A Thief in the Night (1972) — It’ll scare you saved

“I’ll say one thing, anybody who’s left here is going to need it.”

Justin’s rating: The real terror is the 1970s hairstyles

Justin’s review: There’s a particular bad movie subgenre that I haven’t dipped into very much here at Mutant Reviewers, and that’s the Bad Christian Movie. There are tons and tons of these, mostly due to well-intentioned people wanting to bring a particular message to audiences but lacking any actual skill both behind and in front of the camera. As a Christian and pastor myself, you can understand that I feel a little hesitant bagging on these — but neither do I feel the urge to defend them. Books, art, movies, TV, video games… any form of entertainment poorly made doesn’t stop being trash just because it has a good message. It doesn’t get a free pass, is what I’m saying.

If we have to identify the start of the Bad Christian Movie subgenre, a very likely culprit is the 1972 smash hit A Thief in the Night (written by Russell Doughten Jr., who also penned the original The Blob). It kicked off a four-movie series that I had totally forgotten about until someone reminded me, at which point I started to shake and twitch involuntarily due to traumatic flashbacks. You see, I went to a fundamentalist Baptist high school, and showing these movies to classes was pretty standard fare.

And boy, to a person, my classmates and I hated these movies. They were super-cheesy and very dated (we were viewing them around 1989, I’d say), with one of the worst earworms of a song (Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready“) clogging our brainwaves for weeks afterward. But what really rankled me was the series’ approach to scare people into getting saved. It’s a terrible tactic that was really popular for a while there, such as with Jack Chick tracts or Hell Houses, and it never gets my endorsement.

Anyway. With the combination of the overall bad production values, the scare-you-saved factor, and the rather inflexible interpretation of end times doctrine (eschatology), A Thief in the Night and its follow-ups end up being entertaining in a way that the filmmakers certainly didn’t intend.

OK, with that background out of the place, let’s talk about the movie itself. It kicks off with a radio report of “millions” of people having disappeared overnight, including the husband of our heroine (Patty). Because, the rapture, you see.

The movie flashes back to show Patty at a carnival youth group (?) where she hears the dreaded song and a short message about how she’s got to get her some Jesus before the rapture and tribulation happens. Her friend Jenny does, but Patty’s a bit more lazy about it, probably because her mind is addled by the absolutely horrible fashion that’s on display here. She would rather hang out with a cute guy, but naturally, he gets bitten by a king cobra in a garage. Such happens.

Every so often the movie outright stops so that a character can deliver a short sermon, usually about end times and the coming rapture. It’s about as subtle as the smash-cuts that happen out of the blue. Throughout all of this, there’s a minor character who captivated me with his incredible sideburns-and-mustache combo:

He’s the hero we both need AND deserve.

So Patty marries Cobra Bite Guy and continues to be wishy-washy in her faith — all the way up to the rapture, which takes her husband but leaves her behind to a world that starts to go crazy. A one-world order is set up called UNITE that demands everyone get the “mark of the Beast” or be thrown in jail. Because of course the U.N. has the ability to take over every government all at once and actually be effective and convince most everyone in the world to get tattooed with identification symbols.

Patty spends the rest of the movie straddling the fence between God and UNITE, picking neither and looking rather bummed out. Eventually she gets tracked down and goes on the run in a very, very, very, very long sequence that leads to her death. But it’s just a dream! Except that the rapture still happened! Dum dum DUMMM.

One thing I’ll say about A Thief in the Night is that it’s never boring. There’s always something weird or ridiculous or so very ’70s happening, usually with super-abrupt cuts and an ever-present feeling of tension. I constantly wanted to laugh at it — and it deserved it — but I’ve honestly seen a lot of movies made with far less skill and energy than what’s on display here. I can get behind the unintentional hilarity but not the cheap scare tactics.

Didja notice?

  • “Don’t let me find you sleeping!” — Jesus Christ
  • I’d be pretty freaked out at a 1970s-style electric razor
  • Pink drumsets!
  • That was a freaky wink
  • THE SONG! THE SONG! GET OUT OF MAH HEAD!
  • Nothing like singing cheerfully about people dying
  • This whole carnival looks so unsafe
  • So many sideburns and so much lip hair
  • Waterskiing at the dam! Let’s all go!
  • RANDOM KING COBRA ATTACK!
  • I can’t decide what’s worse — the fashion or the housing decorations. It’s like an assault on the eyes.
  • Random screaming girl. Ahh! The pot is boiling on the stove!
  • I don’t trust that cloud. It’s up to no good.
  • Wow, we went Big Brother really fast, didn’t we?
  • Forehead? You’d want to get tattooed on the forehead?
  • You know you’re a bad pastor if you’re left after the rapture
  • I think UNITE only has a single cargo van and helicopter.
  • Maybe she’s in a time loop?

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