RECAP: End of Days

End of Days (1999): Peter Hyams

A movie about people partying in 1999, and not a Prince lyric to be heard. Instead, we were treated to the grunts and wisecracks of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

What’s left to do for Arnold? The guy’s fought aliens, fought terrorists, fought Danny Devito, fought labor pains. Well, could it be…SATAN? Why no; he’s the toppest of top dogs.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Satan takes human form to make a baby, is opposed by a New York City ex-cop, doesn’t enjoy New Year’s Eve. 

Hero (5/10)

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays down-on-his-life ex-cop Jericho Cane. The role is a unique one for Arnie. We first meet Cane in his dingy Manhattan apartment as he clutches a gun and nearly shoots himself, a la Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. That he’s saved by a visit from his colleague Bobby (Kevin Pollack) remains a black mark on his life’s direction.

Cane works for Striker, a bodyguard service. Bobby brings word that they will be guarding a Wall Street scumbag. “I like scumbags,” Cane says. “They pay better.”

To prepare for his day (which, if you recall the gun in his mouth, didn’t start well), Cane makes a smoothie. Bobby brought him a cup o’ Joe, which Cane pours into a blender. He also pours in Pepto Bismol, the last dregs of last night’s beer, leftover takeout rice, and slice of pizza from the floor. Breakfast. Of. Champions.

Despite his suicidal thoughts, Cane works hard at his job. When a man on a fire escape tries to kill the Wall Street banker, Cane takes two bullets in his Kevlar vest. He’s knocked out, but when Bobby yells at him to get up, Cane wakes and immediately asks where the shooter is.

Cane pursues the shooter across a roof and into a subway. Instead of letting the perp shoot himself, Cane takes out his knees. Cane searches the man, a priest, and finds enough evidence to stay a step ahead of the police, stealing books and photos from crime scenes.

Cane gargles vodka and punches until he drops. Christine York (Robin Tunney), Satan’s target, offers him pills to relax. “No thanks, I drink,” he says.

Cane has a few tricks up his sleeve. By “tricks” I mean guns, because he hides two of them there when his detective friend (CCH Pounder), under Satan’s orders, captures him. And it’s these guns that he trusts. “Between your faith and my Glock, I’ll take my Glock,” he tells a priest.

Cane escorts young York through New York, bringing her to a group of priests in a church basement helping a woman with stigmata. He’s reluctant to let her go because he no longer believes in God.

Even in the face of Satan, the evilest dude that ever walked the Earth, Cane is undaunted. “You’re a fucking choir boy compared to me,” Cane yells at the Prince of Darkness. Has this guy got gumption or what? Later, he tells Satan, with a wide grin, as if to say that he walked right into it, “I want you to go to Hell.” Satan lives in Hell, so he probably likes the idea.

Arnold, more than 20 years into his acting career, seems a little tired in End of Days. Sure, his character is tired of it all, too, and maybe that’s why he chose the role. Hey, he’s Arnie.

Villain (6/10)

Gabriel Byrne hosted Saturday Night Live back in 1995. During his monologue he claimed that people raised eyebrows when they heard he would host a comedy show. I’m pretty sure that’s where I heard that story, but I’m certain it was a Byrne story.

Playing an über-criminal in The Usual Suspects, sure. Playing Satan, sure. Telling jokes? No way can he do that. After watching his performance in End of Days, it’s easy to see why folks doubted his comedic chops.

Byrne plays Satan, Prince of Darkness, Mephistopheles, and not in a Jon Lovitz kind of way, but in a I-will-gladly-disembowel-you kind of way.

Byrne first appears onscreen entering a restaurant to meet a couple for an evening of fine dining and sexual tension. The translucent Satan, flying straight from Hell, follows him into the restaurant. Byrne walks into the restroom to wash up, and next thing he knows–BOOM–there’s a bonafide fallen angel using him as a skin suit.

Satan exits the loo and kisses the woman at his table while also clutching her breast. The man, her husband/boyfriend/lover takes offense to this. Satan flashes a hellish look to him (and directly to the camera), that silences the man. Talk about announcing one’s presence with authority.

Satan leaves the restaurant and the woman satisfied. Then the restaurant explodes. At least someone in there died happy.

Satan is back on Earth after a thousand-year respite to impregnate a chosen child with the Antichrist. It’s a real love story drenched with fate. And fire. A lot of fire.

