Evangelical silliness from the nineties that’s probably the best Christian end-of-the-world movie on the market. Released on video in 1998, it was the first feature by the Christian outfit Cloud Ten Pictures, with financial backing from celebrity minister Dr. Jack van Impe. It was a massive success on the Christian circuit, far outdoing previous evangelical films like the Mark IV apocalypse quartet (A THIEF IN THE NIGHT, A DISTANT THUNDER, IMAGE OF THE BEAST and THE PRODIGAL PLANET) and Ron Ormond’s infamous IF FOOTMEN TIRE YOU WHAT WILL HORSES DO?
It centers on the TV news hottie Helen, who finds herself caught up in the “battle of Armageddon” that’s grown out of the conflict in Israel. Helen’s husband Bronson is on location in the Holy Land to report on what’s happening there when nuclear weapons are launched, and it seems the end of the world is nigh…but then suddenly people everywhere vanish into thin air, leaving neatly folded piles of clothes behind. This leads to widespread chaos until a charismatic prophet appears to calm everything down: European Union president Franco Macalusso, who unites the world and proclaims himself the new Messiah.
Helen’s devout grandmother is among the vanished. Upon finding the old woman’s bodiless clothes a distraught Helen is inspired to check out her grandmother’s video collection. What she finds are recordings of televangelist Dr. Jack van Impe preaching about the apocalypse, which include predictions of a prophet uniting the world—an individual who is actually the antichrist. Helen decides the charismatic Mr. Macalusso is this very figure, especially when he denounces Jesus Christ in a worldwide TV broadcast and a slimeball manager named Parker takes over Helen and Bronson’s news station, editing anti-Macalusso views out of the newscasts.
Helen decides to rebel against the antichrist’s decrees, which land her and Bronson on Macalusso’s shit list. They’re rounded up, jailed, and, it seems, about to be executed. But then God (and Jack van Impe) intervenes…
This film isn’t without interest, but it’s still very much in keeping with most evangelical movies. This means a thunderingly obvious and plain corny film that even by 1990s standards seems curiously old fashioned and out of touch with the times (note the TV newscaster heroine, a mainstay of 1980s cinema), and is furthermore packed with vomitous Christian pop tunes.
Yet for all that it’s easy to see why APOCALYPSE outdid its evangelical movie forerunners: it’s slick and professionally made, showcasing some real low budget ingenuity. Technically it’s about up to the standards of a nineties-era straight-to-video production, which places it several leagues above most of its evangelical movie predecessors.
The idea of presenting much of the action as a more-or-less continuous newscast was a good one. In such a format even the gratuitous footage of the film’s financier Jack van Impe and his wife preaching (read: shameless self-promotion) doesn’t seem entirely out of place (although presenting a Van Impe sermon in the final scenes as the vessel of the world’s salvation is a bit much). Its interest is in the way director Peter Garretsen interweaves footage of various real-life riots and disasters, all ingeniously recontextualized.
Where APOCALYPSE falls down is in the clumsy dramatic sequences, headlined by “actors” like Richard Nester, Leigh Lewis and David Roddis—no, I haven’t heard of any of them either!
APOCALYPSE: CAUGHT IN THE EYE OF THE STORM
Jack Van Impe Ministries/Cloud Ten Pictures
Director: Peter Garretsen
Producers: Peter & Paul Lalonde
Screenplay: Peter & Paul Lalonde
Cinematography: Yuri Yakubiw
Editing: Igor Boros
Cast: Richard Nester, Leigh Lewis, David Roddis, Sam Bornstein, Dr. Jack Van Impe, Roxella Van Impe, Toni Carey, Michael Halkusis