Film Review: Judgment (dir by Andre Van Heerden)

After three previous movies that all dealt with the growing power of Franco Macalousso (Nick Mancuso) and the revolution spearheaded by former journalist Helen Hannah (Leigh Lewis), the Apocalypse saga finally came to a close with the 2001 film, Judgment.

One of the more interesting things about the Apocalypse franchise is that each film was done in the style of a different genre.  Apocalypse was pretty much a straight-forward, faith-based film.  Revelation attempted to be an action film.  Tribulation was a horror film.  Meanwhile, Judgment is a courtroom drama, complete with a witnesses, objections, a corrupt judge, two former lovers turned legal adversaries, and a verdict.  Of course, the verdict itself is never in question.

Helen Hannah has finally been captured by O.N.E.  (That stands for One Nation Earth.)  Instead of just executing her like he does everyone else, Macalousso wants to put her on trial.  He wants to humiliate her while the entire world is watching.  He wants a show trial.  Mitch Kendrick (Corbin Bernsen), who father was a preacher who was executed after a previous show trial, is assigned to serve as Helen’s defense attorney,  Prosecuting the case is Victoria Thorne (Jessica Steen), who is Mitch’s former lover and one of the few people to know that Mitch has a fake mark of the beast on his hand.  Victoria believes that taking part in the trial will finally bring Mitch fully over to the side of Macalousso.

The trial has been carefully scripted out but, to everyone’s shock, Mitch refuses to follow the script.  Instead, he says that Helen cannot be punished because she has only been doing what her God told her to do so, therefore, God should be on trial instead of Helen.  Macalousso decides that he actually likes the idea of putting God on trial so he agrees to let Mitch do his thing.

Meanwhile, a revolutionary named  J.T. (Mr. T) is making plans to bust Helen out of prison but he finds himself frustrated by Helen’s aversion to violence.  J.T. just wants to break into the court and shoot everyone.  “There’s another way,” everyone keeps telling him….

Judgment is the best of the Apocalypse films, which may not be saying much when you consider how bad the other films are.  That said, Leigh Lewis had considerably improved as an actress by the time that she appeared in this film and Corbin Bernsen gives a good performance as a man torn between doing the right thing or doing what he has to do to keep himself safe.  Jessica Steen and Michael Copeman (as the Judge) bring a little bit more nuance than expected to their roles and Nick Mancuso is properly charismatic and smug as Franco Macalousso.  For a faith-based film, Judgment is not particularly preachy and I appreciated the fact that the film’s message was ultimately one of peaceful resistance.  Unfortunately, the film is also about 20 minutes too long.  It clocks in at 102 minutes and there are some parts of this film that seriously dragged.

As I’ve said about the previous Apocalypse films, Judgment actually works better as a political film than a religious tract.  The film presents Franco Macalousso as being the Beast but he could just as easily be seen as the ultimate symbol of collectivism.  When it’s announced that Helen is being prosecuted for the crime of “Hatred of the Human Race” and when witnesses in the court swear an oath to the “unity of all people,” it’s not a subtle moment but it’s a lot of fun for those viewers who tend to value personal freedom over the demands of the collective.

Judgment was the final Apocalypse film, though it doesn’t really bring the overall story to a close.  Tomorrow, we’ll bring our look at the apocalypse to a close with a look at the — God help us — Left Behind series.

Film Review: Tribulation (dir by Andre Van Heerden)

The Apocalypse saga continues with 2000’s Tribulation!  This is the film that answers the question: How do you get an outspoken atheist and a prominent Jewish entertainer to star in your evangelical Christian propaganda film?  Apparently, you do it by not revealing what type of film that you’re making.

At least, that’s what Margot Kidder said happened.  In an interview with the AV Club, Kidder said that neither she nor Howie Mandel realized that they were appearing in a Christian film until they got on the set, looked at the complete script, and asked why Kidder’s character mysteriously vanished from the film.  According to Kidder, this was a film that she did because she was broke, she couldn’t get a job because she had a reputation for being difficult, and she was offered a lot of money to go up to Toronto for a week and shoot a few scenes.  And so, Kidder, who was not a fan of religion in general, was cast as Eileen Canboro, the outspoken Christian who tries to teach everyone about the rapture.