Byrne menaces throughout the film with his perfectly round eyes and long trench coats (New York is cold in winter). He walks around, never in a hurry, despite the one-hour window he has to knock up Christine York to make Antichrist.

Satan relishes his time on Earth. He stops by the Rockefeller Plaza skate rink, only to shake his head at it. He visits the hospital bed of an old friend, Catholic priest Thomas Aquinas. “Look at the face that has haunted your dreams for a thousand years,” Satan says. Guy just has a different definition of fun.

Despite rules against it, Satan smokes in the room, even unzipping Aquinas’s protective plastic bubble to exhale tar and nicotine into the chamber. So rude. Next, Satan crucifies the priest to the ceiling.

Satan knows everyone’s secrets. At the hospital he convinces a guard to open a door for him by saying to the cop, “The young boys that you seduce have left their scent upon you.” That’ll shake up anyone.

Satan first demands that York, his baby-mama, chosen at her birth, be brought to him. He’s pretty impatient about the whole thing, we can see in a cutaway between his lair and York’s house, because he has about a thousand candles burning away in the background.

When York’s stepmother refuses to leave the house, Satan gets mad and punches off Udo Kier‘s head. He doesn’t have that kind of time.

So he goes to her house. York’s house is guarded by one NYPD car and the unstoppable force that is Kevin Pollack in a New York Jets hat. Satan has an idea to be rid of him. He walks to the York’s front stoop and pisses on its side. Not piss, mind you, but blood, or perhaps oil. Anyway, something flammable, because he lights it up. The squad car explodes and poor Bobby Chicago catches fire.

When not taking lives, Satan returns them. I didn’t know Satan had this kind of power. He resurrects Detective Margie Francis and stops Bobby from burning to death.

He nearly saves the lives of Cane’s wife and daughter. In an extended, Christ-in-the-desert temptation session, Satan bargains with Cane. He only needs to know York’s location, and he will return the women to Cane.

He transforms Cane’s derelict apartment into the bright, cheery space it once was at Christmas. Cane likes the image, maybe too much, so Satan shows him the night of their murder. In a blood-splattered bedroom, Satan tells Cane that God “fucked you, and then he made you feel guilty.”

Satan nearly has Cane on his side, especially after he throws him out of his window. Cane reaches for the saving hand, but tricks Satan, grabbing his wrist and throwing him onto a car below.

Nothing frightens Satan. And why should it? If he fails to produce Antichrist he will just have to wait a few more centuries. He won’t die or be injured in any way. What is time to a timeless being?

Action/Effects (5/10)

If you saw End of Days and expected militant priests to speak in tongues to protect folks in Satan’s eye, you forgot you were watching and Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

Plenty of things burn and explode. A gas line bursts in Manhattan, sending fireballs through the sewer lines and into the street. Thus Satan arrives on the earthly plane. A few minutes later he ignites a restaurant. And during the holidays, too. Not very Christian of you, Satan.

A police car explodes. Kevin Pollack catches fire. Even Satan’s urine is inflammatory.

It’s been said that an effective way to fight fire is with fire. For Jericho Cane, it’s firepower. Cane knows how to take bad guys down with bullets.

A few hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve, Cane wakes from unconsciousness and pursues Satan, who has York somewhere in the city. To rescue her, Cane needs guns.

He returns to Striker headquarters and loads up. Pistols, machine guns, grenades–he takes them all. York uses pills to cope with her life. For Cane, “reds and yellows” don’t refer to pills, but to the tips of grenades.

Cane tracks Satan to a theater under renovations and follows his resurrected colleague to the basement, where a thousand Satanists holding a thousand candles wait for the appointed hour when Satan can end his thousand-year wait to create Antichrist.

Cane infiltrates the crowd until Marge finds him and points a gun at him. Cane kills Marge, for a second time, and the crowd scatters (aren’t these people death fetishists? Hypocrites.)

Cane machine guns Satan, which does nothing, of course, but the two guards clutching York die quickly when Cane riddles them with bullets. York runs to Cane, who threatens to kill her and stop the prophecy.

Satan, to diffuse things, calls out his new friend Bobby. Glumly, Bobby aims a gun at Cane. Cane tells Bobby that he’s better than Satan, which can’t be true; Bobby’s a Jets fan.

