Celebrating Forty Years of Terrible Christian Film!

thiefWhen I was in 5th grade – I am talking like a long time ago when Billy Squire was just coming on the music scene – I remember a Pentecostal gal in my class telling us one day during lunch in the cafeteria about this horrifying movie she had seen at her church. 

We sat transfixed as she tells us how this movie is about when Jesus returns and takes all the Christians and left everyone else to come under God’s severe judgment.  In the movie, this one girl gets left and she has to endure being hunted down by these military goons.  Eventually they chase her to a bridge where she is forced either to become their captive or jump to her death.  She chose jumping to her death.

I wanted so bad to see that movie.  No one in my squishy, liberal Methodist church would show it to us.  If we mentioned it, all the adults quickly averted their gaze and asked about how school was.  I think me and some friends begged our hippie feminist youth director with the BO to show it to us, but she just sweetly smiled and said, "No, we’re not going to do that."  I felt like the one kid in driver’s ed class who was sick the day the teacher showed "Highway of Blood."

Anyhow, as time marched on, when I got to college I had a buddy who used to put together a Saturday Night Movie time in which he would rent out the local playhouse in town and screened all sorts of "Christian" films.  His idea was to not only expose people to the treasure of what was Christian film, but also to evangelize the heathen who may come stumbling in thinking they will be seeing some Christianized Star Wars.  He mentioned to me how on this particular next Saturday he had a classic movie on the Second Coming of Jesus he was going to show.  He was hoping it would scare "the Hell out of people."

Get it?, "scare the Hell OUT of people"

Never mind… 

So, he tells me it was called Thief in the Night and it tells the story about how this girl gets left behind after the rapture and has to endure the hardships of the antichrist.  Something clicked.  I thought, "This plot sounds awful familiar."  Sure enough, the evening comes when my friend shows the movie and as it played all I had heard in that cafeteria in  5th grade comes flooding back to me.  Yet, rather than being this hair-raising horror movie, it was probably one of the absolute worst things I had ever witnessed. Not since Lou Ferrigno’s Hercules had I seen these appalling levels of cinematic incompetence.

First, it looked as though the entire film was shot on 8mm.  Maybe it was, who knows.  Then the acting.

Oh my, the acting. 

The dialog delivered with monotone emotion, like someone took the congregation at a rural, Missionary Baptist church in Missouri and decided they’d make a movie with them as the actors. And then that soundtrack.  The nails against the chalkboard soundtrack.  It was an entire train wreck of a movie that I cannot unsee; and I haven’t even bothered to talk about the theology. 

The characters were odd, too. They all have names, of course, but I’m too lazy to search Wiki to find them out.  First you had the Jan Brady looking heroine who gets left behind.  She’s the one that jumps off the bridge at the end. Next there is some Yoda like preacher kid at the beginning who is warning the girl about Jesus coming and being "left behind."  If I recall, he sets up the "eschatological" plot line for the remainder of the movie.  Then you have the bad guy with the Freddy Mercury mustache.  Oh, and my favorite: the heretical Wilford Brimley like pastor who gets left behind but then turns Bible-believing and runs an underground Fundamentalist group.

My movie showing friend wanted me to like it, but I left feeling embarrassed for Jesus to be quite honest.  So you can imagine my dismay when he informs us that Mark IV pictures, the intrepid geniuses behind Thief in the Night, had also made 2 or 3 sequel films following a few of the same characters from the first movie as they lived through the satanic perils of the tribulation.  I don’t even remember the names of those movies off the top of my head.  I think one of them is called something like Mark of the Beast.  I just remember there being this scene in one of them in which the demonic horde of Revelation 9 was suppose to be released  upon the earth.  This woman hears a thunderous noise outside her front door, and when she crack’s open the door to see what is going on, an enormous, paper mache scorpion tail slams down on her head.  I could have sworn I saw a glimpse of the prop guy’s hand before the scene cut away. 

I tell you all that because this past week was the 40th anniversary of the release of "Thief in the Night."  Someone thought enough to put the entire debacle online if anyone wishes to relive their Fundamentalist youth group days of cheap Christian movies and anti-rock and roll backward masking lectures.

8 thoughts on “Celebrating Forty Years of Terrible Christian Film!

  1. Well… thanks…I just watched through the opening credits… Bringing back memories of junior high youth group & watching this in the church basement… **shudder**And the credits said it as filmed in Des Moines. Must have been the film capital of cheesy 70s evangelical films…Squirrel

  2. I remember that movie from wa-a-a-y back in my high school days. They didn't show it at my church either so my buddy and I made a stealth visit to a nearby Pentecostal church that was showing it. Hal Lindsey was big in those days and I had been reading his books,so I was interested in seeing the movie. During the altar call we made a beeline for the door. At school the following week a girl I knew that went to the church said she saw me there so that was awkward, me being a non-charismatic and all.

  3. Oh yeah. Hey, anytime we got to watch a movie IN CHURCH for the Sunday Evening Service in my Southern California GARBC church, I was there.I totally remember that scorpion tail scene. Bad, bad, bad. And then the pull chart eschatology. Classic. (or should I say, classic dispensationalism, tee hee)I personally think that THAT movie single-handedly turned most fair minded theologians against making charts. Too much correlation between bad cinema and chart making.One thing I think I remember but didn't find out until 20 years later when I finally Monty Pythons Quest for the Holy Grail: The Music. Tell me it was the same music, and not just my bad memory.Anyway, I watched the sequels, too. Much better drama with a guillotine. All in all, these films cured me of any desire for pop culture attempts at dramatizing the end times – whether it's books, film, or music. I have left it all behind. I stick with my scriptures and my good commentaries.Maybe next week we can talk about the film where the motorcycle rider gets decapitated. Yeah, I saw that in church, too.

  4. Pingback: Answering Survivor Bloggers and Other Sundry Theological Cranks | hipandthigh

  5. I remember seeing this when I was 10-12 or something. At that age you don’t really notice how bad the production values are — after all, Star Wars was the greatest film ever made at that time. ;)

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