We’re going to be watching and reviewing A Thief in the Night later tonight, and as per the custom we’ll be setting the movie up now. Welcome to the pre-review party!
A Thief in the Night is a terrible 1972 movie starring Patty Dunning, an actress I have never heard of before now. She plays Patty Myers, a woman who lives through the Rapture that claims her husband. Things happen according to the fashion of these sorts of movies.
The reason I’ve never heard of Patty Dunning is that she has pretty much only ever been in Christian movies about the Rapture. Besides A Thief in the Night, she was in what appears to be all of its sequels (YES, this movie has a ton of sequels!), plus a Top Gun fundagelical riff called The Shepherd from 1984. (The video for The Shepherd has a low-rent Jim Carrey lookalike in pilot gear holding a half-grown lamb in his arms, which is an image that truly appears to have been taken as part of some kind of weird Christian satire of gay porn.) She had her moment in the sun and then faded like the last rosy-golden glow of a California dusk.
The director is Donald Thompson, who had a very similarly limited and brief career in Hollywood. In addition to this series, he worked on The Shepherd and a few other things. He did a short in 1994 (what looks like a ham-handed morality tale about what happens when young women drink alkyhall) and that is the last the movie world has heard of him.
And it looks like A Thief in the Night follows all the usual tropes of these sorts of movies. Blah blah, Christians get Raptured and the world falls apart. Blah blah, one world government. Blah blah, everyone forgets about human rights–which fundagelicals are not super-good with anyway, remember–and the ebil gubmint starts executing people for holding beliefs they don’t like–which Christian leaders have traditionally done for centuries and only stopped doing because of human rights advances.
In short, my expectations are not exceptionally high.
What’s so astonishing about this entire movie is that, as terrible as it sounds right out of the gate, it is apparently not only the granddaddy of Rapture movies, it has traumatized what might well be millions of young Christians. This movie was shown in churches. It was shown in youth group meetings. It was shown at camps.
Millions of kids have seen this movie, and it scared the ever-lovin’ pants off of them. Adults today right now still carry the barely-healed-over wounds this movie inflicted on their minds and hearts. It terrified them and informed their nightmares and unnecessarily panicked them every goddamned time they couldn’t physically perceive their loved ones right then and there.
And I just had no idea it even existed until many years after my deconversion.
The Problem Here:
During the years where I would have joined those millions of children, I was a relatively sane-if-fervent flavor of Catholicism that didn’t truck with any of that nonsense.
And during the years I belonged to a rabidly-extremist-and-fervent flavor of fundagelicalism that very much decidedly did truck with all of that nonsense and more, I was officially forbidden to see movies at all.1
So a lot of the nuttier Christian movies that came out in the 1970s and 1980s simply passed me by. I didn’t even hear about them. The one movie I can remember hearing about was 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ. My pastor preached about it one time as it was coming out and we had anti-Temptation tracts in the front lobby, but mostly the PTB’s position on the topic of this deeply-heretical movie was that nobody should need to tell us to stay clear of it because Pentecostals (UPCI) shouldn’t be going to movies anyway.
When I first heard about this horrible terrible no-good bad movie, it floored me to think that it could have any effect upon anybody at all. I’d sooner expect to hear that Manos: Hands of Fate had caused lifelong trauma to someone. It, at least, had Torgo to inspire nightmares. Something like A Thief in the Night seems much more custom-designed to inspire mockery, not trauma.
But it was playing against one of the greatest fears of fundagelicals.
And fear goes a long way toward impacting people than love ever has.
That’s why fundagelicals reach for it so quickly and so readily.
One of the biggest fears found in fundagelicals is the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).
One of the worst personal qualities found in that crowd is their sheer vengefulness regarding their tribal enemies.
Rapture movies hit both of those hard. There is something for all fundagelicals here, whether someone’s driven by fear or revengelust–or, as we often discover in them, both.
I’ll be watching for these themes as I see this movie.
I’ve never had a Harvey Wallbanger, but they were terribly popular in 1972. The recipe for one is fairly simple:
- 1 oz vodka
- 4 oz orange juice
- 1/2 oz Galliano
- Mix liquids. Serve in tall glass over ice cubes.
A fun story is told around the drink about it being named for a surfer dude named Harvey Wallbanger who had too many of these drinks and then walked into a wall. Saveur found that the name–and recipe–was more likely concocted by a marketing guy with a liquor importing company as a means of getting Americans to purchase more of their neon-yellow Italian liqueur. I think that sounds about as plausible as anything else, especially knowing what I do about how advertisers created recipes in exactly this fashion for exactly this reason!
I’m turning on the movie in just a few minutes here–after downing one of these, of course–and hope you’ll join me. It’s streaming on Amazonian Prime and probably all over YouTube, and we are jusssst…. abouuuuuut… ready… to go. Comment below if you want to chat during the movie! <3
1 Officially, I wasn’t allowed to see movies. Unofficially, I saw a few. I caught Henry V and China Cry (an anti-abortion evangelism movie set in one-child-policy China; you can probably guess how it went) and a few others.
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