One More Shot: Revisiting END OF DAYS
As the New Year rapidly approaches, putting 2018 in the rearview mirror, I was sitting on my couch, contemplating what movie or show to put on when when I wondered “Are they any good New Year's horror flicks?” Most people might immediately think of right away New Year's Evil, the absurd flick from 1980 involving a killer murdering someone in each time zone as they hit midnight. While I do plan on watching that gem in the coming days toward 2019, I already knew what the correct answer was. This gem was an attempt at an apocalyptic horror movie, starring a well-known actor who is not known for his horror cred among the community. It had a substantial budget, was publicized heavily and was even released a month before the New Year that everyone was afraid would end the world, the dreaded Y2K, or 2000 for those not familiar with that moniker. I have always had a sweet spot for this truly bizarre and macabre vision of the rise of Satan and the impending Christian Apocalypse. Recently, I have noticed that while it now has somewhat of a cult following in some small circles, people just aren’t appreciating it the way I believe they should be. This travesty must end, and I must speak up for this flick. I present to you 1999’s End of Days, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It will become your New Year’s go to flick.
The year is 1979 and there is trouble brewing. Priests in Vatican City are concerned over a current lunar eclipse that is taking place that is very unique and special, one that is said to coincide with the birth of a woman who is destined to be Satan's bride, which will give rise to the end of days., which This is all confirmed when we witness the birth of this marked child, and the ritual performed to confirm that she is the chosen one. Cut to New York circa 1999, we are introduced to the drunk and seemingly clinically depressed Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a top employee of a privatized security task force. After an assassination attempt on one of his clients, a wealthy banker (Gabriel Byrne), Jericho ends up learning that the assassin who they tracked down and killed was actually a priest. The priest was convinced that his target was actually ol’ scratch himself, Satan. This leads Jericho on an investigation that crosses paths with the now grown up child marked as Satan’s bride, Christine York (Robin Tunney), who is unaware of her sinister purposes in life but has been seeing visions of someone who appears to be coming for her. Convinced of her importance and now being systematically hunted down by Satan and his many followers, Jericho must figure a way to save her and destroy the forces of evil to save all of mankind. Can a man who no longer has anything to live for find it in himself to save the human race?
When people discuss other movies as being "insane", "crazy", or "over the top", they obviously must have not witnessed this motion picture. I can't stress enough that this film is very definition of BATSHIT. When I first saw the initial trailer release in late 1999, the tone and pacing seemed to be showing the film off as more of a pure horror movie with tense action scenes interlaced throughout. This seemed to be an obvious departure for main superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger, stepping outside his pure action movie zone and dabbling in the horror genre. However, after viewing the movie myself when it was released in November of ‘99, I realized this was not the case. This misleading direction of the campaign led the movie to review poorly with critics and audiences alike upon its release, with people expecting a horror film with some sprinkling of action to push it along. People instead got a more go-for-broke action extravaganza with horror elements layered in to bring in the genre crowd. I found it amusing that a review blurb from its theatrical release (which was also used on the DVD case artwork) claimed it as being much scarier than The Exorcist and The Sixth Sense, taking a single view to try and sell this as a genre piece to the masses.
At this point, you might think I am about to begin my complete thrashing of this flick from top to bottom. This couldn't be farther from the truth. I love the shit out of this movie. It has become my official New Year’s Eve movie, forming a double bill with my other ritual, watching multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone. When people judge other movies as being "insane", "crazy", or "over the top", they clearly must have not witnessed this motion picture. I can't stress enough that this film is the very definition of BATSHIT. Don’t get me wrong, this is actually a well acted movie, with committed performances from the entire cast. Everyone shows that they were fully invested and it reflects in their portrayals. On the flip side, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen quite the amalgamation of action and horror done quite this way before, and I’m sure I haven’t seen it since.
While we are on the subject, let’s talk about those action scenes. The opening action sequence that kicks this flick off, involving Cane chasing down the priest assassin across multiple rooftops and alleyways, all while being suspended from a cable on a helicopter for half of the scene, is pure insanity and sets the tone of where this movie is heading. The multiple actions scenes that follow also keep the crazy going, with multiple gun fights and explosions across various locales such as a cultist church, an ornate brownstone house and a thrilling chase through the tunnels and subways of New York. Did I just say guns? Guns against Satan? The normal person would believe that bullets would be ineffective against the Lord of Darkness, but they appear to do a pretty good job of staving him off at various points throughout the film. By the time the movie concludes in a church with when a seemingly gigantic creature demonized version of Satan emerges from the altar, you barely bat an eye at the development and you’re just preparing for whatever shenanigans the director will throw at you next. The multiple action sequences, despite their inherent zaniness due to the material, are all expertly shot, framed and paced, delivering the goods done so with a panache that is expected from typical of 90's Schwarzenegger's vehicles such as Eraser and Last Action Hero (of which I also defend to this day). As for Schwarzenegger, he is truly the star of the show, and he doesn't disappoint. His crowning achievement in this film is, by far, the coup de grace scene of his one-on-one dialogue scene with Satan in his apartment, which included the infamous “fucking choir boy" line of dialogue. Besides that those wild few words, this was the first time, at least from what I remember, that Schwarzenegger was truly flexing his muscles with scenes that required more emotional investment. He has always been a great movie star, and had his fair share of great acted scenes in Terminator 2, True Lies, etc. However, I believe he ventured into some uncharted territory in this scene, among a few other, that he was never privy to before, and I appreciated his commitment. Finally, special mention also must be laid upon Gabriel Byrne, who simply laid it all on the fucking line and just tore up the dance floor as Satan. Byrne must have read that script, said "Wow…,” and then proceeded to just add on so much many layers of ham and cheese that you just have to fall in love with his performance.
Wait, Eric, what about the horror elements? Well, honestly, the horror in End of Days seems to be present merely as a catalyst to get us from one action sequence to the other. That’s not a negative connotation, but rather simply the reality of where the project ended up. We are treated to various horror scenes here and there during the runtime that range in effectiveness. A hospital sequence involving the assassin priest, Satan and some naughty scalpels, delivers on the blood, gore and shock elements we expect from the genre. On the other end, a scene involving a possessed elderly woman, which could have been a nice homage to The Exorcist and could have easily delivered some chills and unsettling elements, ended up being simply used as an odd exposition scene to deliver some backstory, wasting a golden opportunity. Overall, director Peter Hyams does do a good job of incorporating various visual elements of horror and terror throughout (pentagrams, strong color hues of red and browns, dark hidden mysterious rooms, creepy cultists), but clearly the movie was tonally meant to be an action-horror movie, not a horror-action flick. I, personally, have no issue in regards to this uneven split in genre. In the end, this is a Schwarzenegger film, and Schwarzenegger = Action.
Does Schwarzenegger save the day at the end? Does Satan get his girl? Do you really need an answer to that? When all is said and done, this is still an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, and he is not one to let Satan rum rampant across the Earth and do what he wants. So, why do I recommend this be on your rotation for every New Years Eve viewing? Honestly, it’s just a plain fun old time. Everyone seems to be having a blast in this movie, playing it relatively straight for much of the proceedings, with some humor sprinkled across here and there to lighten the perpetually dark tone and aesthetic that permeates throughout. Schwarzenegger and Byrne are at the top of their game, with Byrne in particular simply relishing playing the prince of darkness, slathering smarmy and pompous attitude in every scene. It may not be scary, it may not be the most coherent film, and it definitely wavers wildly between a typical Arnold action film and a middling horror film, but one thing is for sure, it’s a ton of fun. Don’t let this pass you by. Who doesn’t want to see Arnold to fight Satan with a machine gun?