After Bobby dies a fiery death, because he won’t kill his friend, Cane grenades a gas line to divert Satan long enough for an escape. Cane and York escape a fireball and run onto the trashy urban set of a Prodigy music video.

Plenty of Satanists chase them, so Cane grenades a hole in the wall and they run into another subway tunnel. These tunnels are everywhere. A two-car train, empty save for its conductor, nearly crushes them. It stops, and the heroes board.

Cane quickly instructs York in gun handling, and she passes her first test when she shoots a Satanist trying to board the train from the rear. The conductor starts the train again.

Soon they cross paths with Satan, whose head is missing a few inches off the top. The driver tries to slow; Cane won’t let him. They crash into Satan, but quickly he starts punching holes in the floor and ceiling. Cane and York shoot him.

With all their firepower, Cane and York struggle to stop Satan. It makes you wonder what happened in 999 when Satan last tried to make an apocalypse baby and failed.

Satan punches a final hole–through the train conductor. Cane and York hop to the rear car as Cane struggles to decouple them. He succeeds and, as the cars part, he leaps from the speeding car to the receding car, catching the edge. Cane catches a lot of edges in End of Days.

Satan pops out to say hello and try the same leap. Cane blasts another grenade into him, sending Satan sliding through the hand poles before exploding and destroying the car. It is the end of Gabriel Byrne as Satan. He had a great run.

Sidekicks (2/8)

Calling Robin Tunney as Christine York a sidekick diminishes her role. She’s mostly a victim, a woman 20 years old who’s spent most of her nights dreaming about Gabriel Byrne giving her his seed.

That would mess me up, too, but York has handled it well. She lives in a fine uptown apartment with her stepmother/birthing nurse/Satanic acolyte. York has her psychiatrist on speed dial, but, aside from that, she’s in a good emotional state.

Consider that she doesn’t take drugs (except Xanax), doesn’t hang out with the wrong crowd, and, as far as we know, has not considered suicide. She exercises when she’s upset. Most of us without Satanic visions struggle to cope with life that well.

York, tortured by those visions, doesn’t “want to be better or worse. I just want a normal life.” Perhaps she’ll get one in the new millennium, but the next few days are going to be Hell.

York shows tremendous fortitude when the Catholic-in-name Knights of the Holy See attempt to murder her. Three goons break into her home. She finds her butler murdered in her bathtub. York has the presence of mind to lock all her bedroom doors. She throws a nightstand out of the window to distract the assassins and alert passersby below. She beats on guy with a high heel, kicks another’s groin, and attacks one with a fire poker. Where did she learn such gumption?

Tunney is a spunky young woman who sports a perfect mom haircut for a 20-year-old. She’s scared, but capable of dealing with her role as Satan’s chosen.

I mentioned earlier that Kevin Pollack appears in End of Days. He wears a Jets hat. He’s terrible.

Cane nearly commits suicide in his first appearance onscreen. The saving door knock of his coworker and friend Bobby prevents Cane from pulling the trigger.

If Kevin Pollack was my only friend, I probably would attempt suicide a few times myself. (In the credits, Pollack is listed as playing “Chicago,” although I don’t recall ever hearing anyone say that name. The character was Bobby Chicago.)

Cane hates his job and his life, but Bobby (I won’t call him “Chicago,” I won’t.) finds it dull. Practically his whole time is spent sighing. He does have a thing for police detective Francis, and he hits on her at a murder scene.

After catching fire, Bobby chooses to sell out and live. He tricks Cane into revealing York’s location inside a church. Much later, inside Satan’s sex lair, Bobby aims a gun at Cane.

Satan has engineered this showdown for his amusement, but Bobby treats it like he caught Cane taking a beer from his fridge without asking. Like Bobby says, you’d be surprised about what you agree to when you’re on fire.

Bobby, given new life, can’t shoot Cane. Satan sets him back on fire and we are spared from that stupid Jets hat forever.

Shoutout to the incomparable Rod Steiger as Father Novak, a seen-it-all priest working stigmata in New York and sassing Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I liked York a lot, but Bobby annoyed me enough to wipe out the good things York was doing.

Henchmen (3/8)

Satan has his followers. Primary among them are Mabel and Dr. Abel, played, respectively, by Miriam Margolyes and Udo Kier. If a creepier-looking person than Kier has ever lived, keep me in the dark about it.

