|Oct/Nov 2000 Humor/Satire|
The great monotheistic religions have a history of enforcing their fiats and admonitions with threats of post mortem reprisals. Unfortunately, it's difficult for people to grasp the concept of eternal, unceasing torment, which makes it an inefficient behavior modification tool (even if it is one of the few training methods approved by PETA). Adding to this problem is the lack of any consistent architecture of Hell. Some consider it to be a vast lake of fire, where damned souls writhe and burn until the extinction of time itself. Others envision it as no worse than Alabama in July, where it's not the brimstone so much, it's the humidity. This problem is especially acute for artists who seek to map the netherworld; in order to portray ultimate suffering, they must assault their audience, transgressing the limits of taste and tolerance. We see this in the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch, in Dante's "Inferno," and in the performance stylings of Howie Mandell. (Who, as of this writing, has grown a goatee, shaved his head, and now bears a startling resemblance to Anton La Vey, founder of the Church of Satan. Coincidence? We think not.)
But how has Hollywood, which for much of its history was under the censorious purview of the Hays Office, dealt with depictions of eternal damnation? By and large, through overacting.
It's no mere happenstance that Satan is often portrayed as a cloven-footed beast, nor that the Jewish and Muslim traditions forbid the consumption of pork, for ham is a powerful symbol of evil. Watch William Shatner's performance in The Devil's Rain, and tell us you don't feel the hot, bacon-scented breath of Satan on the back of your neck. Observe Frank Langella's climactic scene in The Ninth Gate, and see if you can't smell the pure pork sausage of perdition, frying on the brimstone-fired stoves of Hell itself. And even if the thought of unending darkness and limitless pain is beyond your ken, 92 minutes of Casper Van Dien in The Omega Code will make the punishments of burning underworld all too real.
So Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here, and keep your hands and arms inside the car at all times. There's some bad, bad actin' ahead.
THE DEVIL'S RAIN (1975)
Directed by Robert Fuest
Written by James Ashton, Gabe Essoe, and Gerald Hopman
It is a dark and stormy night. Mrs. Preston (Ida Lupino) is worried about her husband--and she has cause, because he soon shows up, wearing a rubber mask and missing his eyes. Preston murmurs to son William Shatner to take "The Book" to "Corbis," then Preston melts into a pile of goop-a thing which apparently happens all the time, since neither Ida nor Shatner are much impressed by it. In the ten seconds it takes William to search Dad's truck for his missing eyes, somebody ransacks the house, steals mom, and beats up faithful servant Santa Claus.
Next morning, Shatner dons his Marlborough Man outfit (complete with a straw Stetson hat he apparently made in basket-weaving class), and heads off to the ghost town that Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine), calls home. Shatner and Borgnine exchange fraught dialogue until it's apparent they are equally matched in the overacting department, so they agree to a Faith showdown. As they enter the traditional white clapboard chapel where the duel is to take place, we notice that the whole congregation is wearing black robes (ornamented with Hello Kitty insignias) and lacking eyes. Apparently, Borgnine's entire following consists of a Braille Academy graduating class that he recruited in mid-commencement.
Borgnine and Shatner each offer prayers to the deities of their choice, and the match is pretty much tied until Shatner sees Mom in the audience, rubber masked and eyeless. (This effect would be a lot scarier if you couldn't see the black cloth in back of the mask's eyeholes.) Shatner shoots a bunch of parishioners (which is not only rude to do in a house of worship, but also a violation of the contest rules), so Ernest gets his soul.
Over in Hooterville, Shatner's brother Tom (Tom Skerritt) and his vacant wife Julie are playing the Kreskin Home Game with Eddie Albert when Tom gets the message that his parents and brother are missing and presumed damned. Tom and Julie return to the family homestead, where devoted retainer Santa tells them about the evil doings. They are reluctant to believe him, even when Julie pokes her finger in the pile o' goo that used to be Dad. (At least she doesn't taste him.)