To quote Kidder: “And I still get stopped by those freaky fundamentalists going “Oh, I’m so glad you did Tribulation.” And I wanna go, “Don’t count me into your group, honeybuns. I’m not one of you.”

As for the film itself, it stars Gary Busey as Tom Canboro, a police detective who is indifferent to religion.  His brother-in-law is Jason Quincy (Howie Mandel), an occultist who, early on in the film, gets possessed by a bunch of Satanists.  The film never really makes it clear why Jason was possessed, beyond I guess to warn against using Ouija boards or reading New Age literature.  After Jason is briefly possessed, the Satanists decide that they have to kill everyone who saw him possessed so that no one learns of their existence.  (But it seems like it would have just been simpler to not possess anyone in the first place.)  All of this leads to Tom eventually slipping into a coma.  Don’t ask how.  It just does.

While Tom’s out of it, the events of the first two movies happen.  Franco Manculousso (Nick Mancuso) magically rids the world of nuclear missiles and declares himself to be the messiah.  Millions of people — including Margot Kidder — mysteriously vanish.  An underground rebellion — labeled “The Haters” by Manculousso — forms against the one world government.  Everyone in the world is given a VR headset that will allow Manculousso to either kill them or steal their soul by giving them the mark of the beast.

(In this film, getting the mark of the beast means that you literally end up with 666 tattooed on your hand.  One thing I always find interesting about films like this is how they take everything in Biblical prophecy so literally.  For instance, 7 is the number of God so therefore it makes sense that the number of the Beast’s number would be 6 because the Beast will always be powerful but ultimately inferior.  He’ll be “one away” from God.  However, films like this always feature people wandering around with 666 prominently displayed on their body and oddly, no one ever says, “Hey, have you ever seen that Omen movie?”)

Anyway, Tom eventually wakes up and finds himself trapped in this brand new world.  It turns out that his sole remaining brother is now prominent follower of Manculousso’s and Jason is now involved in the Hater underground.  A few characters from the previous films pop up, largely so they can be executed by Manculousso.  You know how it goes.

Anyway, if Apocalypse was basically a found footage film and Revelation was an action film, Tribulation is a horror film, complete with demonic possession, exploding heads, and virtual reality snakes.  It’s also a bit slow — it takes forever for Tom to actually enter that coma — but it has a few effective scenes.  Howie Mandel, for instance, really throws himself into being possessed.  As for Gary Busey, Margot Kidder said in that previously cited interview that he was a “pain in the ass” to work with but he actually gives a …. well, I don’t know if it’s really a good performance but it’s definitely interesting.  He’s credible during the first half of the film and then, during the second half of the film, he seems to be genuinely confused.  There’s a few weird moments where he smiles when he definitely shouldn’t be smiling but otherwise, Busey’s okay in this film.

There would be one more film in the Apocalypse saga, Judgment.  I’ll be posting a review of that film in 15 minutes.  Hope to see you there!

Film Review: Revelation (dir by André van Heerden)

The world which started to end in the 1998 film Apocalypse continues to end in its first sequel, 1999’s Revelation!

Revelation beings three months after the end of Apocalypse.  The people of the world worship the president of the European Union, Franco Macalousso (Nick Mancuso, replacing Sam Bornstein from the first film).   The world is ruled over by O.N.E., which stands for One Nation Earth.  Those who oppose Macalousso’s claim to the messiah are known as “The Haters.”  At the start of the film, a school bus has been bombed and all of the children aboard have been killed.  O.N.E. claims that the Haters bombed the bus but counterterrorist agent Thorold Stone (Jeff Fahey) comes across evidence that it was actually an inside job.  When Macalousso’s second-in-command, Len Parker (David Roddis), attempts to murder Thorold, he’s forced to go on the run.

The Day of Wonders is approaching.  On this day, everyone on Earth is to put on a VR headset.  Macalousso hasn’t made clear what the headset will do but everyone’s planning on doing it because Macalousso has told them to do it and everyone on the planet does what Macalousso says.  Thorold tracks down Willy Spino (Tony Nappa), a wheelchair-bound programmer (in the 90s sense of the term, of course) who is somehow involved with setting up The Day of Wonders.  Willy says that O.N.E. is not the benevolent organization that everyone thinks it is.  You would have thought that Thorald would have figured that out after Parker attempted to kill him but Thorald remains convinced that Maclousso is the messiah and that his wife and daughter previously vanished not because they were Christians but because they were abducted by aliens.

