Friday, May 20, 2011

YouTube Finds :: It's the End of the World As We Know It. And I Feel Doomed :: Donald Thompson's A Thief in the Night (1972)

Well, apparently, according to some, the world will finally come to an end this weekend with the Rapture due sometime on Saturday. Whatever ... Now, I'm not here to argue on whether or not this is really going to happen or get into any kind of theological debate on which side of the fence I fall in the whole Divine scheme of things. Nah. It's just all this talk about the allegedly nigh Apocalypse has got me to reminiscing about a trippy scare film concerning the Rapture and the Tribulation that I was exposed to by a rickety projector and some shitty synch-sound in a church basement many, many moons ago called A Thief in the Night...

Poor Patty Myers; she was a good person, a decent Christian, and lived by the Golden Rule. Unfortunately for her that just wasn't enough. One morning, her husband and millions of others, being completely twitterpated with the Haysoos, disappear without a trace, leaving Patty and the other unworthy to deal with the Anti-Christ; here, in the form of a New World Orderish organization going by the handle of UNITE (United Nations Imperium for Total Emergency), who demands all of those left behind must denounce their shattered faith and swear eternal allegiance by accepting a stamp -- or mark if you're more biblically inclined, consisting of a series of ones and zeroes: the binary code for 666, the Mark of the Beast.

A Thief in the Night (1972) is only the first part of Mark IV Productions Rapture, or Prophecy, quadrilogy. Based out of, and filmed around, Des Moines, Iowa, this religious themed production house was the brainchild of Russell S. Doughten Jr., who had been a jack-of-all-trades for Good News Productions; another religious based filmmaking outfit operating in Pennsylvania. If that's ringing some bells for any of you, yes, that's the same outfit who cranked out The Blob (1958) for Jack H. Harris. In fact, it was Harris's shabby treatment in the post-production phase that caused a frustrated Doughten to eventually pull up his revival tent stakes and head further west. (Doughten deserved a full producer's credit on The Blob. He didn't get it. Wait. Vanity is a sin, right?)

Anyhoo. There are plenty of acting gaffes and some plot specific and dated laughs to be had (-- nice 'stache, there, dude), and it does kinda go off the rails a bit in a good-bad kind of way once Patty goes on the run, but overall A Thief in the Night is an earnest and somber affair that lacks the true fundie whackadoodleness and fanatical delirium of your Estus Pirkle or Ron Ormand convert-or-die zealotry screeds like If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do (1971) or A Burning Hell (1974). For the record, things do get a little more shrill and wonky in the three sequels, A Distant Thunder (1978), Image of the Beast (1980) and The Prodigal Planet (1983) -- definitely more head-chopping. But while watching their inaugural effort, however, one cannot deny that there's some real talent behind the camera and in the editing booth that belie it's small town origins. (Check out the constantly moving camera and those montage sequences.) And I really kinda dug how they pulled off that twisty shock ending, when the film basically laps itself, and poor Patty's waking nightmare turns out to be only the beginning -- the beginning of the end.


A Thief in the Night (1972) Mark IV Productions / D: Donald W. Thompson / W: Donald W. Thompson, Russell S. Doughten, Jim Grant / C: John P. Leiendecker Jr. / E: Wes Phillippi / P: Russell S. Doughten, Donald W. Thompson / S: Patty Dunning, Mike Niday, Colleen Niday, Maryann Rachford, Thom Rachford

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