Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Thief in the Night (1972) & A Distant Thunder (1978)

          A generation before the Left Behind book/film series popularized the Rapture as an evangelical Christian scare tactic, producer-director Donald W. Thompson and his team of true believers created A Thief in the Night, an independent feature illustrating the horrors of the end times, according to the filmmakers’ interpretation of the Bible. The film revolves around Patty Myers (Patty Dunning), a young Everywoman who wakes one morning to discover that millions of Christians have disappeared from the face of the Earth, which religious scholars within the film label the beginning of the end times. In conversations with survivors (and flashbacks to exchanges with her Christian friends and relatives), Patty learns she wasn’t living a sufficiently Christian lifestyle prior to the Rapture, because even though she followed the Commandments and went to church, she didn’t take the Big Guy into her heart.
          As if the prospect of being held back from Heaven wasn’t sufficiently grim, the filmmakers introduce another conundrum when agents of the Antichrist seize control over the un-Raptured. The UN forms a group called U.N.I.T.E. (United Nations Imperium of Total Emergency), requiring every citizen to get a U.N.I.T.E. tattoo—which is, of course, a coded version of the 6-6-6 “mark of the beast.” Even though she doesn’t immediately realize the nefarious nature of U.N.I.T.E., Patty resists the group’s authority with deadly results. She also ends up seeming like the bimbo heroine of some grade-Z slasher flick, since her entire characterization is predicated on doubting the obvious—her journey is not so much a cautionary tale about religion as it is a cautionary tale about stupidity.
          A Thief in the Night’s first sequel, A Distant Thunder, is highly repetitive, with Patty once again trying to understand the breadth of the Rapture while remembering lectures from friends who warned her about not being sufficiently Christian. A Distant Thunder is a bit slicker than its predecessor—love the new long, straight hair, Patty!—and it’s so grim it ends with a woman being led to a guillotine by agents of the Antichrist. However, neither film is made particularly well, since the style Thompson uses for both movies exists somewhere between that of a clumsy educational film and that of a low-budget horror movie. Additionally, the acting in both movies is across-the-board-terrible. Plus, since the pictures are designed to communicate religious messages, the drama stops at regular intervals so a preacher or some similar character can pontificate about the obligations of faith.
          Still, A Thief in the Night and A Distant Thunder have a weird sort of intensity simply because of the apocalyptic subject matter. The Christians in these movies spend all their time frightening non-Christians with threats of eternal damnation, and during the beginning of A Thief in the Night, several Christians actually sing a gloomy tune called “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” Sample lyrics: “A man and wife asleep in bed, she hears a noise and turns her head, he’s gone—I wish we’d all been ready.” Bummer, man! Anyway, Thompson wasn’t done exploring the end times after making A Distant Thunder, so he wrapped up Patty’s story in Image of the Beast (1981) and then concluded the series with The Prodigal Planet (1983).

A Thief in the Night: LAME
Distant Thunder: LAME

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