End of Days

Dawdling Satanists
★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1999
Director: 
Peter Hyams
Starring: 
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robin Tunney, Gabriel Byrne
The Setup: 
The devil comes to Earth to end it all for good… but he didn’t count on Schwarzenegger!
Discussion: 

I actually saw this in the theater back in the day and found it so ludicrous and bad it became kind if precious, and it still maintains that kind of aura. I ended up BUYING this on a special double-disc with Jamie Lee Curtis’ Virus. That’s a lot of shit on one disc! And now I OWN them both. What the fuck am I supposed to do with these?

Okay, so first thing we have this angelic choir singing—so far, so cliché—and burning parchments and suchlike. We learn that aside from everyone we know, this film also stars Rod Steiger and Udo Keir! Poor Udo Kier must be on everyone’s short list for satanic actors. In a starring role is Robin Tunney, who came from TV, had a brief period where someone or other tried to launch her as a movie star, didn’t make it, and went right back to television. Which makes a bit of sense as she is rather charisma-free and just kind of screams “television.” And then you have Arnold in this role where he was said to “act” a little more than in previous films [as though anyone wants to see that] and ended up being one of his last roles before leaving to become governor of California. And just in time for him as well, because this film makes it clear that the Arnold persona, even in his attempt to stretch here, is still something that belongs in the 80s and early 90s, and was thoroughly dated by the time this movie came out. Anyway, the credits are very long and very boring, and finally we get on with the film.

So it’s 1979 and disco reigns! Only not in the offices of the Vatican, where some dude is all upset because there’s a comet over the moon and this is the “eye of god” predicted way back whenever and it means that some girl is going to be born at a certain hour that night and in 20 years she’s going to get porked by Satan and bear his child. Then we cut to NYC, where a woman is giving birth in the darkest operating room ever. The evil nurse, played by Miriam Margolyes, a woman you would recognize from a lot of things, among them The Apple, takes the baby down to the secret Satanist sub-basement, where Udo Keir waits. He has a snake in a jar, kills it and drips the blood all over the baby, making sure she eats a bit of it. Great. Nice. I love seeing newborns drinking blood. They take the baby back and return it to the mother, and we flash forward 20 years.

We have some radio broadcast telling us it’s the end of the millennium and informing us that all the computers worldwide are going to fail—remember Y2K hysteria? We then join Gabriel Byrne as a man who gets possessed by Satan. You’ll notice that they have carefully given him no lines prior to getting possessed, although that would have helped convey his change, but whatever. We then have a character-setting pan across Arnold’s apartment, where we see a cigar, lots of fast food containers and then a gun. Arnold puts the gun to his head and—he’s going to kill himself! Umm, okay, tired cliché. Whenever you open a movie with a character about to commit suicide, you usually aren’t in a very good place. He is interrupted by his bestest buddy Bobby, played by Kevin Pollak, who earns his acting pay by plausibly pretending to be Schwarzenegger’s bestest buddy. While they’re talking, Schwargenegger, whose character’s name is JERICHO CANE by the way [barf], dumps Pepto Bismol, old Chinese food, old hamburgers, old sliches of pizza and such in a blender and then drinks it. This is presumably supposed to be amusing in some fashion, but it kind of makes you think: “If this is the shit he’s eating all the time, how does he possibly have that body?” You certainly won’t get an answer from the movie. Anyway, they’re both cops or some shit, oh no, they’re bodyguards—or something. Next thing we see, they’re protecting Gabriel Byrne, who used to be an investment banker or something before Satan took over his body. Some guy tries to kill Byrne, and this begins this INSANELY over-the-top action sequence that starts in an alley, ends up on the roof, swerves into this whole helicopter sequence, and ends up down in the subway. Along the way, we have reason to note that Peter Hyams is a quite accomplished action director. I should also inform you that New York City, with very few exceptions, has NO ALLEYS, so any time you’re seeing an alley in a movie supposedly set in New York, you’re seeing bullshit. Although this film is quite [quite, quite] obviously shot in Toronto or somewhere. Anyway, down in the subway, the guy they were after spouts off some religious mumbo-jumbo to Jericho [ever met anyone named Jericho?], but later it turns out—he doesn’t have a tongue! Which makes the whole thing spooooo-kee! Then Jericho and Bobby go explore the homeless crazy’s lair—the guy’s name was Thomas Aquinas, btw—where Jericho makes some kra-zee faces. You’ll recall I mentioned that Schwarzenegger was said to “act” a little bit in this film, and part of that is the suggestion that me may have LOST IT at some point, and we just might be dealing with a dangerous unstable element. We have a tip that he used to be a drinker.

