Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Revival of Evil

Here we have an informed documentary on the occult in our society, made in what has to be the early Eighties (I couldn't find a date, so I went by the hairstyles). "Is today's REVIVAL OF EVIL setting the stage for the antichrist?" asks the back packaging for this video by New Liberty Films. If it is, the antichrist is sure taking is sweet time.

Revival of Evil is primarily a talking heads documentary, with talks given by people who have experienced the supernatural in their lives. Some claim to have had psychic powers, one (nightclub owner Mike Putini) discusses the occult in rock music, and then there's international occult expert Dave Hunt. We also get a look inside the First Church of Satan, founded and run by Anton LaVey. It's exactly what you would think - people in dark robes praying to Satan.

Each psychic person tells their story in small chunks, intercut with each other. There's Jim Gold, an entertainer and Gospel singer, who claims he could move objects with his mind. Susan Brooks, a wife and mother, performed seances in her mom's basement. Dave hansen, a teacher, got into Satanism. Carole Carmichael, a spiritual counterfeits counsellor, got astral powers from Yoga, and Mike Putini... well, he basically just went to rock concerts.

And then there's Dave Hunt, the expert. He's seen wandering around inside a library, looking intellectual. There's a shot of him slotting a book back onto a shelf before he starts talking, as if he'd just been reading something quite fascinating. He's clearly done a lot of research, but he still comes off as someone whose only source of 'facts' is the Bible. "The modern western mind is being psychologically programmed to accept the religion of the antichrist," Hunt tells us, "which I believe will be a merger between modern science and eastern mysticism, or occultism." Woah, did he just say that eastern mysticism is the same thing as the occult? You bet he did! And he's just warming up. Next he has a go at Hindu gods, "which the Bible says are demons."

Pick an occult subject, and Dave Hunt's got an answer for you. "The souls and spirits of the dead are either in Heaven or Hell and can't communicate with the living," he says, so therefore all spirits contacted by seances and mediums are really demons. What about reincarnation? "There are only two possible explanations," he says when discussing regression hypnotherapy, used to regress a subject back into prior lives. "Either reincarnation is true, which the Bible denies... or an impersonating demon is speaking through the hypnotized person, spreading the same old lies." Pretty clear cut, eh? It must be a demon spreading lies, because the Bible says there's no reincarnation. End of story.

Everything that isn't Biblical is demonic to him, it seems. "The apparitions from seances, haunted houses and ghostly shapes and shadows that appear on the walls of children's bedrooms, and fascinate and draw them into the occult, are demonic manifestations. So are UFOs." He does have some interesting tidbits along the way, though. He reveals that in 1967, Ouija boards replaced Monopoly as America's #1 parlour game. He also talks about Ouija boards used in lab conditions, where blindfolded people were still able to spell out clear messages with them.

But enough about him. Let's get to the rock and roll stuff! Mike Putini talks about the use of Satanism and the occult in rock music, as if that were a big secret. The band name KISS, he says, stands for Kings In Satan's Service, and the band members were deliberately made up to look like demons. He also talks about rock groups like Led Zeppelin and the Beatles using 'backwards masking' to put messages into their songs. Yep, he's talking about playing records backwards to hear Satanic messages! Anyone else remember that?

Mike's best story is that a friend told him the untimely deaths in the rock world were due to deals with the Devil. Singers like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix died so young because they sold their souls for fame and power, and Satan came to collect. I guess that's a more interesting story than simply saying they overdosed and drowned in their own vomit.

This film was interesting to watch from the perspective of looking back at Christian attitudes from the 1980's, and how they haven't really changed all that much. The stories from the psychic people are also interesting - if you can believe them. Dave Hunt's stuffy intellectualism doesn't convince me, but he might get through to others. The film would be more convincing, however, if there was more discussion from both sides of the issue; we only hear from people who wound up thinking that anything supernatural was bad. This movie clearly isn't out for a balanced discussion on the topic - it's right there in the title. The movie isn't called Revival of Spiritualism or Revival of the Supernatural or even Revival of the Occult - it's Revival of Evil.

