Happy Halloween: End of Days (1999) Review
Director: Peter Hyams
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robin Tunney, Gabriel Byrne, Rod Steiger, Kevin Pollack, CCH Pounder, and Miriam Margolyes
The term “guilty pleasure” was coined for movies like End of Days. The movie is just as dumb as its naysayers have claimed, and while even I was put off by some of the choices it made (notably with an ugly sex scene that just didn’t need to be added in the movie), I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a smile on my face by the end of it.
It goes back so many years when I first watched the movie. I was 16 at the time, and I bought into this movie in the way (I think) that the filmmakers had intended. The teenaged Catholic boy in me was happy that, not only did the big guy toss aside his machine gun and evoke the power of prayer in the end, but also that he was reunited with his slain family at the end. “He’s in Heaven with family,” I’d say to myself. “And because he redeemed himself in the end, I’m sure his partner Chicago (Kevin Pollack) is up there too.”
At the time, the idea of explosive piss (don’t ask) and Arnie telling Satan “You’re a f***ing choir boy compared to me! A choir boy!” wasn’t ridiculous in any way, and neither was the night time shot of Arnie hanging from a cross while Satan’s minions all pointed their flash lights at him. Because of this, I did watch End of Days a good number of times. And even though the movie is beyond absurd to me now, that impressionable 16 year old Catholic boy is still alive and well, and telling me not to hate this movie.
I say this because, if I’m completely honest, there is no good reason to write a positive review for this movie. There is no debating those who hate this movie because, technically, they’re in the right. I dare anyone to read Rob Blackwelder’s “No Stars” review on this movie on his website splicedonline.com and try to refute any of the complaints he made. I just don’t think you can do it.
And yet, I also just don’t care. Roger Ebert was the man who gave the 1997 thriller Anaconda an unconscionable three-and-a-half star rating, and online film critic Frank Swietek (who is also a very good critic) somehow gave The Fog remake a B-. If two better critics than I can embrace very bad movies like that, then I think I’m allowed to embrace this very bad movie, thank you very much.
The basic gist of the movie is this: Every one thousand years, Satan is set loose from hell to try and impregnate some poor girl who'll give birth to the anti-Christ. When that happens, it will bring about the end of days. His unfortunate lover-to-be this time is twenty year old Christine York (Robin Tunney, quite awful), who was chosen because not only was she born when a comet was arched over the moon like an eyebrow (a celestial sign known as the "Eye of God"), but she also has a demonic, horseshoe-shaped birthmark on her arm, and was fed a finger tip's worth of rattle snake blood shortly after she was born.
Fortunately, for the world at large, Satan (Gabriel Byrne, very good) has a one hour window of opportunity (between 11 and midnight on the eve of the new millennium) to impregnate Christine, and it's up to an alcoholic, atheist, suicidal, ex-cop turned security guard named Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger, not bad), or JC (ho-ho!), to keep her safe until that hour passes.
Jericho and his partner Chicago stumble upon this apocalyptic plot when they saved a Wall Street banker from a homicidal, tongue-less, sharp-shooting priest (Derrick O'Connor). As it turns out, the banker was possessed by Satan the night before, and I guess the priest thought he could defeat ol' Scratch by filling him full of lead (Holy Water is just too old school for his taste). To give him credit, at least he was focused on taking out Satan. There is apparently a Vatican hit team on the loose (called the Vatican Knights) who are trying to kill poor Christine before Satan can get her in the sack.
Rod Steiger shows up as Father Kovak, a helpful priest at New York's St. John's Church who delivers the necessary plot exposition, but really nothing more. He tells us that Satan's one-hour window was worked out centuries ago by the Gregorian monks, who invented the Gregorian calendar to map out the event. Film critic Roger Ebert had a lot of fun picking out the logical flaws behind the whole Gregorian monk angle. What I want to know is why Satan is being such a stickler for the rules. Like, what happens if he makes love to her ten minutes to eleven? Will he not be able to perform? Is he going to shoot blanks?
Chances are, nothing's going to happen either way, since Satan has apparently been set free one year ahead of schedule. The story here takes place during the final days of 1999. The new millennium doesn't start until the final days of 2000, although even the radio jockeys seem unaware of that fact. Either way, Satan is bound and determined to have his way with Christine during the final hour of 1999, and tries recruiting Arnold in his dastardly deeds, promising to bring back his slain wife and daughter if he does. Of course, Arnold refuses, and screams out what is perhaps the film's funniest line at Satan (it’s the whole “choir boy” line).
Because this a Schwarzenegger vehicle, there is naturally a lot of action and special-effects in the film. Screenwriter Andrew W. Marlowe (who also wrote Air Force One) fills the movie with scenes where Jericho dangles from a helicopter and chases a sniper across a rooftop, a subway train blows up, and Satan pretty much destroys a church (breaking all the windows and setting a few of the religious statues on fire) before making his dramatic entrance (and in non-human form). All of it is admittedly well handled by director Peter Hyams, although for my money, the most entertaining scene in the film comes when Schwarzenegger is beaten to a pulp by little ol' Miriam Margolyes.
All of this is beyond absurd, the action scenes are edited in a very choppy manner, and for a movie about Satan wanting to bring about the end of the world, there’s not a moment of the movie that’s scary. So why do I like this movie? I don’t know, BUT…..I don’t know. All I can tell you is that I do. I like the Jericho Cane character, I enjoy the noisy action scenes, and hey, the good guy goes to Heaven in the end. The adult movie critic in me is telling me to destroy this film, while that 16 year old version of me is excited about watching it again.
Final Grade: *** (out of ****)
Rated R for strong violence, gore, profanity, a graphic and nasty sex scene, nudity