“Prepare for the end.”
Directed by Peter Hyams
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney and Kevin Pollack
A girl born under the sign of the Occulus Dei (Eye of God) is prophesied to be the chosen bride of Satan, mother of the antichrist, blah, blah, blah. While the Vatican debates whether to try and save her or kill her, the international Satanic conspiracy are all over this business like ugly on an iguana, setting one of their own as the midwife and consecrating the kid to the Dark One within minutes of birth.
Twenty-some years on, on the eve of the millennium, young Christine York (Tunney) is plagued by visions, and a Wall Street broker (Byrne) gets possessed by an invisible angel and goes strange. Now the devil incarnate, he goes forth to gather his minions, get laid and claim his bride in the hour before midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Enter Jericho Caine (Schwarzenegger), suicidal but still-mighty ex-cop turned bodyguard and his sidekick, Chicago (Pollack). Hired to protect the broker, Caine’s day goes weird when a priest named Thomas Aquinas takes a shot at his principal. Pursuing the case for no reason whatsoever – especially since the principal has already gone missing – and hampering police investigation in the meanwhile, Caine tracks down Christine and saves her from a pack of Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits.
There follows a series of Satanic shenanigans in which Caine repeatedly refuses to accept that his puny mortal weapons have no effect on the Devil. He resists the temptation to hand over the girl in exchange for his murdered family’s restoration, but is suckered when his detonated buddy appears miraculously unscathed and thus gets himself crucified.
Recovering very quickly, Caine takes out a temple full of Satanists with heavy weapons, blows up the Devil’s host body and faces his true form down in a church. The Devil possesses Caine, but by asking God to give him strength Caine is able to throw himself on the incredibly sharp sword held by a statue of St Michael just at the storke of midnight. As he dies, he sees his family beckon to him.
What’s wrong with it?
End of Days’ main problem is its sheer, unutterable stupidity. The plot hinges on everybody, from the Pope to the head Satanist to Jericho Caine being a big dummy. The Vatican, despite vast funds and an international organisation, are way behind in this game. The Satanists, despite years of preparation and a massive head start, can’t complete the relatively simple assignment of getting one girl to the right place at the right time. Even the Devil, despite having all the moves, can’t score.
I guess part of the Satanists’ problem is that they’re too busy being gratuitously evil – seducing children, corrupting justice and generally doing the metaphysical equivalent of pissing in the font – to have any really good contingency plans, such as say escape tunnels. It’s also never explained why – for example – since they’ve been raising Christine throughout her period of moral education, they didn’t just teach her that she was the predestined bride of Satan and Queen of the World. Even if she had to be some kind of innocent, you’d think they could have worked it so Satan rescued her from the Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits, after which he’d be in like Flynn.
Oh, and the whole 666=1999 was a hoot.
What’s right with it?
In a word, the usual suspects. Byrne and Pollack are the real top billers here, but the supporting cast is wonderfully sincere and even Arnie comes off well. The acting here is really very good, so it’s just a shame the script is so very, very stupid.
The effects are also pretty good, with the highlight being the Devil as a floaty, invisible angel and the nadir the Devil as unconvincing horn-ed beasty.
And did we mention: Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits?
How bad is it really?
Well, to be fair this was one of the real gems of the pre- and immediately post-millennial boom of ‘Book of Revelations’ Y2K movies. Now, in part this is because all the rest were so appalling, but End of Days rattles on at a cracking pace, never seems to take itself too seriously, and besides; where else can you see Miriam Margolyes beating the tar out of Schwarzenegger?
The clergy explain to Jericho that in dreams numbers often appear upside down and back to front, so that the Number of the Beast, 666, actually refers to the year of his release; 1999.
Apparently numbers in dreams also miss off the ‘1’.
Alternatively the Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits busting into Christine’s house to kill her and insisting on giving her the Last Rites first.
What’s up with…?
- Everyone being so mind-bogglingly stupid?
- Caine killing himself? The devil’s time is up. Even if he got control of Caine’s body, he couldn’t get his pants off in the time left before New Year’s Day.
- Caine seeing his murdered family waiting for him, wrapped in heavenly light, as he dies? Since the film clearly shows that the Catholics were right, isn’t Caine going to hell as a suicide? Is this saying that he has once more failed as a father and will also be missing his daughter’s school play in the afterlife?
- The Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits? Masonic Order of the Vatican Knights? Do these people know what Freemasonry is? Are they high?
- No-one – not one – paying the least attention to the fact that the dead, tongueless, sniper-cum-seer priest is called Thomas Aquinus? Why is he called that anyway? Did they not know there was a famous one?
Production values – Top-notch, with the exception of the crappy devil at the end there. Almost scrapes in very low indeed, but there’s just that element of naffness which can’t be ignored.6
Dialogue and performances – A number of rather talented people – and Rod Steiger – give it their all in this movie, acting their little hearts out, bless their cotton socks. Even Arnie can be seen – once or twice – to emote. Sadly, the script isn’t quite up to this standard, but it’s better than your standard action flick fare, and at least Arnie doesn’t dispatch Satan with a corny kiss-off line. “Hey Satan; go to Hell!” 9
Plot and execution – Oof. What gives here? The plot is a flimsy tissue held together by coincidence and rank stupidity on the part of pretty much all concerned. Still, the direction maintains a certain pace. 14
Randomness – Remember how I said the plot is held together by coincidence? Well, there’s your randomness. Plus, if Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits aren’t random, I don’t know what is. 16
Waste of potential – As noted, one of the very best apocalyptic action thrillers of its time. If only they’d given it a little thought. 7