The Chosen / Rain of Fire
Alberto De Martino
Italy / UK, 1977
Review by Teddy Blanks
Posted on 15 October 2009
Source Orion Pictures VHS
Categories 31 Days of Horror VI
Perhaps the most confounding of the exploitation sub-genres - I’m going out on a limb here - is the Cash-In, the direct rip-off of a high-grossing Hollywood film, made primarily for the purpose of capitalizing on that film’s success. I’ve never fully understood the logic behind this kind of movie. Are its producers trying to trick us? They spend a few million dollars on a film in hopes that we might confuse their version for the real thing in a drunken trip to our local video store and then what? Get it home and be too tired or lazy to take it back and exchange it? Or is the thinking that if we enjoy one thing, we will surely also enjoy a cheaper and worse version of it?
During the 60s and 70s, Italian director Alberto de Martino had no trouble getting United States distribution for his films as long as they fit this general description. His Cash-Ins range from the vaguely similar (Crime Boss and Counselor at Crime, hot off the heels of The Godfather, and The Tempter, a demon-possesion picture made one year after The Exorcist) to the blatant and absurd (1967’s Operation Kid Brother, starring Sean’s sibling Neil Connery as the civilian younger brother of a famous spy, called in to help bust up a crime syndicate when 007 isn’t available).
It follows as no surprise that Martino’s film Holocaust 2000, an Italian-British co-production starring Kirk Douglas, who plays an American energy executive abroad beginning to suspect his son might be the Antichrist, is generally regarded as a Cash-In on The Omen, which was made two years earlier and stars Gregory Peck as an American diplomat abroad beginning to suspect his son might be the Antichrist. So yeah, okay, Omen and Holocaust share an interchangeable one-line synopsis, along with a pervading self-seriousness which borders on and often crosses the line into the jocular. But the films’ peripheral parallels are just that—Holocaust 2000 is no Omen clone. It is infinitely more imaginative, and certainly a hell of a lot funnier. And while it may lack the assured pacing and the few genuinely terrifying sequences of its reputed inspiration (I’m recalling specifically here a nanny’s suicide and later a horde of manic baboons rushing toward Damien’s mom’s car at the zoo), it does contain a whole host of ridiculous subplots and enough visual variety to make it a more entertaining, if less actually scary, overall experience.
“We must solve this energy crisis,” remarks Robert Caine, Kirk Douglas’s cocky businessman, in the first line of the movie. And indeed, the script presents the realization that Caine’s son Angel is the antichrist as something of a side-note to this driving story-line: Caine is obsessed with building a “thermonuclear energy plant” that uses a “giant laser” to harness the “fusion power of the sun” in a nondescript Middle Eastern desert nation, despite numerous warnings from various scientists and politicians that by doing so he could start “a chain reaction of nuclear explosions.” When his wife, who has doubts about the plan and a controlling interest in the energy company, is stabbed to death by a severely side-burned and menacing Arab mental patient (identity and motive unclear), Caine is freed to pursue his plan with gusto, and Angel (who is in his mid-30s, unlike The Omen’s five-year-old Damien) at his right-hand.
In all likelihood, the ensuing chaos is as much a result of Martino, who also wrote the screenplay, boasting a profusion of ideas as it is his inability to fully guide any one simple concept to its logical extreme. Which is like totally okay, because check out the following list of crazy stuff that happens, in order only of my remembrance: (1) A helicopter blade decapitates the prime minister of the film’s unnamed country; (2) A stunning, futuristic 20-million-dollar room-sized computer displays the error message “2√231,” which we find out is “JESUS” backwards, apparently a “common” way of referring to the antichrist. The same computer goes on to murder its operator; (3) A full-blown riot breaks out in a pristinely art-directed and white-walled insane asylum; (4) In a moment of Rosemary’s Baby-style paranoia, Caine attempts, and fails, to trick his girlfriend into having an abortion once he begins to suspect his spawn might be the devil, but whoops, wrong kid; and finally (5) We are treated to a frenzied, surreal dream sequence featuring a seven-headed beast, a stock-footage mushroom cloud, and Kirk Douglas’s bare ass.
If at first it seems anachronistic to see a star of Douglas’s caliber in a movie this left-field, a closer look at his filmography allows for some perspective. Holocaust was his first in a series of late-70s oddities, which include Brian DePalma’s brilliant The Fury, the western Schwarzenegger team-up Cactus Jack, and the space-horror Saturn 3. Douglas’s performance is solid, but hampered (or heightened, depending on your mood) by the English-as-second-language dialogue, and by the confusion that results from the melting-pot of actors with wildly varying nationalities and accents. Why, for instance, is his son so British? You would think this alone might have tipped him off that something was amiss.
It’s possible I’m overstating the inanity of Holocaust 2000. For all of its laughable elements, the art direction is striking if not original, and Martino is successful at maintaing a mood, and builds real pressure into a few horror sequences that dip into unintentional humor not for lack of skill so much as some kind of misunderstanding, something lost in translation. If Holocaust was initially conceived solely as a money-making venture, it was made with a creative energy that, while unnecessary for such a cynical purpose, makes the film an oddity worth visiting.
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