Meanwhile the girl chosen to bear the child of Satan is Christine York, played by Tunney, and she gets on the subway. Now here’s one of the elements that makes this movie so precious. The vision of the New York subway was horribly outdated by the time this movie came out. This movie tries to convey it as the old, nasty subway of the 70s and early 80s, when by that time the subway had been considerably cleaned up and was much more clean and bright. But my favorite element are the little oval destination signs in the subway cars, which, in reality, are quite specific, like Jamaica Center or Rockaway Beack/JFK, but the ones in this movie say "Times Square" and "Penn Station," as though just mentioning places tourists would recognize and say "Oh yeah, that's New York!" Why not have them say "Empire State Building" and "Statue of Liberty?" Anyway, the requisite creepy homeless person [why does Satan always pick on the homeless? I guess because their poverty is supposed to make them more spiritual?] comes over and starts shouting to Christine "He's coming Christine! He's going to FUCK YOU!" to which she responds "Who? Is he tall? Is he a banker? Does he work out?" No, actually she's freaked out, and then the guy shatters and falls apart, which freaks her even further, and she goes home and wails to her aunt--who was the creepy nurse from the beginning!--that she's had these visions all her life, and why, why her, etc. We see that her other guardian is Udo Keir, the other Satanist, although they both drop out of the movie without explanation. Meanwhile Satan drops in on Keir and takes a shine to his wife and daughter, leading to a rather unique sex scene in which he's screwing both of them while their flesh merges, thank you CGI, until they become one person, and that one person is Christine. She wakes up, freaked, with more "Why me? Why do I have these visions?"

Then we see Jericho at home and notice that his apartment has major square footage, which I assure you he cannot afford in Manhattan at his job. He goes to see Thomas Aquinas in the hospital, but it turns out Satan has been there just before, and took the time to not just kill Aquinas, but carve a rather lengthy message into his chest and elaborately crucify him on the ceiling. I guess Satan has a lot of time to decorate. Or maybe he can do it supernaturally. If so, he should definitely get a cable show once he's taken over the world. HGTV presents Satanic Makeover or something. Anyway, at the bottom of the text is the words "Christ in New York," which might seem enigmatic to anyone... anyone but SCHWARZENEGGER, who IMMEDIATELY intuits that it must be a name, a name like "Christine York." He's a smart fella! They look her up and there is, of course, only one, and they find her right away.

So they go over to Christine's, and just in time, because there are a bunch of Vatican assassins in her apartment trying to kill her so she can't bear that pesky Satan baby. The lead Vatican assassin, who is quite hot, is speechifying for minutes even though he hears his Vatican thugs getting beaten and killed just outside the bedroom door and--you know buddy, if you could just speed up your religious intoning and kill the girl, she'd be dead by the time Jericho comes in. The guy has SEVERAL MINUTES to do the job, but he really, REALLY needs to make that speech. Oops, then he waited too late and Jericho and Christine kill him. Then Jericho and Christine stop to have a chat, wherein he discovers that she has the exact same music box as his dead daughter. You see, I forgot to tell you, but while Jericho was relaxing in his mega-square-footage apartment, we had a bit more of the Schwarzenegger "acting" we've been promised as he looks at the broken music box of his daughter's and weeps, though without tears. This is his trauma [that is supposed to bond him to Christine], that his wife and daughter were killed while he was away at work. Oh the guilt and pain, etc. It's heart-wrenching. Then Jericho gets the shit beaten out of him by the pudgy evil nurse, which is a little funny as she's otherwise this mild-mannered grandmother. They escape and Christine explains that she's seen Satan in her dreams her whole life, and he's always "making love to me." Which implies that she was having these explicit dreams long before she turned 18. Furthermore, she's afraid that if he does "take her" that she'll like it. Yeah well, Satan has all the best love moves. While this is happening, Jericho's good buddy Bobby gets killed in a fiery explosion.

SPOILERS > > >
So Jericho takes Christine to hide out in the church, where Rod Steiger tries to give him the dope on Satan's plan and the end of days, causing to Jericho to exclaim "Why don't you stop all this church talk and tell us what's going on!" He's ready to get out of there and Christine wants to stay, which causes Jericho to assert [sudden subtext alert!] that given a choice between faith and his gun, he'll take his gun any day! So he goes home to mope, drowning his sorrows in booze [which is supposed to have more impact, as he is a recovering alcoholic], when who should show up, but Satan. They chat, then Satan brings his wife and daughter back to life, telling Jericho he could have them back if he just hands over the girl. When Jericho refuses, suddenly thugs break into the apartment and he has to relive his wife and daughter's execution via shotgun, while being helpless to do anything about it. This film goes or it in the tastelessness sweepstakes as, while we don't see the young girl actually get blown away, we do see her blood and gore spattered all over the walls of her room. And--this really is quite nasty when you think about it--Jericho picks up the precious music box we have already discussed, while it's covered with his daughter's blood and viscera! Which implies that he later had to scrub it clean of his daughter's vital fluids and replace it neatly on the shelf. I don't know, I find that a little more intense than this movie is prepared to handle. But Jericho won't be tempted, he tells Satan to "go to hell!" Oh but wait, first he and Satan exchnge some sharp boasts, including Jericho telling Satan [yes, SATAN] "You're a fucking choirboy compared to me!" Which seems like an odd thing to say to the Prince of Darkness and ruler of the underworld, but boys will be boys.