Anyway, long story short, it turns out that Willy’s stepsister is Helen Hannah (Leigh Lewis), the news anchor from the first film.  Helen is now a leader in the Hater underground.  While she tries to convince Thorold that Macalousso is actually the Devil, Willy spends his time flirting with a cynical blind woman named Cindy (Carol Alt).  Both Willy and Cindy find themselves tempted to put on the VR headset, just to see what the Day of Wonders will hold for them….

Revelation is a marked improvement on Apocalypse though, considering how shoddy the production of that first film was, that’s really not saying much.  As opposed to the first film’s stiff performances and reliance on stock footage, Revelation features actual actors, actual sets, and an actual script.  There’s even a few action sequences and some attempts at intentional humor.  That said, if you’re a nonbeliever, Revelation isn’t going to convert you and, about halfway through the film, all of the action stops so that Thorold and Hannah can have a very long discussion about faith and whether or not God should prove his existence by turning over a glass of water.

Like the first film, Revelation actually works better as a political allegory than a religious tract.  Today, it’s kind of easy to laugh at the bulky computers that fill O.N.E.’s headquarters and the scenes where Willy carefully explains what virtual reality and computer viruses are serve as a reminder that, apparently, there was a time when all of this stuff was still viewed as being somehow exotic.  I mean, it’s easy to be snarky about this movie.  But let’s be honest — it’s probably easier today than it was when this film was first released to imagine a world where everyone blindly does whatever the government tells them to do.  And the idea of a group running a false flag operation — like blowing up a school bus and blaming it on unseen enemies — no longer seems quite as outlandish as it perhaps did it 1999.

Revelation was apparently enough of a success that it was followed by yet another sequel.  This one was called Tribulation and I’ll be posting a review of it in about 15 minutes.  Hope to see you then!


The King of Love (1987, directed by Anthony Wilkinson)

From the depths of the 80s comes this soapy film about a publisher played by Nick Mancuso whose father issues fuel not only his rise but also his fall.  When the movie starts, Mancuso is dying because he’s been shot by an unknown assassin but he still needs someone to give him some answers before he can give up the mortal coil.  Much like Dutch Schultz deliriously babbling about his dog Biscuit after getting fatally wounded, Mancuso spends his last minutes flashing back to how he became America’s most controversial magazine publisher.

In a ruthless and methodical fashion, Mancuso rose up the ranks from being just a lowly photographer to being the publisher of Love, a magazine that may remind you of Playboy and Penthouse but which is definitely not either one because it’s called Love.  Because sex and nudity sells, Love grows to be a billion dollar empire but, along the way, Mancuso uses and alienates everyone who gets close to him.  With his outspoken views on politics and his advocacy for free love and personal freedom, he also become the number one enemy of anti-pornography crusaders everywhere.  Only his partners, Nat (Michael Lerner) and Annie (Sela Ward), are willing to stay with him, mostly because they’re both in love with him.

Mancuso is obsessed with running a rival publisher out of business.  Jack Kraft (Rip Torn) is just a ruthless as Mancuso and he also might be his father.  In fact, everything that Mancuso does is because he wants to get revenge on Jack for not being there for him as he was growing up, even though he doesn’t have any definite proof that Jack is actually his father and Jack refuses to say whether he is or isn’t.  As Mancuso lies on his death bed, Jack stops in for one last visit.  Mancuso finally asks Jack flat-out if he’s his father.  “I don’t know,” Jack answers, as the film draws to a close.  I know that’s a big spoiler but it probably does not matter because this film has never been released on video and it probably never will be.  My mom has a copy on VHS tape, which she recorded when it originally aired in 1987.  It even has the original commercials.  It’s possible my mom may have the only copy of this film in existence, I don’t know.

