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Thursday, April 10, 2014

The End of the World

The old 70s paradigm of doom and malaise lives on in this low-budget indie apocalyptic movie, The End of the World (EotW). The producers managed to recruit some well known, or better known actors such as Christopher Lee, Dean Jagger, Lew Ayres and Madonald Carey. All but Lee get scant screen time. Kirk Scott and Sue Lyon, both second-tier actors, garnered the lion’s share of the camera. Charles Band produced the film before he got better at producing. John Hayes directed, though is forte had been trashy horror or trashy soft porn. The resulting tale of alien-duplication and intrigue to destroy the world unfolds very very slowly.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A cook in a remote diner whiles away the empty hours of night until a Catholic priest walks in asking if he can call the police. Before he can, the pay phone blows up, as does the juke box and coffee machine. The latter scalds the cook such that he runs through a window and kills himself. A stunned Father Pergado (Lee) staggers up to a convent to be greeted by his evil twin. Cut to a “high-tech” computer lab where Andrew works. He picks up some strange signals from space. He has a ‘feeling’ about them. Andrew and his lovely wife, Sylvia (Lyon) investigate where the signals are coming from, but only find a peaceful convent. Andrew brushes off some professional obligations in order to pursue his obsession with the signals. They check out a second site, only to discover that it was a secret government eaves-dropping base. (at least there was a transmitter that time.) They are released. With no other leads, they revisit the convent. The second visit still revealed nothing, so they sneak back in a third time. The nuns capture them and take them down to a basement full of alien technology. The fake Father Pergado is actually an alien named Zindar. He and his “nuns” have taken human form to complete their mission. Unfortunately, their tampering with Earth messed up their matter transporters, so they’re stuck on Earth. Zindar holds Sylvia hostage to force Andrew to steal some special rare isotope crystal which will fix their transporter device. Andrew does so, reluctantly, but successfully. The transporter is fixed. Zindar exposits that they came to destroy the Earth because it spews ‘disease’ into the universe. He tells Andrew and Sylvia that, as aliens, they’re not such bad folks so Andrew and Sylvia are welcome to come to their planet instead of staying on the earth (which is about to blow up). Zindar briefly changes from Christopher Lee to an alien puppet head (seen in the poster), then beams away. Andrew and Sylvia decide life on an alien world is better than blowing up, so they transport away. The Earth blows up. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Christopher Lee is clearly the primary value in EotW. Despite the extra-lame script and career-killing production, he performs as an A-level professional. Sue Lyon is easy on the eyes.

Cultural Connection
Chronic Gloom —The 50s were rife with worries about nuclear doom, but despite that, almost all 50s apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies were essentially optimistic. Mankind somehow found a way to avert disaster. By the 70s, however, people seemed to give up that vestige of hope. With all the new plagues of doom the 70s wallowed in — pollution, overpopulation, starvation — it was easy to think there would be no light at the end of the tunnel. No way to avert doom. EotW is a blunt (if clumsy) statement of that sentiment. Nothing mattered. The Earth was just going to blow up.

Dark Klaatu — Klaatu came to Earth in The Day The Earth Stood Still (’51) to deliver a warning. Mankind had better mind its Ps and Qs or the galactic powers would have to destroy the Earth to preserve all those other planets out there. Zindar comes in a similar sort of messenger role but with bad news. “The planet earth has emitted an overabundance of diseases. You are contaminating the universe. All the planets, lightyears away from here will suffer, unless it is destroyed. We have received our orders.” There is no reprieve. Mankind did not mind its Ps and Qs.

Evil Twin — For no particularly expressed reason, the real Father Pergado is kept alive and allowed to keep praying at the altar. Why the duplicated nuns were not kept on, was never explained. The real Pergado (also played by Lee) is “artistically” differentiated by being dressed in all white. Whereas Zindar, the fake Pergado is in all black (with cape!). The fake nuns come to escort the real Pergado down to test out the matter transporter. They get him just as he finishes reciting the Lord’s Prayer, ending on the line, “…and deliver us from evil.” The transporter is still broken, so the real Pergado dies. Perhaps this is what happened to the real nuns. They were sent in as human guinea pigs to test the unit. Not a very advanced-technology way of testing equipment.

Wasted Talent — Perhaps, due to his father Albert’s reputation (as a second-tier actor, director and producer), Charles Band seems to have been able to sign up some known actors for his very obscure indie film. It is said that Christopher Lee only agreed to take the job because he had been told that the other known actors, such as Dean Jagger, Lew Ayers, etc. were in the film. These other actors, however, were wasted in bit parts with very little screen time. Jagger was Andrew’s cranky boss with only two small scenes. Lew Ayers appears only once as the manager of the eavesdropping base. Macdonald Carey plays a security guard. Instead of having the better talent play major roles, the lead characters were played by middling television actors (Scott and Lyon).

Catholi-phobia? — Screenwriter Frank Ray Perilli must have had a personal fear of nuns and things Catholic. He seemed to expect that the mere sight of a convent and closeups of frowning nun faces would creep out the audience. Maybe for some, they do. For most, however, the dots do not connect. Whatever ‘horror” Perilli was hoping for never materializes. Nuns just are not scary, unless one is already afraid of nuns.

Bottom line? EotW is an almost painfully slow film. At nearly 90 minutes long, it could easily have been cut to run less than an hour. It would still be lame, but faster. Far too much of it is shot at night, with insufficient lighting, which only makes the long padded sneaking-through-the-night scenes feel even longer. Lee is okay acting-wise. Others were wasted efforts (see above). Scott is bland as a hero. Lyon is pretty in a mid-70s (pre-Farrah) sort of way and looks good in a towel (twice!), but she adds little. Charles Band would go on to produce better films, but EotW is not among them. Unless one is a big Christopher Lee fan, there is little reason to sit through this film.


Randall Landers said...

Quote: Not a very advanced-technology way of testing equipment.

Wasn't this same sort of thing used in both versions of "Not of This Earth" as well?

Nightowl said...

Hi Randall,
Good parallel to the '57 movie. Though, I think in the case of Not of This Earth, it wasn't so much that the transporter was malfunctioning as that it wasn't viable for human transport. Whatever human they beamed back to their blood-starved planet, somehow didn't arrive in edible condition -- whatever that meant.