Monday, March 26, 2018

Six Hundred and Sixty-Six (1972)

          Made by an evangelical Christian organization, Six Hundred and Sixty-Six has a clear agenda: frightening non-believers into embracing God before it’s too late. Yet the picture doesn’t fall into the familiar Christian-movie trap of smothering viewers with gentle homilies. Instead, the movie starts in a dark place and goes deeper into despair until reaching a suitably intense ending. Better still, the film exudes intelligence and specificity, thanks to a resourceful script by Marshall Riggan, and the use of a claustrophobic location gives the piece a strong Twilight Zone vibe. That said, the movie is hugely flawed. Although director Tom Doades shoots well, using deep shadows and sharp lines to create moody images, Six Hundred and Sixty-Six comprises nearly wall-to-wall dialogue, and the performances are stiff, with actors robotically over-enunciating dialogue. Had Doades started the film in a buttoned-up fashion and then gotten more naturalistic as the narrative gained tension, he might have achieved a better result.
          The film takes place in the near future, when the world has divided into Eastern and Western factions. American soldier Col. Ferguson (Joe Turkel) is the new operations officer at an underground bunker that he assumes is a missile silo. In fact, it’s a repository of human culture, with artwork stored alongside computers stuffed with literature and philosophy. The movie explores what happens when nuclear war unfolds aboveground, damaging the life-support mechanisms of the underground bunker. Things skew theological after that happens. The bunker’s main computer is programmed to recite random snippets of poetry, speaking in a sexy female voice and ending every announcement with “I love you.” One of the poetry snippets is a Bible verse, which gets the men in the bunker wondering if the nuclear event was actually the apocalypse.
          Every twenty minutes or so, the filmmakers juice Six Hundred and Sixty-Six with a quick action scene (some folks go crazy in close quarters), but mostly the film is talk, talk, talk. Some of the chatter is highly engaging and some less so, but it’s all a bit much. Although Turkel’s work is never more than serviceable, Byron Clark gives an unnerving supporting turn as Tallman, the erudite curator of the underground archive—is he a mad genius or just mad? Even for devotees of end-of-the-world cinema, Six Hundred and Sixty-Six is a tough sit—too dry, too religious, too slow—but if you accept the picture on its own terms, Six Hundred and Sixty-Six is consistently ominous and provocative.

Six Hundred and Sixty-Six: FUNKY

1 comment:

JKruppa said...

I'm willing to let a science fiction film get away with a lot as long as there's an interesting premise or idea somewhere in the story, and Joe Turkel's presence piques my curiosity. I'm sold!