The King of Love‘s attempt to be daring and racy is sabotaged by its origin as a made-for-TV movie from the 80s.  There may be a lot of talk about sex but you’re not going to see or hear anything that could have gotten ABC fined by the FCC.  What’s most interesting about The King of Love is the way that the film combines the personas of the three most famous adult magazine publishes.  Mancuso dresses like Bob Guccione, spouts Hugh Hefner’s philosophy, and ultimately suffers Larry Flynt’s fate.  Otherwise, the movie’s not very interesting at all but it is also ways enjoyable to watch Rip Torn play an arrogant bad guy and Michael Lerner manages to overcome a bad script and give an effective performance as Mancuso’s conflicted second-in-command.

A Movie A Day #248: Flinch (1994, directed by George Erschbamer)

Harry (Judd Nelson) is a law student who has failed the bar exam three times.  Daphne (Gina Gershon) is an aspiring actress who has an unfaithful boyfriend.  With neither of them making much headway in their chosen careers, they end up working as living mannequins in a department store display window.  If they flinch even the least little bit, they will lose their jobs.  At first, it does not seem that there is much of a romantic future for Harry and Daphne.  But when Daphne breaks up with her boyfriend, Harry invites her to join him in breaking into the store after hours and partying.  But while Harry and Daphne are celebrating, they witness a crazed artist (Nick Mancuso) strangling one of his models.

If the name of the director, George Erschbamer, seems familiar, you may be familiar with the Snake Eater films that he made with Lorenzo Lamas.  Fortunately, Flinch is far superior to Snake Eater III.  Starting out like a romantic comedy before turning into a thriller, Flinch is actually one of the better direct-to-video Judd Nelson films to come out in the 90s.  Of course, considering that the competition comes from Entangled and Conflict of Interest, Flinch doesn’t have that high of a bar to clear.  Though the thriller aspect is predictable, The first half of the movie, which is almost entirely Gershon and Nelson trying to talk to each other without anyone noticing their lips moving, is actually enjoyable.  Gina Gershon is as sexy as ever and she brings out the best in Judd Nelson, who is almost likable in this movie.

Still, there is one thing that could have improved Flinch.  Like almost any other Judd Nelson film, it really could have used a Burt Reynolds cameo.

Right, Burt?

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Guilty Pleasure No. 33: In the Mix (dir by Ron Underwood)

Back in January, I had to get a new cable box.  Sadly, when the boxes were switched, I lost everything that I had saved on the DVR.  Over a hundred movies and TV shows were wiped away!  However, I did not let this get me down.  Instead, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I now had a lot more free space by literally recording anything that looked the least bit interesting.

Well, the day of reckoning has finally arrived.  It is now March 21st and the DVR is nearly full.  So, for the next few weeks, I am going to clean out my DVR and review what I watch!  Now, I can’t say how long this is going to take.  In the past, I’ve always given myself unrealistic deadlines.  So, this time, I’m not giving myself a time limit.  Instead, I’m just going to start watching what I’ve got recorded and hope that I’m done by 2018.  We’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, I started things off by watching the 2005 mafia romance film, In the Mix.

I recorded In The Mix off of Starz on March 16th.  I did this despite the fact that I’ve actually seen In The Mix quite a few times.  In The Mix, which is technically a beyond terrible movie, is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine.  It’s a bit like From Justin To Kelly or On The Line.  Even though all my instincts as a movie snob tell me not to do it, I can’t help but watch it.

In the Mix stars Usher as Darrell, the hottest DJ in New York.  Every woman wants him and every man wants to be him.  However, all Usher wants to do is hang out with the family of the local mob boss.  It turns out that Don Frank (Chazz Palminteri) was friends with Darrell’s father and Darrell is now friends with Frank’s son, Frankie Jr. (Anthony Fazio).  Frank hires Darrell to DJ his daughter’s birthday party.

(Frankie, Jr. is a white kid who wants to be black.  Personally, I think there’s probably an interesting story in the idea of the son of an old-fashioned Italian mafia don who idolizes — or appropriates, depending on how you look at it — black culture but Frankie, Jr.’s characterization pretty much starts and ends with him saying, “Yo.”)

At the party, Darrell quickly falls in love with Frank’s daughter, Dolly (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and Dolly likes him too.  Especially after he takes a bullet that was intended for her father.  While Darrell is recuperating at the mansion, Frank tells Dolly that she can’t go outside unless she has a bodyguard.  Dolly says that’s fine as long as the bodyguard is Darrell.