Tom and Julie head over to Borgnineville to poke around and kill some time. Eventually, up-and-coming cult member John Travolta (who is listed in the credits as "Danny, the Littlest Satanist") attacks them. Julie may be no rocket scientist, but she does notice that Danny has no eyes, which is the kind of thing that guys so often miss. Julie then has a vision about the fun times they all had in their previous lives in Colonial Salem. It seems they sold their souls to Satan (through his licensed representative, Ernest Borgnine) in exchange for acting careers. However, the good times ended when Shatner's wife stole Borgnine's book and ratted them out to the Feds, and they were burned at the stake.
That's enough excitement for the moment, so Tom decides to wander around aimlessly while the Devil Worshippers take Julie captive. Tom asks for Eddie Albert's help in combating Evil (presumably Arnold Ziffle was busy). Eddie deduces that "The Book", which has been in Tom's family ever since the flashback, contains the signatures of those who sold their souls to Satan back in Salem. Eddie also explains that Satan won't accept delivery of the souls from Borgnine without proof of purchase, which explains why Ernest wants The Book so badly--it's the end of the quarter and he needs to get his expenses in.
Tom and Eddie go back to the quaint Satanist church with the precious Book, which they leave on the floor in their haste to explore a manhole that leads to Hell. While down below, they discover Satan's Sno-Globe, a vessel containing the souls of Borgnine's followers. These unfortunates are continually subject to the Devil's Rain--which must be even ickier than golden showers, to hear the people in the paperweight moan and groan. Ernest has been storing the souls in it until he can get his receipt book back and finally unload them; so they've undergone constant rain for over 300 years, which makes Hell a lot like Seattle.
While Tom and Eddie gaze at the souls writhing in agony in the Soul-Globe, John Travolta strolls by and nabs The Book. He turns it over to Borgnine, who becomes the embodiment of Satan--which means that he wears a white fright wig, a sheep's nose, and ram horns--or maybe he is supposed to be a spokesmodel for Dodge. The movie's a little vague.
Tom puts on a black robe that he apparently made from leaves and sticks, MacGyver style, and infiltrates the Satan Worshippers. Borgnine commands his army of bored extras to sacrifice the now even more vacant Karen. Tom objects mildly, and is captured, thus allowing John Travolta to deliver his only line in the movie ("Blasphemer! Blasphemer!"). Score so far: Evil 5, Good 0.
So, the coach sends in Eddie Albert, who threatens to break the Faberge Teletubby Egg containing the still unpaid-for souls unless Borgnine lets Tom and Julie go. But Shatner (who is still in this movie, thank-you-very-much) walks up to Eddie and takes the demonic knick-knack from him. Fortunately, Shatner succumbs to Eddie's plea that he break the unholy egg, assured that this will free his soul (and everybody else's) from the devil's power.
Unfortunately, this doesn't end the movie, it just causes it to rain-and, as it happens, devil worshippers are highly water-soluble. So, everybody starts to get gooey and then to melt. For nearly ten minutes. What a world, what a world. While the copy on the video box promises "Absolutely the most incredible ending of any motion picture!" this sequence actually contains all the thrills of leaving a carton of Neapolitan ice cream out in the sun and watching the results. But if you are lactose intolerant, you might feel vindicated by it.
Eventually the landscape is littered with sticky piles of pastel goo that used to be Borgnine and company, and Karen and Tom are free to go on with their lives, released from the curse that has hung over their family for centuries! At last, Good (represented by the star of "Green Acres" and "Switch") has triumphed over Evil (embodied by the co-star of "Airwolf.") Or has it? Don't make your call until those absentee ballots are all in.
So, what did we learn from this movie? Mainly that the disposition of one's immortal soul depends not upon good works, or mortal sin, but on whether Satan's minions turn in their paperwork on time. Think about that the next time you're procrastinating filing your quarterlies.
OMEGA CODE (1999)
Directed by: Robert Marcarelli
Written by: Stephan Blinn and Hollis Barton
Tagline: "Not just a movie... It's a miracle!"