So just after Satan's been tossed from the window, Bobby shows up. Jericho can't be sure it's him, so he shoots his buddy in the arm. This is not a healthy friendship, especially as Jericho justifies himself by saying "I had to find out!" Luckily, in this movie, taking a bullet through the arm is just like getting a splinter, and Bobby's hanging out just fine for the rest of the movie. But no sooner do they pick up Christine when Bobby takes off with her in the car! I guess he is in thrall to Satan after all! Jericho suffers a bad beating in an alleyway, and is eventually crucified and hung up on the wall. That's right ladies nd gentlemen, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been crucified for mankind's sins! He's not up there too long before Steiger finds him and brings him in to the special church-basement surgery center.

So now it's new year's eve and there is stock footage of a big celebration in Times Square! Jericho finds Christine in a big church basement [or something... I had no idea there are all these big churches right in Times Square], where she's laying on a slab surrounded by a bunch of people on hand to watch the whole satanic live sex show. Satan gets down and kisses Christine, and we have a shot of the Times Square new year's eve ball, indicating that it's just a few minutes to midnight. At this point, knowing that Satan has the whole hour from 11pm to midnight to impregnate Christine, you might start to think: "Shouldn't they be further along than just kissing by this point? Maybe to third base or something? Heavy petting, at least? Frottage?" I can't imagine Satan is a man who likes to be rushed, yet it's getting to the point where he's going to have to get busy and finish up pretty quick if he's going to achieve his aim. But I guess all the Satanists in this movie are dawdlers. Satan needs some Ritalin or some shit.

Well, too late, as Jericho launches an attack and the place clears of spectators in like two seconds. Jericho shoots Byrne full of holes, so Satan leaves his body, and appears as a giant bat-like CGI monster. Then--remember SUDDEN SUBTEXT a little while ago? Jericho out of the blue looks at his gun, puts on a thoughtful face, then layd down his arms and PRAYS! "Please God, give me strength!" Then Satan possesses HIM, and he calls out to Christine. It's unclear whether this was his plan all along. Christine soon realizes that this is not the big lug she knew, and Jericho--or that little part of him remaining--throws himself on the giant sword that religious statues in these movies are always carrying. He's impaled, and belches up a bunch of fire, and now it's midnight and Satan lost his chance to rule the world due to his dawdling. So he retreats to the underworld. Then Jericho sees his wife and daughter waiting to welcome him into heaven, where they're going to run through fields of wildflowers or whatever, and Christine now has no relatives and as far as I know needs to get a job, but at least she won't have to worry about Satan trying to hose her.
< < < SPOILERS END

Ah dear, it was pretty stupid fun. I remember seeing this the first time and finding it kind of precious in just how dated it was, even when released. By that time The Matrix had just come out, and this kind of big action blockbuster centered around an overmuscled guy seems kind of like a relic of the past. Then there's the whole idea that Satan is going to take over the world... but he didn't count on SCHWARZENEGGER! And really, Satan just doesn't come off as all that powerful here. Come on, why is Satan running around town trying to find some girl? One thinks if he was really Satan he wouldn't let such trivialities get in his way.

The movie is also stretching for a kind of faux-importance with its idea that the spiritual fate of the world hangs in the balance, which is a little at odds with the typical Schwarzenegger thing of big muscles and big guns. And Schwarzenegger putting down his gun and praying to God at the end is probably not going to be that galvanizing a "statement" as perhaps they hope for.

Nevertheless, still kind of fun, especially if you like these kind of religious thrillers. It's kind of funny to think that The Exorcist and The Omen are still spawning imitators to this day. Anyway, blah, blah, there's not much more to say.

Should you watch it: 

Yes, but only in the presence of a bottle of Vodka.

Comments

The only reason I saw this movie was my roommate at the time it came out, who had an unhealthy obsession with Robin Tunney. He bought it--on VHS TAPE--specifically because of the scene where she pulls her top off and presents us with sideboob.

Pollak has a line that goes something like "yeah, well, you'd be surprised what you'll agree to when you're ON FIRE" which was pretty well delivered and has stuck with me.