Image of the Beast (1981) — Hacking the biblical apocalypse

“It’s a religious book about people who worship computers. One of the stock boys read it though, he said it was really scary.”

Justin’s rating: I always knew BASIC would end the world, just not this way

Justin’s review: In my outside-in observation of some people’s obsession with biblical end times, there seems to be two themes that are consistent. The first is that such people are convinced that the rapture/tribulation is going to happen any moment now, and the second is an increased willingness to seek out and believe conspiracy theories. It kind of ends up as a feedback loop, see, where the conspiracies point to the end times, and the end times hint at conspiracies, and everything around you could be interpreted as fitting that narrative.

Therefore, anything modern is going to feature strongly in such beliefs — and “modern” according to 1981 was the rise of computers. The filmmakers of the Thief in the Night series, thrashing about for more ideas, landed on PCs as the scapegoat of civilization. I remember being made to watch Image of the Beast back in high school and finding myself, for the first time in these movies, somewhat interested because I loved computers and any movie that featured them.

So what does a bad evangelical movie about hackers look like?

We start this uplifting journey by picking up at the guillotine scene that cut off (heh heh) the last movie. Here, Patty actually meets her doom in the first few minutes, getting decapitated while crying out in her final moments to receive the mark of the Beast. Goodbye Patty! You were a drip to hang out with, so hopefully we get some better heroes this time around.

It’s been some time since the rapture — the event that took all of the world’s Christians to heaven — and the rise of UNITE, the one world government that only seems interested in hunting down newly converted Christians and cutting off their heads. Honestly, the whole apocalyptic scenario of these movies comes off as so much less interesting than it could’ve been. There’s almost no discussion or coverage of what the sudden absence of millions of people would do to the world or the disasters that would inevitably follow. UNITE isn’t explored much at all, existing only to be a mild Gestapo clomping around. And the budget for these movies is far too little to actually show all of the big wars and global disasters as spelled out in the book of Revelation.

So… we get computers and UPC codes. That’s what this movie really drills down to focus upon: computers. Our new crew of plucky refugees — Kathy, David, Leslie, and Disposable Child — have a hard time buying or doing anything in a society where you have to get a computer code tattooed to make transactions. The movie tries to convince us that people are “worshipping computers,” maybe by installing Windows 11, I don’t know. A good portion of the runtime is devoted to our heroes trying to hack the computers (with calculators?) so that they can get food.

When the movie gets bored with computers, it switches over to attacking people with giant mutant locusts or having a reformed reverend walk us through the end of the world with the largest illustrated apocalypse map you’ll ever see. Everyone gets killed, more or less, but not before the movie grinds to the occasional halt in true bad Christian movie fashion to toss out an awkwardly worded sermon.

I’m certainly not going to go to bat for this movie; the acting is middling, the plot often silly, and the message is downright confusing. But in the context of this series, Image of the Beast may be the best entry. Mutant locusts, computer hacking, the Anti-Christ, and the end of the world make for a campy combination that’s certainly more enjoyable than bad ’70s folk tunes and Patty crying.

Didja notice?

  • This may be the most pleasant theme music in the series yet
  • My favorite toilet paper is BATHROOM TISSUE brand
  • Can’t she just move her neck to avoid the blade? Nothing’s holding her head there!
  • Man, you don’t wait very long to flirt, do you?
  • You can get shot in the back without a hole punched through your shirt.
  • A “hand computer?” That didn’t sound awkward
  • Attack of the Stock Footage!
  • “Believers Underground Movement Squads”
  • The cartoon mutant scorpion flying horse, cutest ever
  • Mustache Man is the “top agent!”
  • So… they rebuilt the temple? Did anyone inform the Muslims who control the dome?
  • David got himself a BEARD. For like two seconds.
  • Someone spilled red food coloring in the waterrrrrr
  • And then a nuclear explosion out of nowhere

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