"The Book of Revelation seems to indicate," Dave Hunt says, "that in the Last Days, sorcery would be revived." Maybe, Dave, but it's 20 years later and the apocalypse still hasn't happened. The only thing I see that needs reviving is your closed mind.

Likely To Convert - 3
Production Values - 4
Acting/Direction - 6
Likely To Be Sat Through - 6
Unintentional Hilarity - 5
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 7

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


No, this isn't that old Goldie Hawn thriller. It's "a chilling 21st century supernatural thriller" from Cloud Ten Pictures, the guys who made Left Behind: The Movie and other Christian stuff. Written by Paul Lalonde (the Apocalypse series) and John Patus, directed by Andre Van Heerden (Apocalypse III: Tribulation and Judgment), and released to video in 2001, this is Christian science fiction at its absolute best.

Unfortunately, that's not saying very much. Battlefield Earth was a better SF movie.

The story concerns a radio signal, supposedly from space, which has a duration of 6.66 seconds. A rich guy named Shaw(Stewart Bick), whose company owns the observatory where the signal was detected, thinks this signal will make him rich. His Christian assistant Smitty Turner, however, thinks it's from the Devil. I wonder who'll turn out to be right?

Shaw rounds up a group of people to go to the observatory and find out what's what. It seems he's lost contact with the people there... as if something dark and sinister happened to them. The team consists of Reverend Fletcher(Jefferson Mappin), Shaw's spiritual advisor; Smitty(Michelle Nolden), his assistant; Kara Walsh(Deborah Odell), a plucky investigative journalist who always gets the story; and a deaf technician with a hearing aid named Jack, played by Judd Nelson. Judd has always been a hero of mine since he voiced Hot Rod in the 1986 Transformers: The Movie, so it's a shame to see him slumming here. Jack and Smitty used to be involved with one another, but Jack couldn't deal with the God stuff. And the fact that Smitty wasn't giving him any because of the God stuff.

More trouble is brewing in the form of Colonel Garrett, played by Louis Gossett Jr. It seems he's running a military program involving telekinesis (people who can move objects with their minds, for those of you who didn't see X-Men), and he has his own connection to this strange signal. If you don't like spoilers, bail out now.

Shaw and his team get to the observatory and find the place in bad shape. All trace of the signal was destroyed by the two technicians who'd been monitoring it, so it's up to Jack to put everything back together. Shaw plans to broadcast this signal to the world, proving the existence of extraterrestrial life, while Reverend Fletcher hopes the signal will raise humanity to a new level of consciousness. Kara(the investigative journalist with a knack for digging up the facts) wants to be the one to break the story, which will be excellent for her career. Therefore, they all want something from Jack, who is the only one who can repair the equipment.

When he does, everyone has a listen when the signal comes back. Those who hear it get this cheap special effect thing with their eyes to show they are under the influence of evil. Smitty isn't influenced because she has Jesus, and Jack can't hear the signal because Satan can't bypass his hearing aid. Those who've had the funky eyeball start to exhibit the Seven Deadly Sins, which means they are pretty much the way they were before, but their acting is a bit hammier.

Colonel Garrett arrives and takes control of the observatory with the help of his telekinetic Lieutenant Vasquez(Ramona Milano). He explains the signal is a matter of national security, shortly before he gets eye-funked himself. Bad things start to happen; the Colonel's soldiers hear the signal and go crazy, except for the one with a cross around his neck. Maybe the signal turned the others into vampires. Smitty, now convinced the signal is from Satan, tries to convince the others of the danger. Jack, the deaf guy, is the only one who listens. Colonel Garrett makes dire plans, Vasquez starts hurting people with her mind, the others go nuts and slash one-another, and the truth about the signal finally comes out.

