This ultra-obscure train wreck of a movie is a colossal embarrassment, but it is undeniably fascinating to watch the film’s hideously confused storyline—which somehow mixes astrology, mass suicide, CIA intrigue, mind control and the Second Coming—unfold…or, more accurately, unravel.
I’ve no idea when or where this ludicrous no-budgeter, bearing a 1976 copyright date, was ever released outside its brief appearance on home video back in the eighties. It was loosely based on John Cameron’s 1972 novel THE ASTROLOGER and directed by future action specialist James Glickenhaus (THE EXECUTIONER, SHAKEDOWN); interestingly enough, no screenwriter is credited…NOT an encouraging sign!
I’ll do my best to transcribe this film’s ungodly mess of a storyline, but it’s going to be difficult. It begins with a voice-over describing how in some future time astrology has been refined to a science, courtesy of a secret branch of the CIA called INTERZOD. The voice-over also informs us that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is imminent—in ten days, to be exact (periodic subtitles reveal how much time is left until the momentous event).
Alexei Abarnel is the head of INTERZOD. He can configure the “Zodiacal Potential” of any individual simply by typing his or her birth date into a computer; the configurations of most folks are uninspiring, but a few individuals are “Zodiacally Privileged.” It’s these people the company is keeping a close eye on, particularly those with negative Zodiacal Potential; foremost among the latter group is an evil cult leader who resides in India and has an unfortunate tendency to induce his followers to suicide.
Abarnel travels to India to meet a female colleague, who, it turns out, has a plan to take out the cult leader. Utilizing logic comprehensible only in the mind of this film’s unknown screenwriter, she’s developed a device which can transit images directly into people’s brains, which she’s going to use to implant a staged training video in the cult leader’s head; she hopes this will inspire him to emulate the video and cut himself with a poisoned knife. Got that? It doesn’t matter, as the cult leader discovers the woman’s plan and offs her before she can carry it out. To make matters worse, somewhere around this time (the film doesn’t really specify when), the hero’s pretty blonde girlfriend is kidnapped by the cult.
This is an especially unsettling development, as Abarnel has discovered that his GF is in fact the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary, and is set to give birth to the Second Coming. As it turns out, though, she’s already birthed the child in question—this is revealed in a later scene when she’s rescued from a secluded campsite where the cult leader has inexplicably dumped her. The evil scumbag, it seems, has somehow honed in on the child, who’s living in a NYC orphanage. But how did he find out? Furthermore, doesn’t the fact that the Messiah’s already been born invalidate the film’s countdown-to-the-Second-Coming conceit? And what exactly does a psychic woman who makes frequent appearances throughout have to do with any of it? Your guesses are as good as mine.
It’s a good thing director James Glickenhaus’s subsequent films all have simple action-revenge narratives, as, based on SUICIDE CULT, storytelling clearly isn’t his strong point (but then, look at what he had to work with!). The film is choppy and disjointed from start to finish (possibly the fault of reediting by producers and/or distributors, which would explain the scant 82 minute running time) and all but flaunts its cheapness. The India-set scenes are particularly noticeable in this respect, looking like they were shot in somebody’s backyard. As if all that weren’t enough, the story is obnoxiously dialogue-heavy, leavening any chance Glickenhaus might have had to create striking visuals. Perhaps this is why he begins and ends every major sequence by fading in from and out to a negative image; it’s something, I guess, but not nearly enough to save this film from complete disaster
SUICIDE CULT (a.k.a. THE ASTROLOGER)
Director: James Glickenhaus
Producer: Mark Buntzman
(Based on a novel by John Cameron)
Cinematography: Francis A. Romero
Editor: Victor Zimet
Cast: Bob Byrd, Mark Buntzman, James Glickenhaus, Alison McCarthy, Al Narcisse, Monica Tidwell, Ivy White