues. Okay, it's not a high-speed chase, it's Helen driving around aimlessly while listening to Charlie Daniels. Really. Until she turns down a dead-end street and is captured.
After work, Bronson plays the tape and in a moment of divine inspiration heads to the cemetery where he has a tearful chat with his father's headstone. He weeps desperately for a sign and gets one. The moonlight shines down and lights up the bible verse chiseled into the headstone: 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17.
("For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive, and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.")
So what's that mean? It means we're digging up Dad! Yep, Bronson shovels his way six feet under and kicks open the coffin. Good thing his father was devout or we might be looking at a corpse right about now. Fortunately all that is inside is a neatly folded suit. I wonder if those things get ironed too.
Helen is dragged back to the studio by one of the evil henchmen. Why? No idea, but it gives her a chance to confront Parker. He tells her the truth about Macalusso: "You worship him or you die." For some reason, the evil henchman video tapes this as well. I bet that guy peeps on his neighbours too.
Another speech is given by Macalusso. He compares the remaining Christians to a cancer that needs to be cut out. So, all around the world stock footage Christians are rounded up and beaten by police. Churches and bibles are burned, there is chaos in the streets again. Everyone hates Jesus. Sad face.
And there it is, the core of our movie. Forget all the evangelical stuff, the dicey translation of the Rapture. But as allegory it all comes down to this. Christians are losing their country, their world, to the secular, liberal hedonists. Homosexuals and Muslims are defiling the word of God and making this a hell on Earth. Is it really any wonder why the concept of the Rapture is so appealing? Nothing would be better than to leave this dirty, old world behind and be summoned up to the kingdom of heaven, a place filled only with like-minded folks.
Ah, but back to the movie. Bronson reports from the field about the new wave of violence against Christians. But his conscience has got the best of him, and before he signs off, he spills the beans about Macalusso being a false messiah. Too bad about that 12 second delay.
The world celebrates as the last remaining Christians are loaded onto trucks, presumably to be sent somewhere. At the depot, Helen and Bronson are reunited briefly before Bronson takes a beating from one of the guards. "Bronson Pearl, the most trusted man in America, I hereby dub you King of the Haters," the guard says before zapping him on the head with a stun gun. I wonder what that's an allusion to. Bronson is put in a truck where he and Helen discuss how wonderful it is to be saved. But the conversation is cut short, as Parker has plans for Bronson.
Bronson is to be taken to the gallows and hanged on live TV. Why? No idea. Parker is just plain evil, I guess. After Bronson's head is in the noose Parker asks "Any last words?" I guess he shouldn't have said that, because suddenly Bronson's voice is filling the airwaves. "What is this!?" screams Parker.
Remember those two evil henchmen? The ones following Helen around? Turns out one of them isn't so evil after all. He has locked himself in the control booth and is playing Bronson's unaired declaration. The world is finally being told the truth about Macalusso. Next he cues up Parker's you-worship him-or-you-die tape. And the topper? Oh yes, you guessed it: Jack Van Impe.
The Christians rejoice, souls are saved, and the film fades to black.
You know how Ed Wood was supposed to make a series of religious films with the profits from Plan 9? It's not too much of a stretch to say this is what the result would have looked like. The heavy reliance on stock footage, the way the film inexplicably moves from day to night, the cheap sets, the cheaper special effects.
Though truthfully, this film contains my favourite type of special effect: the one you never actually see. A true mark of a low budgeted film, from the battles to the rapture to the disappearing missiles, none of it is actually shown on screen. Instead it is just described by our actors as they look wistfully at the action just out of view.
That's not to say it isn't downright silly. Oh no, it is. The absolute best moment of the film is the Rapture itself. The sheer ridiculousness of it was enough to put me in a fit of hysterics. I had to pause the DVD until I stopped laughing. Of course, I immediately watched the scene again. To describe it doesn't do it justice: The camera jerks, then "This is impossible, this is just impossible," followed by shots of folded clothes lying everywhere.
It never is explained why the clothes are neatly folded with every rapturization, maybe Jesus used to work at the Gap. But so much in the film goes unexplained. There's the generic Mid East conflict, nameless states nuking one another, the relationship between the leads. I guess we're supposed to be upset when Bronson walks out on Helen, but the characters are so one-dimensional, it's hard to care about any of them.
The cast is unremarkable, and the fact that virtually none of them have done any other work probably says a lot. Leigh Lewis appears in all four films in the series, but not much else. Richard Nester and Sam Bornstein presumably went back to their day jobs after this. (Macalusso is played by veteran character actor Nick Mancuso in the sequels.)
And Peter Gerretsen hasn't directed another film since this mess. Let's all thank the Lord for that.
Directed by Peter Gerretsen • PG • 1998 • 94 minutes