A big fuss was made about the series Left Behind: the apocalyptic series about the End of Days wherein all the good Christians are swept up by the rapture (something they never mentioned to me in Catholic Sunday School), leaving all the rapists, murderers, arsonists, people who enjoy touching themselves in an impure manner (Guilty!), people who don’t like going to church (Guilty!), and people who drink alcohol (Guilty!) to suffer under the rule of the Antichrist. Well did you know that this idea had been done before? Oh yes. In the 1970’s and early 80s a succession of films conjured up the Christian Armageddon right before our eyes. It was called A Thief in the Night series.
The action of the first film focuses on Patty, a young woman who thinks she’s a good Christian because she reads the Bible and sometimes goes to Church. Ha! She learns soon enough that being a good Christian (according to this film) requires you to constantly lecture other people about their sinful ways and spew Bible quotations from every orifice (“Hey, have you heard about this dead Jew that’ll solve all of your problems? His name is Jesus Christ- even though it really isn’t.”). In fact it’s a relief when the rapture actually comes because all of the smug (and they are oh-so smug) Christian types are gone, along with their sermonizing. No more Bible verses, let’s get to the blood!
A Thief in the Night (1972) was the brain child of Russel Daughton, who incidentally was an uncredited writer/director on the 1950’s version of The Blob. He plays a recurring role in all four films as a preacher who lead his flock astray by telling them that God loves them and all they had to do was lead a good life. Widely popular in the Christian underground film movement, the film was followed by A Distant Thunder (1978), Mark of the Beast (1981), and The Prodigal Planet (1983). Daughton was raising funds to finish the series, with The Battle of Armageddon, but passed away in August of 2013. In a sense this series goes beyond Left Behind because it marries Christian prophecy with a lot of crazy conspiracy theories.
After the rapture a new world order, called UNITE (United Nations Imperium of Total Emergency), takes control. One of its first actions is to decree that everyone must wear an identification mark, the number 0110 repeated three times (0110 being binary code for 6). Patty refuses to take it, making her a target. She is then chased around and around and around the town, until she is knocked off of a bridge by a pair of her former friends who had taken the mark. The original films ends with everything being a dream, but a prophetic one for as Patty wakes up and goes into the kitchen, she learns that the rapture has indeed occurred. She gives a hearty scream and everything goes dead, except for the sound of me laughing.
As the films progress things get a whole lot crazier. All of the world’s governments give up due to natural disasters and a limited nuclear exchange, and a man by the name of Brother Christopher takes over UNITE. Of course all true Christians know him to be the Antichrist, just like Obama, but everyone else loves the guy even though he speaks in a creepy metallic voice with a staccato cadence to it.
No one is allowed to buy or sell unless they take the mark (0110). Eventually it is also discovered that the mark is the root code for the UPC symbol system. Patty, still refusing to place it on her hand, is forced to scrounge for food. Jesus shows up, says hi, then leaves. Several nuclear explosions happen. A new religion is formed around Brother Christopher which everyone, but the faithful Christians, join (I guess the Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Rastafarians, and Hindus just give in). Patty is betrayed by friends, captured by UNITE, and eventually guillotined in the beginning of the third film.
We are then handed over to a new protagonist, David, a plausible action hero who is out to get UNITE. The films take on a low rent Mad Max vibe here. There are dirt road chases, gun fights, people who aren’t Christians get large boils on their faces, hordes of mutants in robes roam the countryside attacking everyone (I shit you not!), a six year old is guillotined by the government, and one woman is eaten by a giant locust. All ending with a shootout and the heroes blowing up UNITE’s “main computer bunker” in New Mexico, which completely disorganizes them. Apparently this global government has only one server and no backups.
All of this put together actually sounds pretty cool, but in-between each interesting part is a lot of sermonizing and morality lessons which seem like they should’ve been scripted for a bad 1980’s sitcom, not an apocalyptic battlefield.
Something I want to point out here is that I have noticed that the best religious type films/ morality plays don’t mention the Bible or Jesus at all. Whenever the Bible is discussed, the film comes to a screeching halt. Say what you want about The Passion of the Christ, it isn’t preachy and it keeps your interest.
The entire series is riddled with laughably bad acting, stock footage that doesn’t match the movie’s film stock, and suffers from an extremely low budget. Granted this is a labor of love for the director and no doubt the people in it were all true believers working for low pay (if not for free), still the poor budget becomes very glaring as the series goes on and swings quickly from campy to tedious.This film series needs a fan edit.