There’s an old joke that goes something like this:
How do you know someone’s an atheist?
Give them five minutes and they’ll tell you.
That’s certainly the case with Carl Smith (Keith Salter), the character at the center of 1986’s The Daylight Zone. Because The Daylight Zone is set up as a parody of The Twilight Zone, a Rod Serling-style narrator informs us that Carl is a 35 year-old school teacher from Johnson City, Texas. Carl is driving back to Johnson City in his beat-up old pickup truck. He stops at a roadside fish stand and gets a fish sandwich.
It quickly becomes apparent that there are two things that obsess Carl Smith. One is his dislike of religion. The other is his obsession with fish sandwiches. Seriously, I’ve never seen someone get so excited over a fish sandwich. (Then again, I live in Texas, I’ve driven down more than a few country roads, and I’ve never seen a guy selling fish sandwiches off the side of the road.) The only thing that ruins Carl’s fish sandwich experience is that there’s a bunch of a Christians eating nearby.
“Are you Jesus freaks!?” Carl demands.
Carl flies into a sputtering rage, saying that Jesus doesn’t exist because Carl’s never met him. The Christians respond by asking Carl if he believes in George Washington, seeing as how Carl has never met him either. Carl replies that his great-great-great-great-grandfather lived next door to the Washingtons. Carl’s not just an atheist! He’s also a damn liar!
Anyway, Carl drives off with his fish sandwich. Unfortunately, he’s forced to take a detour. Soon, mysterious people are approaching his truck and asking Carl if he’s heading to Jerusalem and if he’s going to the Crucifixion. Carl laughs them off. Interestingly, Carl never seems to notice that everyone is now dressed in the hottest 33 AD fashion. Of course, none of them seem to find it odd that Carl is driving a pickup truck. Whenever Carl asks if he’s on the right road to Johnson City, everyone responds with, “Yes, you are heading to Jerusalem.” Carl doesn’t understand what they mean. Perhaps he’s confused by the fact that everyone still has a Texas accent.
Indeed, it’s not until Carl is stopped by a bunch of Roman soldiers who demand that he pay an arbitrary tax that it occurs to him that something strange is happening. And make no doubt about it, Carl is an obnoxious and annoying character, the type who never stops complaining and who won’t even share his fish sandwich with a shepherd. But it’s hard not to sympathize with him when he gets arrested for tax evasion. Taxation is theft!
(That said, it’s interesting that the Roman soldiers are confused by Carl’s American money but not by his pickup truck.)
This is an early Christian film from the Christiano Brothers. On the one hand, the story moves quickly and it’s obvious that the brothers understood the format of The Twilight Zone. Instead of just using the show as a gimmick, The Daylight Zone actually does pay homage to the classic Twilight Zone style. On the other hand, Carl is so obnoxious that it’s hard to care one way or the other what happens to him and those thick Texas accents do tend to take away from the whole “He’s been transported to ancient Judea” angle of the story. This one gets an A for effort but a C for execution. Actually, I’ll bump it up to a C+ because of the whole anti-IRS subtext of the film. Seriously, the IRS sucks.