If it’s the ‘70s, it must be time for some good old apocalyptica; Rosemary’s Baby (1968) beget The Exorcist (1973) and countless rip-offs, and that beget The Omen (’76), which brought a demonic little imp to box office success. But it certainly wouldn’t be the last time we saw the Spawn O’ Satan try to take over, as evidenced by The Chosen (1977), a British-Italian co-production that brings the hellfire in the most ludicrous (read: best) ways.
Released in Italy in November, The Chosen (AKA Holocaust 2000, Lucifer’s Curse, Rain of Fire, Devil’s Got A New Pair of Baby Shoes) was rolled out to the rest of the world throughout 1978, with Rank Films picking up distribution rights for the U.K. and AIP for North America. No critics at the time picked it up, however; the majority just snidely regarded it as a The Omen toss off and went on their way. But time has been kind to The Chosen – no, it’s not in Damien’s league, but it’s solid, occasionally smart, and well acted. Oh, and two of its inventive kills would be repurposed down the line, one by a beloved zombie flick and the other by a The Omen sequel. Take that, naysayers.
The story may ring a little familiar: Wealthy industrialist Robert Caine (Kirk Douglas – The Fury) has plans to build a nuclear facility in the Middle East, but he has some strong opposition: massive protests, and more importantly, his wife Eva (Virginia McKenna – Born Free), who has controlling stock in the company. Their son Angel (Simon Ward – Supergirl) is all too keen to help dad see his vision through, however; and when a terrorist tries to kill Robert at a function, Angel tries to disarm him but accidentally kills his mom instead (oops).
Despite the protests and slaying, the planning proceeds, until a prime minister whom opposed the facility is also killed, putting a wrench in the works. Not to worry though, as the next politician in line is on board. Meanwhile, Robert has started up a romance with a reporter named Sara (Agostina Belli – Double Murder), and they soon find themselves with child. Bad timing, as it were: Robert has the ear of a priest who tells him that the mysterious clues and events surrounding Robert have to do with the oncoming apocalypse, which will begin with the birth of the “second son” and will be caused by the reactors should they be built. Will Robert be able to stop world wide nuclear disaster, or should he not bother contacting pre-schools?
The Chosen is a much more restrained effort than I was expecting; that is, compared to the amount of creative deaths that The Omen ladles on. Having said that, it aims to tell a broader tale in the same amount of time, and focus somewhat on the political red tape of traipsing on foreign soil while still bowing to standard genre narratives. Well, The Omen’s narrative to be exact; switch out ambassador for industrialist and you’re halfway there. Where as Damien’s journey was just beginning though, The Chosen is looking to bring everything down and fast.
Topical to be sure; the threat of nuclear destruction was on everyone’s minds, and this was even before the disasters of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Throw in forever ongoing Middle Eastern tensions and the film seems to have the pulse of the political zeitgeist. This is still a horror film though, and beyond a few pointed comments on war and nuclear destruction, it uses these moments as window dressing for the main thrust of boogedy demonspeak.
After all, it’s very hard to take a film like The Chosen seriously when you have cave drawings of apocalyptic monsters and nightmares of said apocalypse and people losing their heads all around you. (Well, one person, but it’s a doozy.) I’ve said it many times, but how much a film like this shakes you depends on your beliefs; if you’re down with the religion, there’s enough fire, brimstone, and glowing dust to inspire a sleepless night, while the rest of us can just bask in the cheese and surprisingly strong performances.
Kirk Douglas was the latest actor (after Gregory Peck) to chase those horror bucks; after all, Piper Laurie nabbed an Oscar nomination for Carrie the previous year, and Peck had a hit with his Beelzebub Brat picture. The Chosen unfortunately doesn’t have the script that either of those films possesses, and director Alberto De Martino (Blood Link) lacks the finesse of De Palma and Donner; but he does get committed work from Douglas, and puts him through some peculiar paces including the nightmare sequence that finds him wandering from horror to horror butt naked. While the film goes easy on the action, when it delivers, it really delivers.
Because of its origins, The Chosen couldn’t play out as anything but left of center; it’s an interpretation of The Omen that’s ultimately more ambitious and more ridiculous. And when it comes to Satanic Panic and all that entails, more ridiculous is always the way to go.
The Chosen is available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: TARANTULA! (1955)