York was marked from birth to be the mother of the Antichrist. Mabel and Abel were there from minute one to discover Lucifer’s mark on her. In a ceremony in the depths of the hospital where York was born in 1979, Abel slices open a rattlesnake and baptizes the baby, still covered in afterbirth, in its blood.

In 1999, Mabel and Abel play small roles York’s life. Mabel is her stepmother and Abel is York’s psychiatrist. OK, those are big roles. Their devotion to Satan is admirable, shaping 20 years of their lives around one woman they probably don’t much care for and the one hour in which her destiny will be fulfilled.

Abel seems to be the guy who plastered symbols across Manhattan to guide Satan to his beautiful house. Satan shows up and has a sex dream about Abel’s wife and daughter that becomes York’s sex nightmare. Was that scene real? Hard to say.

Abel fulfills his part of the deal, but when Satan calls for Mabel to bring York to him, she balks because Bobby Freaking Jets Fan Chicago waits outside. I know, pathetic. “You had one simple job,” Satan tells her, in the end, and she couldn’t even do that. He pushed a glass shard into her throat.

Turns out that most of New York is either partying or helping Satan to impregnate York and create the Antichrist. That seems in line with how many millions of Americans imagine New York.

Stunts (4/6)

Arnold movies don’t shy from stunt work, and one in particular is nearly worth the ticket price.

Before he learns of Satan’s role, Cane defends Satan from a hobo assassin in a scene discussed earlier. Not content with taking two bullets, Cane follows the assassin onto a rooftop in a helicopter that nearly lands on taxis to collect Cane and Bobby.

The assassin fires a machine gun at the helicopter before running across the large roof. The camera captures the entire roof and Cane’s helicopter as it chases the assassin.

Cane attaches to a rope and rappels from the chopper as the assassin runs for the roof edge. The camera, far back and in its own helicopter, tracks all this in terrific aerial shots.

The hooded assassin reaches the roof edge and leaps, but Cane grabs a hood before he falls. The hobo draws out a handgun and pops off three shots at Cane, who drops him onto the glass roof. The glass shatters, and the hobo hits a stack of newspapers, literally breaking the news.

Dangling from a chopper is hard work, especially when that chopper flies above Manhattan’s streets. Also, some guys are on fire, and that’s always worth a few points for danger.

Climax (2/6)

After Cane and York escape the burning subway discussed earlier, Satan escapes the banker’s skinless, ashen body.

Cane drags York to another church. They had little choice because the Satanists carrying flashlights drove them to it. Cane and York barricade the doors with tall candelabra.

Inside the church a few devout worshippers are avoiding the crowds outside. Cane dispatches them with panic fire. He tells York to hide. Recall that Satan cannot see into a holy house.

Suddenly the Satanists stop banging on the door. That’s more chilling than when they were. Cane, alone in the church, very slowly loads another grenade into the gun. He looks around and considers the Christian icons as he cocks the launcher.

Cane has an epiphany. He drops the gun. An enlightened look adorns Cane’s face. “Give me strength,” he asks of God.

Satan arrives. He shakes the building and flicks the wooden pews like rows of dominoes. He shatters the stained glass and cracks the domed roof above Cane. At least one person is covered in glass.

A hole cracks open in, where else when dealing with Satan, the floor. The clear version of Satan flies up and into Cane. Cane slides across a pew, into the marble wall, and up a column, all while Satan tries to crack his face open a la the evil dead trying to infect Ash.

The trick works, because Satan is inside Cane. He calls for York. There’s still three minutes until midnight. She comes to him, believing the ordeal over. Cane grips her hand, just hard enough to let her know she’s still got Satan to deal with.

Cane/Satan carries York to the altar. He rips at her dress. York begs Cane to fight the demon as she struggles beneath him.

“Run,” Cane says. The ball is dropping above Times Square, and she only needs to buy a few more seconds. We’ve already seen that Satan only walks, so if she could just run around the edge of the church for a minute…

York escapes Cane’s grasp. Cane doesn’t seem to know what time it is, because he’s eyeballing a literal sword that a fallen statue is clutching.

Remember that Cane is suicidal. He fulfills his wish by leaping onto the upturned sword. Midnight strikes. Satan flees Cane in a fireball of rage that covers the church floor. He turns back to Cane to glare at his limply impaled body before draining through the hell hole and out of our Earthly lives for the next 1,000 years.