And you know what that means!  It’s time for a makeover montage as Darrell gets a whole new wardrobe!  Yay!

Anyway, the plot is about as predictable as the casting of Kevin Hart as Usher’s comedic sidekick and Robert Davi as a sinister gangster.  Dolly and Darrell fall in love but you already knew that was going to happen.  You also probably already guessed that Dolly already has a boring boyfriend named Chad (Geoff Stults) and that Darrell has a crazy ex-girlfriend named Cherise (K.D. Aubert).  And, of course, Frank is not initially happy with the idea of Dolly leaving her rich lawyer boyfriend so that she can be with Darrell.  However, Darrell eventually gets a chance to prove himself by rescuing Dolly from some rival gangsters and he’s welcomed into the crime family.  Of course, he gets shot a second time.  “If the ghetto’s so dangerous,” he says as he lies on the ground, “how come I keep getting shot by white people?”  Everyone has a good laugh as they wait for the ambulance.  That’s the type of movie that In The Mix is.

As I watched In The Mix, I realized that it was actually a lot worse than I remembered and yet, I still enjoyed it.  Why?  To be honest, it all comes down to Usher and Emmauelle Chriqui, both of whom look really, really good and who have enough chemistry that they can overcome an amazingly clunky script.  You reallydo believe that the two of them actually are into each other and you hope that things will work out for them because they’re such a ludicrously attractive couple.  In The Mix is an incredibly shallow and silly movie but the stars both look good when they kiss and, ultimately, that’s what a movie like this is all about.

That said, in the future, I probably won’t bother to set the DVR for it again.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D

Horror on the Lens: Death Ship (dir by Alvin Rakoff)

Today’s Horror on the Lens comes to use from 1980.  In Death Ship, a cruise ship collides with a mysterious black freighter.  When the survivors board the freighter, they discover that it appears to be deserted.  But is it really?  As the survivors explore, they start to suspect that they might not be alone.  Even worse, the already unstable captain (George Kennedy) starts to hear a mysterious German voice, encouraging him to kill everyone else and stay on the freighter forever.

It’s kinda like The Shining, except it takes place on a boat and it’s not as good.

But then again, very few horror films are as good as The Shining!  Death Ship is an enjoyably pulpy exercise in ghostly horror and it can actually be quite scary, especially if you have an obsessive fear of drowning, like I do!

Plus, George Kennedy really puts his heart and soul into being possessed.

Watch Death Ship below!


What Lisa Watched Last Night: The Ex (dir. by Mark L. Lester)

Last night, I watched The Ex on the Lifetime Movie Network.

Why Was I Watching It?

As I was feeling ill, I had already made myself a little pillow fort in the living room and I was curled up with my wonderfully soft Hello Kitty pillow.  It just seemed, at that moment, that watching the Lifetime Movie Network was really the only appropriate thing to do.  (Plus, quite frankly, my options are limited now that we’re between seasons of Survivor, The Amazing Race, Big Brother, and Hell’s Kitchen.)

What’s It About?

Psychotic Yancy Butler, having already committed two murders, decides to move to New York and stalk her ex-husband (played by Nick Mancuso).  Since leaving Butler, Mancuso has married Suzy Amis and now has a five year-old son who is dealing with rage issues of his own.  After befriending Amis, Butler forces her way into Mancuso’s life and kills a lot of people.

 What Worked:

Yancy Butler gives a wonderfully over-the-top, campy performance that is full of arched eyebrows and sardonic smirks.  She delivers every line as if she’s auditioning for a community theater production of Double Indemnity.  She appears to be having so much fun with her role that you actually end up hoping that she’ll manage to kill both Mancuso and Amis (both of whom are far less entertaining). 

Director Mark L. Lester is an exploitation vet (he’s best known for directing The Class of 1984) and, as a result, this film has a bit more flair than what you typically find on the Lifetime Movie Network.

What Didn’t Work

This is a Canadian film that apparently went straight-to-video in the States.  As a result, New York City looks a lot like Toronto.

“Oh My God!  Just Like Me!” Moment

I have almost the exact same outfit hanging in my closet that Yancy Butler wears in the 1st few scenes of this movie.