According to the opening title card of this miracle, "Scholars seek 'The Bible Code,' a mathematical phenomenon whose hidden messages are said to contain the whole of human history." Give or take the last two thousand years, that is. A few other title cards follow, but basically, the movie's premise is this: Like Playstation 2 games, the Bible contains Easter eggs. Such as the "Key to Jerusalem," which brings ultimate power, for whosoever controls Jerusalem in the end days shall control the world, and get power-ups and extra ammo.
Our miracle opens in Jerusalem, where an elderly rabbi is doing some sort of Hebrew Junior Jumble. Suddenly, Michael Ironside shows up with the most unconvincing beard since Lisa Marie Presley, and shoots the old man. He swipes a CD-ROM, but his escape is hampered by Sigfried and Roy, who keep bi-locating around corners until it makes everybody nauseous.
Cut to an infomercial set, where Caspar van Dien (the poor man's Troy Donohue) has arrived to discuss the Bible Code. After introducing the spellbound audience to a revolutionary hair care regimen, he announces that the Bible contains a secret crossword puzzle that foretells the future. Using advanced pink highlighter technology, Caspar proves that the Torah predicted Hitler, the Kennedy assassinations, and Isaac Hayes' Oscar for "Shaft." Then he explains that the murdered rabbi believed the Bible was actually a holographic computer program! And that his shoelaces were actually mind- reading earthworms that could control his feet!
Anyway, it seems we've been reading the Bible wrong all these years, since it's actually intended to be studied in three dimensions; which explains why the rabbi was wearing those paper glasses with the red and blue lenses.
Cut to Rome, where Michael York (the poor man's Simon McCorkindale) has just been appointed "Chairman of the European Union." Since the EU doesn't have a chairman, it's probably just something the Europeans told Michael so he'd go away. Meanwhile, the UN presents him with its highest humanitarian award, for single-handedly wiping out world hunger by inventing Pop-Tarts.
Back in LA, Caspar's marriage is in trouble, because he's having "visions," bouts of ecstatic imagery that some might call "hallucinations," but others would call "lousy special effects."
Meanwhile, some Russians are using computer technology to decode the Bible, distilling it into a series of cryptic phrases, such as "Ten Horns Unite World Peace," "Houses of Isaac and Ishmael Torn in Terror," and "April: Best Time to Buy a Great Pants Suit."
The Russians blow up a papier-mâché model of the Dome of the Rock mosque, and Caspar immediately rushes to Rome to help Michael revive the Roman empire, and to introduce Michael's new line of formal housecoats for men.
Meanwhile, one of the Russians wimps out and tries to warn Caspar about... something, but he's gunned down by a unicycle-riding clown.
Michael takes over the world (but in a nice way) and rebuilds the Solomonic Temple. Caspar's visions become clearer, and we begin to see that they're actually home videos of the Sacramento Jaycees Haunted House.
Tired of playing second banana, Ironside shoots and kills Michael, but Michael really needs the work, so he comes back to life. Meanwhile, afraid that the audience won't sufficiently recoil from Ironside just because he murdered a man in cold blood, the filmmakers suddenly decide that he's a homosexual, too! It doesn't turn out to have anything to do with the story, but they felt better saying it. Michael calls the leaders of the world to his bedside, where Sam from "Quincy, M.E." wants to know what it was like to be dead. Apparently, Michael's answer goes over big, and the leaders appoint him King of the World, on the condition that he bring about a new Pax Romana, and doesn't make a crappy movie about the Titanic.
The angels Sigfried and Roy reappear, and present Caspar with the Final Code. Meanwhile, Michael's coronation takes place inside the new Temple, which has been meticulously reconstructed, based on Old Testament accounts and archeological data, to resemble the ballroom of the Airport Holiday Inn in Burbank.
Michael is crowned King of the World, but when he declares himself god as well, there is a mighty uproar, and Sigfried and Roy must save all humanity by challenging Michael to a contest of overacting. They seem to have the upper hand, when they are suddenly shot dead by Ironside, who prefers a more understated performance style.