Sad to say, this limply-directed and horribly written piece of crap is one of the better Christian movies out there. It doesn't have Left Behind's epic scope, but it does manage to be slightly less cheesy. The effects are the sub-par quality you'd expect from a direct-to-video feature, but the sets are merely serviceable. Most of them, anyway. The entrance to the observatory(which is underground, by the way) looks like someone stuck a large metal porta-potty in front of a cliff-face.

While the dialogue is woefully pedestrian, the actors do their best with it. Judd Nelson makes the best of his character and actually seems to be having some fun. You'd never think he was really deaf if it weren't for the constant reminders, but he's nevertheless the most enjoyable one to watch. The rest go through the motions like they were extras in a bad episode of Star Trek, and director Van Heerden sticks to obvious cliches when it comes to building suspense and atmosphere.

This leads to unintentional hilarity - the scene where Shaw, Fletcher and Kara go crazy and fight for a knife to stab Jack with had me chuckling, but a scene near the beginning had me roaring. Before he gets on the helicopter to go to the observatory, Jack meets a deaf kid who hands him a wooden cross. Jack looks at it for a moment, then looks up to discover the kid has vanished. Was the kid... an angel? Was it a message... from Jesus? Will Jack pull out that cross during a pivotal scene and become Saved? I laughed till I cried, I really did.

Deceived sends the message that evil can come at us from anywhere, so you'd better get Saved if you don't want to get funky-eyed and go crazy. That may be great for devout audiences, but not for anyone else. And moderate Christian viewers will long for the sinful pleasures of Hollywood and go rent Independence Day or Armageddon instead.

The film also says that if your acting career is floundering, doing Christian flicks is at least more respectable than porn.

Likely To Convert - 0
Production Values - 4
Acting/Direction - 4
Likely To Be Sat Through - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 4
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Jerry Falwell & The Old Time Gospel Hour

Remember how I wrote that one video was 3+ hours of hate? This is the one. Brace yourselves. I'm not kidding. If you want my usual tongue-in-cheek stuff, you'd better wait for the next post.

Saying Jerry Falwell was anti-gay is like saying the sun emits light in the visible spectrum. Nevertheless, for those who need proof, this is it. Made in 1993 and broken into five segments, the tape contains two episodes of Jerry's Old Time Gospel Hour show, followed by a series of "exposes".

First, though, there's an advert for Liberty University, "a distinctly Christian university." Jerry asks viewers to send him the names and addresses of high school students, so he can send them information on the place. If you do send him some names, you get a free lapel pin! Next, there's an introduction from Jerry, where he expresses his desire that this video will be 'a blessing'.

Then we're on to the meat of the tape, starting with a Gospel Hour episode titled "It's High Time for Christians to Come Out of the Closet." By this he means Christians need to stop hiding their beliefs behind "political correctness" and fear of being called a bigot - they must stand up for what they believe in, and stop those "perverts" and "weirdos" from taking over the country. Yes, he actually uses those words to describe homosexuals. And he really does think they are trying to conquer the United States. "The future of America depends on Christians coming out of the closet now," he says, because failure to change the current sate of affairs "may well bring the Judgment of God upon this land." He's also against homosexuals as Scout leaders, because "you don't put the fox in the henhouse."

Then he insults feminists for no obvious reason. "If you're going to overcome political correctness in the schools..." he tells the nations' parents, "new age doctrine and feminism and all that, you have to live Christ in front of your children 24/7."

And that's just the first hour. The next episode is titled "The Deafening Silence of America's Pulpits." Basically, its Jerry whining about how other priests don't preach anti-gay scripture the way he does.

I got bored and skipped ahead to the next bit, titled "The Roberta Achtenberg Scandal Tape," and it is hilarious for being not much of a scandal at all. He reveals that Achtenberg, then-Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is a lesbian. So? A little research shows she's been 'out' since the '80s, and from the tape it appears she's quite happy about it.