Lessons Learned:

Your man’s ex really is as much of a psycho bitch as you think she is.

Review: Ticket to Heaven (dir. by Ralph L. Thomas)


At the start of 1980’s Ticket To Heaven, we’re introduced to David (Nick Mancuso), a normal young man from an upper middle class background.  David is likable enough but, when we first meet him, is still feeling depressed after breaking up with his longtime girlfriend.  He handles his loneliness by meeting up with Karl, a friend from college.  Karl, who is accompanied by an almost unbelievably positive young woman (played by a very young Kim Cattrall), invites David to come spend the weekend at a religious “retreat.”  For reasons that have more to do with Cattrall than with any interest in religion, David agrees.

The retreat turn out to be a camp where everyone is extremely friendly and extremely positive.  From the minute David arrives, everyone is smiling at him and telling him how thrilled they are to meet him.  It’s such a positive experience that David doesn’t even complain when he’s given little to eat, allowed very little sleep, and forced to endure hours of talk about the great spiritual leader who set up the camp.  When David does eventually decide that he’d like to leave, all of his friendly campmates are so wounded by his rejection that he changes his mind.  Who wouldn’t?  After all, they’re so nice and idealistic and positive.

Needless to say, David never leaves the camp.  When his best friend (played by Saul Rubinek)  happens to run into David on the street, he’s shocked to discover that David has become a blank-eyed zombie whose life now revolves around selling flowers in the street and making money for his new friends.  However, David’s old friends aren’t quite ready to give him up and the rest of the film details the battle between the two groups for David’s mind and soul.

Ticket to Heaven is a genuinely unsettling film.  As directed by Ralph Thomas, the entire film seem to ooze a very real creepiness that stays with you even after the end credits have rolled.  The film is at its best when it shows, in painfully believable detail, just how easy it is for someone to become brainwashed and to set aside everything that makes them unique in the name of a “greater good.”

The film’s cast is made up of a talented group of mostly Canadian character actors and, down to the smallest role, they’re all disturbingly believable.  Kim Cattrall is probably the most recognizable face in the cast, though Michael Wincott (he of the sexy, gravelly voice) also shows up in a tiny role.  Nick Mancuso and Saul Rubinek are believable as best friends and Mancuso is such a likeable presence that it makes his transformation into soulless zombie all the more disturbing.  Meg Foster — who looks like a thin, somewhat stable version of Kirstie Alley — gives an excellent and chilling performance as one of the cult’s leaders.

However, for me, the film’s best performance was given by an actor named R.H. Thomson.  Playing a cult deprogrammer named Linc Strunc (what a great name), Thomson is only in a handful of scenes but he dominates every one of them.  Speaking through clenched teeth and giving off an attitude of weary cynicism, Thomson takes a role that could have been a stereotype and makes it instead very compelling.  If I choose to believe Wikipedia, Thomson is still active as an actor and, after seeing his work in Ticket to Heaven, I may have to track down his other films.

Despite having won a Genie (the Canadian version of the Oscar), Ticket to Heaven is something of an obscure film.  I have to admit that I bought the DVD on something of a whim and that was mostly because I was intrigued by the words “In 1979, David joined a cult…” on the DVD’s cover.  I’ve long been fascinated by cults and just how easily some people can surrender everything the makes them a unique and individual human being.

During my first semester away at college, there used to be a small handful of students who, every night, would gather together outside the student union.  Since I’ve always been a night person, I’d often find myself walking by their little group and I always felt a little bit anxious whenever I saw them.  They all looked perfectly normal but there was still something off about them.  As my roommate Kim put it, they all looked like they had wandered out of a toothpaste commercial.  There was also the fact that they obviously considered themselves to be a part of an exclusive club that the rest of us had not been invited to join.

One night, Kim and I went down to the student union to check our mail.  As we were heading back to our dorm, we passed this little group and I noticed that one of them appeared to be holding a microphone.  I guess he saw me looking because he held the microphone up to his lips and said, his voice booming, “HEY YOU, DO YOU KNOW THE LORD!?”  At the time, Kim and I both considered ourselves to be decadent Pagans so we answered by sharing a long kiss in front of them and then laughing at the dead glares that greeted our response before we then ran, hand-in-hand, back to the dorms.   In retrospect, I guess that was my invitation to join the club and I’m glad I was too busy trying to be worldly to accept it. 

