Retro Review: ‘Image of the Beast’
Last year around Easter time, I reviewed a cult classic Christian scare film in the form of If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do?. Many readers seemed to enjoy it, so I thought I would follow it up with a Retro Review of another flick from this strange genre 1981’s, Image of the Beast. As with If Footmen Tire You?If Footmen Tire You?, this is in no way intended to be offensive or demeaning to anybody of any faith or belief. Rather it is a fun look at weird movies from a genre filled with; poor production values, cringeworthy acting, and gratuitous violence.
Those involved with Christian based entertainment, have a love of dramatizing the end of days. It is hard to fault them, the Book of Revelations is an incredible and strange read which leaves enough open to interpretation that people can play around with. Image of the Beast is the third film of the Thief in the Night franchise which was instrumental in paving the way for apocalyptic Christian entertainment. You may wonder why we are looking at the third installment of this series rather than the first. This is mainly because the first two films, a Thief in the Night and Distant Thunder, are very tedious movies featuring an unlikable protagonist who subjects us to endless amounts of flashbacks (including a flashback within a dream; as well as flashbacks within flashbacks). This third film Image of the Beast opens with this unlikable character, Patty, being killed in gloriously violent fashion so that our focus can be on more interesting characters. Besides I believe most of us are familiar enough with the concepts of the Christian apocalypse that you should have a basic idea of what is going on.
The film opens as soldiers for the global entity the Antichrist presides over, UNITE (United Nations Imperium for Total Emergency. Clunky wording but a nice acronym) publicly executing those who do not accept the Mark of the Beast. Patty, from the first two films is given her ultimatum as she is strapped into a guillotine facing up at the blade when an earthquake hits. Not wanting to be earthquaked, the soldiers run off so they do not hear Patty chicken out and ask for the Mark. Unfortunately for her the quake knocks the blade loose and it brings her poor sad story to an end. From there the film’s focus is on; Kathy, David, Leslie, and little Billy who will carry Image of the Beast the rest of the way. The earthquake allows them to flee from their imprisonment and find refuge with Reverend Matthew Turner, a former pastor who is now living on the lam as a fugitive. Being proficient with computers Kathy and David try to manufacture a counterfeit Mark of the Beast so they can move around in society, but this strategy unexpectedly flops. What follows is the violent fulfillment of prophecies and conflict with the soldiers of UNITE. Kathy survives the film courtesy of a giant locust stinging to death the woman trying to apprehend her, but the others are not so lucky. UNITE offers David the chance to save the adorable toeheaded Billy, if he rats out the rest of his crew. Being the heroic main character, David informs them that it is all good because Billy just converted to Christianity so they should go ahead and guillotine away. So our movie ends with the adorably defiant Billy being beheaded while David lives to face the radioactive mutants in the next installment of the sequel.
One lesson more modern Christian films can take from this movie is the utilization of resources. Rather than spending a good chunk of a limited budget on a well-known C-list actor to plaster on your promotional material, use that money on your production values instead. The cast of Image of the Beast features only one actual actor in William Wellman Jr. who plays David. Even so his most prominent roles were in the cult classics It’s Alive and the Born Losers (two movies I must admit I really enjoy). As a result the quality of this flick is a bit better than many others of its ilk. Or maybe this is just my perception given my love of cheesy low budget flicks. I often wonder if these old Christian scare flicks were simply Grindhouse directors trying to get money from religious sources to make their movies and gain a built in church audience. If this was the strategy they unintentionally introduced a whole new generation of youngsters to a gritty low budget style of cinema which many of them latched on to.
In case you thought I was kidding; the next movie in the Thief in the Night series does in fact feature mutants from a radioactive wasteland. Maybe I will cover that next spring.