The bulk of this section is a 17-minute tape of the 1992 San Francisco Gay/Lesbian Pride Parade, filmed and sent in by a devoted Christian. Jerry stresses the footage is for adults only, because the material is "shocking" and will "turn your stomach." Maybe to you, Jerry. However, anyone who's seen a Gay Pride Parade, and all the costumes and naughtiness and sense of fun that goes into one, won't be shocked at all.

The tape starts with Roberta Achtenberg sitting on the back of a convertible with her partner, then-San Francisco Municipal Court judge Mary Morgan, and their son Benji. As the car goes by, the two women put their arms around each other and kiss. The tape goes into slow motion here, just to make sure we don't miss anything. "What a terrible roll model for America's young people," Jerry says, before telling us the tape hasn't been edited in any way. That's a lie right there, Jerry. Not only is there the aforementioned slow-mo, there is also the issue of the time index in the lower right-hand corner. It clearly jumps around from one o'clock to twelve o'clock to two o'clock and back again. Unless the cameraperson was a time-traveller, that's editing. Also, the Achtenberg-Morgan kiss appears twice, and all the nudity is pixilated. I can understand the pixilation, but that still counts as editing, Jerry.

The next two parts of this video, "Expose of the Clinton Inaugral Galas" and "Expanded Expose of the Radical Gay and Lesbian Agenda Volumes 1 & 2," continue to draw from the same bag of bigotry. President Bill Clinton was pro-gay rights, so many in the gay and lesbian community came out to his inaugural gala to celebrate. Jerry seeks to show us "what really happened," the sort of things the "liberal media" didn't show us. All Jerry reveals, however, is that homosexuals want the same rights and freedoms that straight Americans enjoy, including the right to marry or join the army. The tape ends with Jerry making a plea to Christians to stop proposed legislation that would grant homosexuals equal rights. I'm not sure which is worse - that gay human beings have had to live without those rights, or that people like Jerry Falwell would fight so hard to suppress them.

On May 15, 2007, Jerry Falwell, organizer of the Moral Majority and founder of Liberty University, passed away. This tape serves not as an expose of homosexuals but an expose on him, revealing the hate that hides behind the cross. He clearly was a hate-filled man - he wouldn't call homosexuals weirdos and perverts if he was speaking from a place of love. What a sad, terrible legacy to leave behind.

This is the worst thing I've had to review so far, and I'm glad it's over. Goodbye, Jerry Falwell. It hasn't been pleasant.

Likely To Convert - 0
Production Values - 5
Acting/Direction - 7
Likely To Be Sat Through - 1
Unintentional Hilarity - 3
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 10

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Commander Kellie and the Superkids: The Sword

This is the perfect movie to start my video review section off with a whimper. Aimed at young kids and dumbed down to fetus level, Commander Kellie and the Superkids: The Sword is wonderfully, delightfully terrible.

The Sword is at least the third (or possibly fourth) Superkid adventure from Kenneth Copeland Ministries, starring Ken's daughter Kellie as the titular commander. I think the story is supposed to be set in the future; no doubt the exact time and place for these stories was given in a previous adventure. What can be gleaned is this - a powerful broadcast media company called NME (clever, huh?) has taken over the airwaves to promote The Lie.

However, the Superkids - a secret organization made up almost entirely of children - fights back with their own broadcast network, SKTV. The Superkids basically steal airtime from NME so they can spread the Christian message and sing lame songs. This is a musical, and the movie frequently pauses for songs like You've Got To Know Who You Are In Jesus or Faithful Friend, even if the songs don't have anything to do with the story.

SKTV has its home in Superkid Academy, a Starship Enterprise-like secret base where cute kids walk around spouting technobabble. Commander Kellie runs the show, and leads a crack team of Bible-knowing teenagers known as the Blue Squad: Paul, Missy, Rapper, Valerie and Alex. They all wear blue Star Trek: The Next Generation outfits, and refer to the Bible as the Superkid Manual. "This is our weapon!" Commander Kellie says, holding up the Bible... er, Manual during a pivotal scene, and indeed it is: their endless quoting from it could put any enemy into a coma.

