YEARS OF THE BEAST (1981) follows on the heels of the first three films of the apocalypse quartet from the Iowa based Mark IV Pictures: A THIEF IN THE NIGHT (1972), A DISTANT THUNDER (1978) and IMAGE OF THE BEAST (1980), sincere evangelical efforts all that showed the effects of the rapture (and concluded with THE PRODIGAL PLANET in 1983). This (comparatively) expensive film was not a Mark IV production, but it dealt with many of the same themes.
It predated the highly successful APOCALYPSE and LEFT BEHIND evangelical film series. YEARS OF THE BEAST encapsulates the concerns of all those films in its account of Stephen, a college professor who experiences an earthquake one day, during which a heavily religious colleague unexpectedly vanishes into thin air. Apparently people all over have disappeared in a similar fashion, and graves have even been interred with the corpses now gone.
The Rapture has taken place, in which the faithful are whisked off to Heaven while everyone else is left to prove to God they have what it takes to join their raptured fellows. In the interim cities are engulfed by fire storms, the world falls into anarchy and a new leader is elected: the Prince of the World, an Anti-Christ led scumbag who forces everyone to have satanic tattoos imprinted on their hands and executes anyone claiming to be a Christian.
Stephen turns to God and, together with his wife and a few friends, joins a renegade Christian sect—but they’re hunted down by an overzealous cop. Figuring that if they’re to idolize Jesus they’ll have to live as he did, our heroes abandon civilization and head for the mountains. A good thing, too, as the Prince of the World nukes most of the lowlands. Not to worry, though, because around this time God finally makes a long-belated personal appearance via a blinding light—from which emerge a bunch of Heaven-sent UFOs!
If you’ve ever seen an evangelical production you’ll know what to expect from YEARS OF THE BEAST. The sub par acting and filmmaking, tacky production values, laughable special effects and overuse of stock footage are all par for the course.
The real surprise is that the film is actually semi-competently made by first (and only) time director D. Paul Thomas. Cinematically it’s about on the level of a 1970s-era TV movie and, believe it or not, is fairly entertaining. Yes, there’s plenty of sermonizing (not to mention several irritating Biblical sing-alongs), but the proceedings are also fast paced and action-packed, and blessed with quite a few arrestingly odd camera angles.
None of this can possibly prepare one for the mind-scraping finale, in which “You will feel the great and ultimate triumph of Christ’s return” (so says the video box). Playing like a no budget variant on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, it’s idiocy of an extremely high order, rounding out a production that’s hardly exceptional, but still about as good as these films come.
YEARS OF THE BEAST
Director: D. Paul Thomas
Producer: Daniel L. Quick
Screenplay: Leon Chambers
Cinematography: Earl Miller
Editing: D.L. Quick
Cast: Gary Bayer, Alana Rader, Jerry Houser, Sarah Rush, Malcon McCaiman, James Blendick, Jon Locke, Michael Amber, Peter Von Berg, Valentina Quinn, D. Paul Thomas