 A few nights later, I found myself suffering from the insomnia that’s plagued me for as long as I can remember.  Around 3:00 a.m., I was sitting down in the dorm’s lobby, trying to write angsty poetry.  On the other side of the lobby was this guy that we’ll call “Rich.”  You’ve probably known someone like Rich.  He’s one of those guys who was always smiling a little bit too much, who was always almost desperately friendly.  Rich was someone who, for whatever reason, was obviously lost and looking at him, you got the sense that he’d never been truly happy a day in his life.  I always felt sorry for Rich but I was also a little scared of him.

That night, I was happy that he wasn’t trying to talk to me.  Instead, he was just quietly sitting in a corner with a blank stare.  Suddenly, he was approached by three men who greeted him by name and, visibly shaking, Rich stood up to greet them.  It took me a few minutes but then I recognized that two of the guys were from that same group that always gathered outside the union.  Standing in between them was a balding, bearded man who I’d never seen before or since.

The four of them sat down and they were soon leaning forward in huddled conversation.  I found myself straining to hear what they were saying but I could only pick up a few words.  I could see that Rich was still shaking and that he had started to cry.

Suddenly, the bearded man spoke in a voice that snapped through the entire lobby.  “You little shit,” he said, “You pathetic motherfucker!”

As the two others sat there impassively, the bearded man leaned forward until his face was inches in front of Rich’s.  From where I was sitting, it looked almost as if Rich’s face was being eclipsed by the back of the man’s head.  The man continued to speak but now his voice was low and I couldn’t make out the exact words.  But I could tell from his body language and his gestures that he was giving Rich more of the same.

After about an hour of this, Rich started nodding and, tears flowing down his face, he started to say, “Praise God!  Praise God!  Thank you!  Praise God!”

The four of them stood up and, as I watched in disbelief, they stood there hugging each other as Rich continued with his “Praise God!”  The three guys then headed out and Rich, smiling even though his face was still slick with tears, skipped out of the lobby.

Rich graduated at the end of that semester.  A few years later, when I was about to graduate, I heard someone say that Rich had recently committed suicide.  I don’t know if that’s true and it’s almost too obvious an ending to his story. 

I thought a good deal about Rich and that night after I finished watching Ticket to Heaven.

Admittedly, Ticket to Heaven is not a “perfect film.”  Strong as Mancuso’s performance is, David is still something of a sketchy character.  The film does a good job showing the techniques that the cult uses to brainwash David but it’s never quite clear why David was so susceptible to those techniques to begin with.  There are hints, of course.  David is shown to be upset over breaking up with his girlfriend and there are hints that his safely middle class existence has left with him with little sense of having an individual existence of his own.  That doesn’t change the fact that David ultimately comes across as less of a real person and more as a way for the film to preach its anti-cult message.

Indeed, the film’s biggest flaw is that it is essentially a message film.  As well-acted and intelligently scripted as it often is, the movie exists to deliver a message.  Fortunately, it’s a good message but that doesn’t stop the film from sometimes rather heavy-handed.  This is most obvious in the movie’s final scene in which things are tied up just a little bit too neatly. 

Still, flaws aside and despite having been made 30 years ago, Ticket to Heaven remains a relevent film.  We live in a world that, for the most part, is made up of brainwashed people and, watching the movie, I had to wonder how much difference there really was between the overbearingly positive cultist played by Kim Cattrall and the grim-faced jihadists that currently haunt our nightmares.  When you consider just how much evil is justified, on a daily basis, in the name of the greater good, its becomes obvious that the movie’s warning against becoming a living zombie is just as important today as when the film was made.

The film’s cult is based on an actual, real-life group that was apparently very active in the late 70s and who are still around today, the Unification Church.  I vaguely remember them being in the news back in 2004 when the head of the church was declared to be “the prince of peace” at a ceremony that was attended by a few congressmen.  Type “Unification Church” into google and you’ll end up with links to a lot of stories that would seem to suggest that the real cult is even more creepy than the fictionalized version in Ticket to Heaven.