Over at NME, the shots are called by Major Dread. Yes, Major Dread. He's a rolly-poley dude with a scruffy beard who looks as threatening as McDonaldland's Grimace. It seems he wasn't successful in destroying the Superkids in the previous adventures, because his boss has come to run the show. His boss's name? General Fear. The actor playing him looks like a former pro-wrestler, and has about as much acting talent. However, he at least manages to say his own name with a straight face. Fear's right hand man is Captain Verath, a baldie with a thick mustache and pants designed to look like assless chaps. Dread also has a lackey, but I never caught his name.

Silly though they seem, NME has a workable plot-driving plan. General Fear has located Superkid Academy, and has successfully planted a spy in their midst. At the same time, he's had a scientist named Timothean build him a huge machine called The Sword (Secret Weapon Of Radical Deception - I bet the writers spent all night coming up with that one), which will give him power over every electronic media device in the world. It seems they already have that power - no competitors to NME are named - but at least it will enable them to permanently block SKTV. "We will see how strong Commander Kellie and the Superkids' faith is," Fear says, "when they come face to face with real fear!"

Back at SK Academy, a new recruit named C.J. has just joined the Blue Squad. She runs into the room carrying a bomb (no, not a copy of their previous video), and the technobabble and Manual-quoting goes into overdrive. CJ saves the day and gains acceptance, and immediately sets to work driving a wedge between the other Blue Squad members by creating false gossip. This leads the Blue Squad into a state where they are mildly uncomfortable around each other, but Valerie senses more evil may be afoot: "If we don't get in with the Word and find out who we are in Christ, Satan is going to deceive us."

Incidentally, the Superkids always refer to their enemy as being Satan, not General Fear or Major Dread. Commander Dana, a character who appears out of nowhere with no explanation, explains to the Blue Squad that the Devil's lies reveal him to be a liar. Thanks, Dana. Glad you could make it. And those NME guys never refer to Satan as their ultimate boss, though one is led to assume they do his work. Also, Fear repeatedly says that what he is spreading is a Lie, and he acknowledges that the power behind the Superkids is real power. Kinda defeatist, if you ask me. I guess the producers wanted to be sure kids understood who was who. Like I said, dumbed down to fetus level.

Anyway, back to the plot(and if you don't like SPOILERS, now's the time to bail out). NME broadcasts a big announcement - the Superkids have joined them! That's the Lie, you see - Fear has created exact doubles of Commander Kellie and the Superkids, who will now sing lame songs for him! How Fear achieved this - cloning? holograms? masks? - is never explained.

The Blue Squad head out to NME to find out what's going on, and are captured in short order. Luckily they are put into a cell with Dr. Timothean, the dude who built The Sword, and who also put handy-dandy self-destruct code in there. Gosh, that'll be handy! They escape, and cheap special effects take over.

Back at SK Academy, CJ is revealed as the spy (big surprise) She duels with Commander Kellie, but is ultimately won over to Christ. CJ gets Saved, The Sword is destroyed, and another song get sung.

To call this video bad is like clubbing a baby seal that's already dying of cancer. The acting is terrible - some actors look at the camera, others spout their lines as if they only just learned them and are desperate to get them right - and the dialogue is horrible, but everyone is so damned EARNEST. This story has a Message, and it Means Something, but their utter seriousness only makes the lameness stand out more.

To be fair, they aren't always serious; they have a comic relief robot named Techno, who says silly robotic things. Also, Major Dread and his lackey keep getting into trouble, and General Fear keeps pointing out their stupidity. I suppose one is meant to laugh at that stuff.

This is essentially Power Rangers for Christ, but without the kicking and punching. It might entertain very young kids, and the Message will satisfy devout parents' desire for family-friendly viewing. Everyone else, I'm guessing, will shake their heads and laugh in all the wrong places.

Likely To Convert - 1
Production Values - 2
Acting/Direction - 2
Likely To Be Sat Through - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 6
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0