One of my favorite cinematic subgenres is “Catholic apocalypse”. Give me cool-sounding prophecies, ominous music (preferably with choirs), worried-looking priests, and contrived accidental deaths, and I’m a happy camper.
So I was pleased as punch to see that Lionsgate has dusted off the 1977 Omen ripoff Holocaust 2000, repackaged it, and retitled it as Rain of Fire (more on this repackaging/retitling later).
Like The Omen, Rain of Fire has a slumming respectable star at the center of the apocalyptic shenanigans. The slumming star is Kirk Douglas and his Square Jaw of AwesomenessTM. Kirk plays Robert Caine, an industrialist whose new project is a huge nuclear power plant located in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. At a press conference Caine chitchats with Sarah (Agostina Belli), a photographer. He shows her a nearby cave that has the word “JESUS” carved into the wall, presumably to ward off evil. Even though Sarah spouts some convenient knowledge about the apocalypse, Caine pays her no mind and demolishes the cave with the JESUS carving. Oh, good one, Spartacus.
Caine returns to England where he’s greeted by protesters (and if you think their chant “What do our children want to be when they grow up? Alive!” is annoying the first time, wait til you’ve heard it 100 times!). Things aren’t much better at a party thrown to celebrate the launch of the project. Caine’s wife (who’s a shareholder in his firm) wants to pull the plug, ostensibly because the risk is too great but Caine thinks it all has to do with their son Angel (Simon Ward).
Let me digress for a moment. His son is named Angel. No one normal is named Angel. Moreover, his name is “Angel Caine”. Please. Add to this the fact that Angel has a British accent that makes him sound like Legolas (only less butch), looks like an evil kewpie doll, dresses in fashionable 1970s menswear, and lacks the Square Jaw of AwesomenessTM. He might as well run around saying, “Hi, I’m Angel Caine and I’ll be your Antichrist this evening.”
Meanwhile, back at the party, a mysterious scowling bearded man sneaks into the shindig and goes after Caine with a knife. A fight ensues, Angel starts wrestling with the would-be assassin, and in the ensuing struggle Caine’s wife gets a fatal stab in the gut. Ooops, clumsy! Well, at least with the wife out of the way everything’s a go for the building of the power plant. Funny how those things work out.
Everything would be peachy except for the usual Disquieting Things that always show up in these movies. Things like a drawing of a seven-headed dragon appearing in one of the photos Sarah took of Caine, a Mid-East leader opposed to the power plant getting thwacked in the head by a helicopter rotor, and a computer that can recognize the number of the Antichrist (not 666, thankfully, but some square-root thingy). Caine considers this a bunch of hokum and coincidence, and besides he’s got a romance going with Sarah the photographer. (If you think this affaire de coeur is happening a bit soon after the gruesome death of Caine’s wife, consider that Caine and Sarah start their affair not five minutes after seeing the Mid-East leader get killed.)
Which brings us to the high point of the movie: a nightmare/vision sequence that is pretty cool and totally ridiculous at the same time (much like the rest of the film). Said vision’s big payoff would be a lot bigger if it hadn’t been blatantly telegraphed just a few scenes earlier. This scene is also notable because Caine spends the whole thing running about naked. I have no objections because even though Kirk was 60 when he made this film, he’s in damn fine shape (have I mentioned my latent Elektra complex?) and it’s high time we had more gratuitous male nudity in movies.
Where was I? Suffice to say that Rain of Fire is cheese, without question. But it’s fun cheese. It’s even got a few scenes of genuine creepiness (all in medical settings, strangely enough), though there are unintentional laughs, to be sure – you have to love the mid-seventies vision of what a supercomputer would look like.
Kirk Douglas had to know he was just collecting a paycheck for this one but you can’t tell. He and his Square Jaw of Awesomeness™ put in an actual performance and he never seems like he’s condescending to the material. As Sarah, Agostina Belli mostly lets her Botticelli beauty do the heavy lifting, but she and Douglas have good chemistry and you want things to work out for their characters. By contrast, Simon Ward is pretty terrible as Angel. He’s neither frightening nor compelling and has next to no charisma. You just want Douglas to punch him in his smarmy kewpie doll face.
Direction and story are heavy handed, to say the least, but for the most part you won’t mind much. Ennio Morricone’s score isn’t one of his more original efforts but it does its job and lays on the atmosphere with a trowel.
Some of you out there may know this movie under other names, the aforementioned Holocaust 2000 or as The Chosen. For the movie’s DVD release Lionsgate has given it a new title and a spiffy new cover that makes it look like one of those Left Behind movies. This repackaging is a fine trash cinema tradition and I’m glad to see it’s still being done. It makes up for the complete lack of extras save trailers on the DVD and for the flat visual and audio transfer. Oh well, you can’t have everything.