Monday, August 31, 2015

End of the World (1977)

Director: John Hayes                                       Writer: Frank Ray Perilli
Film Score: Andrew Belling                              Cinematography: John Huneck
Starring: Kirk Scott, Christopher Lee, Dean Jagger and Lew Ayres

Despite its low-budget pedigree and incomprehensible plot, there’s something undeniably compelling about this film that’s primarily the result of the actors involved. End of the World hosts a wealth of acting talent that spans several generations, from Lew Ayres and Macdonald Carey, to Dean Jagger and Christopher Lee. The special effects at the end of the film that show the Earth’s destruction seem to be lifted from Godzilla movies, while the sound effects seem like leftovers from Star Trek. Add to that a dismal screenplay and wooden acting from the principals and the film really is dreadful. That said, however, all bad movies are not created equal. One of the fascinating aspects of the film is that the engineering firm where Kirk Scott works appears to be part of the Rockwell International facilities, as a skeleton of a space capsule can be seen in the background behind him and Dean Jagger in an early scene, and then they walk into a hanger where one of the earliest space shuttles can be seen. For a cheap film, it’s a healthy dose of verisimilitude. And while the computer systems are laughable by today’s standards, they seem to be fairly convincing for the time. It’s these little things that kept me watching until the end . . . right to the absolutely ridiculous end.

The film begins at a roadside diner, with Simmy Bow playing a pinball machine. When a frightened Christopher Lee as a priest stumbles in looking for a phone, Bow points to a payphone on the wall. But before Lee can get to it, the phone explodes, spraying scalding water in Bow’s face, and sending him out the window to his death. Then Lee stumbles back to the church, where a man who is his exact double leads him gently back inside. After the opening credits, engineer Kirk Scott receives transmissions from outer space that predict a series of natural disasters on the Earth. One of the strange aspects of the messages is that they are also duplicated from two sources on Earth. Of course he wants to investigate further but his boss, Dean Jagger, wants him to go out on a government sponsored lecture tour instead of following up on the transmission. While out on the tour, however, Scott knows he’s near one of the Earth sources and so he takes his wife, Sue Lyon, to find it. And it just happens to be a convent, the very church run by Christopher Lee. The other site is a gated compound run by Lew Ayres and once inside the two are captured by gunmen. But as it turns out, Ayres is one of Scott’s colleagues that he communicates with by telephone, and the compound is a Soviet satellite monitoring station. Ayres says it’s the only communication that can possibly come from space.

The conflict begins when Scott gets back to work and checks his computers, only to find that a descriptions of he and his wife has been sent out to space and knows that it could only have come from the convent. Scott is now more determined than ever to find out what Christopher Lee is hiding. But as soon as they go to the convent they are captured by the nuns, all of whom are working for Lee. They see an experiment in which the real Lee is killed and then Lee tells Scott if he doesn’t get a secret experimental substance for him that Scott’s company is working on, he’ll kill his wife. As stated earlier, the story itself is absurd and makes very little sense, and by far the weakest actors are the two leads. But where Kirk Scott does a passable job, Sue Lyon leaves a lot to be desired. The two play a hip, upper class couple that like to have sex a lot. And while there is no nudity in the print I saw, it doesn’t mean that the original intent wasn’t there. Christopher Lee, in his black vestments, looks every bit like Dracula and the viewer half expects him to be sporting fangs when Scott and Lyon first see him in the convent. But his performance is wooden and gets lost amid the general corniness of the ending. End of the World is not a good film by any measure, but for me it had enough interesting tidbits that kept it from being truly bad. Nevertheless, caveat emptor.

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