Caspar is visited by some bad digital effects, which restore his faith, but nobody really cares. Meanwhile, Sigfried and Roy are raised from the dead, and upon their resurrection they kill Ironside with a giant hairball.
Caspar surrenders the Final Code to Michael in order to prevent further bloodshed, and another dull action sequence, and Michael enters it into the computer, thereby unlocking "the DNA of the Universe." This act produces a violent lightstorm, which causes Satan to trip, and fall out of Michael's body. The end.
THE NINTH GATE (1999)
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by John Brownjohn, Enrique Urbizu, and Polanski
Based on the novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Meet Johnny Depp, Rare Book Mercenary: a cross between Paladin, Indiana Jones, and Mrs. Gildersleeve who ran the Bookmobile in Junior High. Johnny attends collector Frank Langella's lecture on "Bewitched," and just happens to find himself sitting next to Emmanuelle Seigner, wife of Roman Polanski. Frank wants Johnny to authenticate a book he bought from the guy who killed himself before the credits. This tome, "The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of the Shadows," was published in 1666 (get it?), and led to the burning at the stake of one Aristide Torchia. It seems that Torquemada objected to Torchia co-authoring books with Satan, considering it blasphemy, since Satan's only sanctioned role in literature is as an agent.
But this does bring up the question of how they worked out the billing. Alphabetically? (By Beelzebub and Torchia.) Maybe it was "By Satan WITH Aristide Torchia." (after all, whose name on the cover is gonna sell more books?) Or maybe it was the standard celebrity kind of arrangement: "By Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, As Told to Aristide Torchia."
Anyway, there are only three copies of the book, and Frank wants Johnny to compare his to the other two, because the genuine article can summon up the devil. Lena Olin, widow of the book's former owner, shows up at Johnny's place and asks to buy the book back. When Johnny refuses, she puts her hand on his crotch and her tongue down his throat. Johnny is puzzled--is she coming on to him? As she strips for action, we notice a tattoo of a snake on her butt. Since Johnny is dealing with occult disciples and satanic arcana, this is obviously a significant clue, and Johnny quickly deduces that she's a herpetologist.
When the book fails to turn up during sex, Lena pulls Johnny's hair and bites him, fighting techniques she apparently learned on the playground from one of Roman's previous girlfriends.
Next, Johnny goes to see the elderly identical twins who sold the book to the dead guy. While perusing the priceless volume, one of the twins drops cigarette ashes in it--this is presumably a valuable clue, indicating that they aren't whom they claim to be, except that Johnny is always smoking, drinking wine, and eating ribs and corn on the cob while handling the book. The monozygotic bibliophiles point out that three of the nine engravings in the book were signed by Torchia's co-author, Lucifer. Johnny is skeptical, recalling how he was duped by that purported Mephistopheles Diary ("Dear Diary, Today I tricked that bimbo Eve into going off her diet. Boy, is God going to be pissed, because his only rule was 'No Fat Chicks!'")
Now, it's off to Portugal to examine the second copy of the book, which is found to contain three different engravings signed by Lucifer. Apparently, this is some kind of McDonald's contest, where you have to collect all nine game pieces to win a Quarter Pounder. Leaving the owner's home, Johnny is menaced by a scary guy, but is saved Emmanuelle. The next day he finds the owner of the second book drowned and his engravings gone! Somebody else is obviously after the free fries, and is willing to kill to get them!
Emmanuelle tells Johnny that she will protect him as he travels to Paris to see Baroness Kessler, owner of the third book. Although Emmanuelle knows way too much about his business, won't give him a straight answer, and has really weird eyes, Johnny teams up with her because... well, it isn't clear why. Because she's the director's wife?
