Monday, 7 September 2009

End of the World

1977
Dir. John Hayes

When Professor Andrew Boran (Kirk Scott) decodes messages received from deepest space that coincide with recent natural disasters, his investigations lead him to a spooky convent where the inhabitants are not what they seem. They are actually aliens attempting to destroy earth because it has become too polluted and diseased. No, really.
Ladies and gentlemens – allow me to present the deliciously mediocre and irrestibly entertaining schlock that is – End of the World.

Mysterious messages from the cosmos! Parallel dimensions! Cloning! Laser beams! Christopher Lee! Nuns from outer space! Well, strictly speaking the nuns aren’t really from outer space – they are clones of nuns inhabited by the forces of an alien race who are desperately trying to leave earth and return to their own planet… And even though they have effortlessly mastered the concepts of inter-stellar time travelling and stuff, they still need the help of a mere mortal human scientist to assist their attempts to leave earth. You should be forgiven if you expect an all out explosion-fest, with lots of scenes featuring epic international disasters and the hopeless attempts of mankind to work together to save ourselves, in intimate scenes of humanity stiving to survive against overwhelming odds. As this isn’t a Roland Emmerich film, what we do get is a car exploding, Sue Lyon from Lolita and Christopher Lee as the leader of a group of aliens disguised as nuns.

At times End of the World resembles the early work of John Carpenter and contains a plethora of half-baked ideas, kept at bay by the restrictions of the microscopic budget. However, director Haynes has none of Carpenter’s ability to generate tension or construct a tight pace and the film sort of trundles along from one bizarre set piece to another, slowly generating intrigue but holding back on tension. The film opens with a - quite literally - explosive scene in which Christopher Lee walks into an empty diner and demands to use the phone to call the police. Before he can do this however, said phone explodes, as does the coffee machine – showering the proprietor of the diner with scalding water and flinging him out of the window into a neon sign. A rather irked Lee wearily makes his way to a nearby convent where the doors are flung open and he is welcomed by – Christopher Lee! This intriguing and highly entertaining opening sets the scene for more bizarre events that never quite reach the dizzying heights of splendid ‘what-the-fuck?!’ created in the opening moments. An atmospheric score, complete with Carpenter-esque synth-drones, bleeps and blips accompanies proceedings and perfectly enhances an abundance of out of focus shots of blinking computer lights and ‘weird alien technology’ that bulk out its running time.



The film has an intriguing story and some neat ideas, however the execution is rudimentary at best – having said that – it is never anything short of entertaining and somehow strangely endearing. The obvious lack of budget ensures the sets resemble those of an early morning kids TV show and the special effects consist of time-lapse photography and spooky flashing lights. The underground labs our reluctant heroes keep sneaking into are kitted out with an astounding array of flashing monitors, ambient lighting, giant revolving globes (no evil forces seeking to conquer the world should be without one) and ‘futuristic’ computer consoles that have a distinct whiff of the seventies about them. At times the lighting is so bad it is hard to see what’s going on – particularly in the scene where Andrew and Sylvia (Sue Lyon) investigate the first location they believe to be sending out signals – a creepy lab under a zoo. But as Sylvia quite rightly asks – ‘A zoo for what?’ They sort of stumble around in the dark for a bit as we wonder what they are doing, before eventually discovering that the underground lab is a station monitoring communication between Russian satellites – manned by a friend of Andrew’s. This scene actually provides the film with its one moment of genuine creepiness and thought provocation. The scientists explain that they often contemplate the futility of their task monitoring the Russians – as theirs are the only signals and messages floating around in space. This conjures a wonderfully dark and existentialist image of earth floating alone in space; existing in complete solitude and utter futility. Of course, all this is undone when we realise that Christopher Lee and his gaggle of stern-looking nuns are actually aliens. We are, it would seem, not so alone after all.

Another scene that could have been a nail-biter features our intrepid investigators making a break from the convent only to find that their every move is being manipulated by the evil Christopher Lee – and as they get caught up in some weird moebius loop – they keep ending up back at the convent where they are forced to help the nuns find some sort of crystal that will enable them to return home.



There is a vague eco-warning subtext simmering away unattended, that reveals earth has become so polluted and diseased it is becoming a threat to the universe. The aliens decide that the only way to address this is to blow it up. Cue lots of stock footage of natural disasters and models of villages being washing away by floods. The rather bleak ending has no resonance whatsoever, even though we are treated to a little model of the earth exploding – none of the impact the filmmakers were presumably striving for is obtained. End of the World, whilst promising much – that evocative title alone holds such power – sadly fails to deliver.

According to the IMDB, Christopher Lee commented on the film and spoke of it in none too flattering terms. He said ‘Some of the films I've been in, I regret making. I got conned into making these pictures in almost every case by people who lied to me. Some years ago, I got a call from my producers saying that they were sending me a script and that five very distinguished American actors were also going to be in the film. Actors like José Ferrer, Dean Jagger and John Carradine. So I thought ‘Well, that's all right by me’. But it turned out it was a complete lie. Appropriately, the film was called End of the World.’

Should you feel inclined to check out this obscure gem, and I implore you to do so – you can watch it for free here. Yes, for FREE!

Once you’ve ensured your glass is full, sit back, relax and enjoy the spectacle. Personally, I have no idea why Lee is so embarrassed by this – he was after all in Attack of the Clones… Clunky Seventies sci-fi bunkum at its schlocky no-budgeted best. Amen!

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