Cane, in a final vision, sees the family he will soon join. He dies. York takes his hand. She thanks him. Roll credits.

Jokes (3/4)

You know Arnold can’t go a whole movie without some one-liners. His best quips come when he debates Father Novak about the whole Satan/Antichrist business.

Novak explains how it all works. Numbers can appear in dreams upside down. The so-called Mark of the Beast, 666, actually means 999, or–gasp–1999, like the current year!

If you weren’t slapping your head during this scene, you might have heard Cane wonder if Satan’s midnight deadline is Eastern Standard time. Good one, Arnold, who couldn’t keep a smirk off his face.

No, Novak says, it’s all about the stars. That they aline perfectly with Eastern Standard time is a coincidence. Cane, sick of it all, tells Novak, “Why don’t you stop all this church talk and tell us what the hell is going on.” That’s tellin’ ’em.

A couple of other good gags: Satan calls the Bible an “overblown press kit.” Cane, befuddled by religious rhetoric says, “I understand getting shot at, and I don’t like it.”

Setting (2/4)

Manhattan is full of tall buildings and dismal undergrounds. Few of the scenes in End of Days take place on ground level. Cane dangles from window of his high apartment or a helicopter, Satan tries to rape York underground, a fight scene occurs on a subway, York is “baptized” in a buried room in her birth hospital.

These locations fit with the idea of a Heaven vs. Hell battle. Above vs. Below. Secular humans, working on the ground level, barely figure into it.

The underground levels were absolutely disgusting, Lovecraft-ian in their decrepitude. Aquinas’s hovel might be the grossest living quarters I have ever seen in a movie. And he was a good guy, funded by the Vatican. He stored his tongue on a shelf and his cat in a refrigerator. And the film probably visits more subway tunnels than interiors of homes.

The churches of New York appear beautifully. That most of them are in California should come as no surprise, except that there are any churches in Los Angeles. Isn’t that, according to some, the most Godless place in America?

Commentary (1/2)

The birth of Christ occurred when an angel blessed Mary with the Jesus fetus. A star streaked across the sky to signal his birth. A similar star marked the birth of Christine York.

The Pope is adamant that York must be protected, not killed. His underlings want her blood, but the Pope adheres to Christian values. Innocent life must be protected, no matter what.

Arnold is unsubtly compared to Jesus in End of Days. He is tempted by Satan, much like Jesus was during his 40-day sojourn into the desert. Satan offers Cane much less than he offered Jesus, but something much more meaningful–his murdered family. Cane, like Jesus, refuses.

Later, after a beating from Satanists, Cane is chained to a cross high above a New York back street. I don’t have to tell you that Jesus was also attached to a cross, although I think the Satanists understood the similarities when they did that.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

I’ll leave out the discussion of how badly End of Days mangles the Apocalypse visions depicted in Revelation. I’m only talking about the people in the film.

End of Days does have two topless women, for some reason. One is during a sex scene. The other is Robin Tunney, who removes her shirt before slipping into a robe to take the bathroom.

Whatever your feelings of casual nudity, I’ll let this one pass.

Others

  • (3) Automatic Arnold bonus
  • (-1) “Vatican City, Rome” is not a valid location. Yes, The Vatican is in Rome, in that it is contained within Rome, but it is not of Rome like Manhattan is in and of New York.
  • I loved the romantic candles Satan set up in the rape lair, so York might feel a little more at ease. He’s a caring guy, that Satan.
  • (-1) These characters are preposterously named. Jericho Cane, Bobby Chicago, Mabel and Abel. Yeesh. Christine York seems to have been named solely for the similarity to “Christ in York.” Cane figured out that last puzzle in moments.
  • (-1) In a voiceover, some announcer comments on the 1999 New Year’s Eve party as a celebration of the end of “the first 2,000 years.” What the Hell is he talking about? There were many more years than 2,000. That this line made it into End of Days is a travesty.
  • Pizza Hut apparently paid for product placement in End of Days. “Pizza Hut, for when your world’s gone to shit.”

Summary (33/68): 49%

End of Days was a great movie to release in 1999, at the height of Y2K hysteria. One voiceover announcement states December 28 is “three more nights until every computer fails.”

That didn’t happen, of course, and neither did Satan unleash his demon spawn on the world. Or did he? Antichrist would only be 15 years old, as I write this, so we would not yet know our society is doomed.