The Baroness turns out to be a sharp old gal who provides valuable exposition, for which we will always bless her, even if she is a staunch fundamentalist devil worshipper who doesn't hold with Ernest Borgnine's liberalization of church doctrine. She explains that after the death of Torchia, his followers formed a group called The Silver Serpent Secret Friends (or something like that). However, the sect has degenerated into a club for bored billionaires who need excuses to dress up in black robes and have orgies. The Baroness used to be a member, but when she was chosen last for orgying, she took her book and went home. Lina, current leader of the Satan's Serpents, used her rich husband's money to get a copy of the book for use at the annual gathering where they try to summon Satan. ("The agenda for our meeting on the 12th includes a reading of last year's minutes, nominations for treasurer, a semiformal orgy, and the raising of Beelzebub, followed by punch and cookies in the fellowship hall.")
Johnny departs and is followed by the same scary guy who menaced him before. Again, he is saved by Emmanuelle, who not only demonstrates her slo-mo martial arts moves (she's either bionic or demonic, take your pick), but also flies. About now Johnny ought to be suspicious. But then, Johnny probably ought to have been suspicious of The Astronaut's Wife, too.
The Baroness is murdered and her engravings are taken. Lina steals Frank's book from Johnny, forcing Johnny and Emmanuelle to follow Lina to her chateau, where a gathering of the Silver Serpent Satan Sect is in progress. Frank bursts into the gathering and dramatically exclaims that they are all stupid and an affront to devil-fearing Satanists everywhere. Then he strangles Lina with her own pentagram, takes the book, and speeds off.
Johnny eventually finds Frank at a tower pictured in the book, the nine engravings spread out before him. Frank announces that he's solved the puzzle (it's apparently Lucifer's Junior Jumble), and so he will become the equal to God (which, as countless mad scientists have proven, means ignominious death in the next five minutes). Johnny wants to play "Who Wants to Be a God" too ("Is that your final sacrifice?"), and tries to take the engravings from Frank. During their struggle, Johnny's feet crash through the floorboards of the rickety structure. Frank pounds him down into the floor until only his head is still in the room. Yes, Satan steals from the Three Stooges.
Frank then intones the rebus prayer to the devil derived from the engravings, and crows about how really good he feels now--he's kind of like those annoying people who want to tell you how much better their lives are now that they've quit smoking. He brags about having power over all things, and lights himself on fire to demonstrate that he feels no pain. Um, big mistake. Johnny eventually puts the shrieking Demonic Torch out of its misery, grabs the engravings, and runs outside. Emmanuelle appears beside him and is suddenly nude; they make love to the background of the burning building and the odor of charring Frank Langella. Emmanuelle reveals that the ritual didn't work for Frank because the ninth engraving was a forgery. She disappears, leaving behind a note saying that the real engraving is at the twin booksellers' shop. Johnny goes there and the engraving eerily falls into his hands. It shows Emmanuelle riding a three-headed dragon in front of the ruined tower at dawn. Johnny returns to the tower. The sun comes up. The screen turns white.
"NO FAIR!" you're shouting. "What in tarnation happened?"
Well, since you asked so nicely, here's a theory.
Johnny had collected all nine authentic satanic engravings; he had solved the riddle. (Just be glad this movie wasn't a hit, or kids would have been giving up Pokemon cards and spending all their time trading and collecting 17th Century engravings. ["Get the whole set! Impress your friends! Devour your enemies!"]) He had summoned Old Scratch, who was presumably the spooky chick. So, the judges at Price-Waterhouse determined that he had complied with all the rules and regulations set forth by the State Attorney General, and so was entitled to the Grand Prize of omnipotence. And once he was omnipotent, he got the hell out of this stupid movie and started a new life as... who knows... Rosemary's Cry-Baby.
We earnestly hope that this attempt to justify God's ways to Men has inspired you to take a good look at your life and to repent of your sins. For we believe Sartre was right: Hell is other people, most of them method actors. So, unless you want to spend eternity with Ernest Borgnine and Michael York in an unquenchable dinner theater production of "Man of La Mancha," we urge you to shape up before it's too late.
|go to forums|