Extravagant horror-fantasies that link signs of a coming world apocalypse with the most intimate details of one woman's procreative cycle carry a special thrill.
In such tales, everything comes down a grim moment of truth: whether or not to have sex with the Devil, and consequently bear the Anti-Christ who will open the Gate of Hell.
In End of Days, the poor innocent who must face the painful recognition of this possible destiny is Christine (Robin Tunney). All her young life, Christine has fought off hallucinations of beastly worms on toast and erotic dreams of The Man (Gabriel Bryne) – a name which is coy Hollywood-code for Satan.
A troubled cop, Jericho (Arnold Schwarzenegger), finds himself roped into this story after conversing with a mysterious old man who turns out to be lacking a tongue. It will be up to Jericho to protect Christine both from the Devil's hordes and the fretful clergy who would sooner see her dead.
But Jericho, alas, is faithless – and, as kindly Fr Kovak (Rod Steiger) tells him, he must be "pure of heart" for this demanding job. Jericho's battle with himself and his lost beliefs turns this film into a surprisingly explicit drama of religious faith – with a few neat twists in store.
Of course, the Devil has the best lines. Byrne has a ball with this part, romancing random women and hurling persuasive bon mots like: "When things go well, it's God's will, and when they go badly, He moves in mysterious ways".
Director Peter Hyams (who is also the cinematographer – a rare double act in mainstream film) is a fine and underrated stylist. His combination of sombre lighting, widescreen framing and rapid editing maintains an unnerving edge from start to finish. The big action set-pieces, stuffed with intricate special effects, are stunning.
There is nothing especially new in End of Days, and the attempt to introduce comic relief via Jericho's sidekick, Chicago (Kevin Pollak), scarcely works. But as spectacular, millennial entertainment which pays its respects to the Almighty, it is a lot of fun.
© Adrian Martin December 1999