A strange couple claiming to be in touch with extraterrestrials bring their followers together outside a small town in the desert. The local sheriff’s department struggles to contain the crowds as everyone awaits salvation at the hands of an all-powerful alien race. But is the whole thing just an elaborate con?
Odd made for television project from writer-director Gary Sherman that was originally filmed in 1979 but not broadcast until the early summer of 1982. The story begins with our old friend; footage of a NASA rocket launch. Unfortunately, this one ends in a fireball. Next we meet our golden couple (John Forsythe and Priscilla Pointer) at some abandoned buildings in the desert. Talk with an incoherent vagrant tells us that this is an old missile base. Forsythe proclaims that it’s ‘perfect’ and, more importantly, that ‘It’s Time’! (pretty much all he says over the next 100 minutes). We are left to assume that this is the old NASA launchpad mothballed after the opening tragedy, but there’s no need to worry about it. That incident gets mentioned again.
From there, Forsythe and Pointer emerge from a bright light in a hole in the ground to bring their followers together. The acolytes become what amounts to a loose kind of hippy commune and the vast majority of the runtime is spent dealing with their riveting relationship problems and fascinating stories. There’s whiny James Stephens (our narrator) looking for his runaway girlfriend (the even whinier Karen McLarty), there’s a black couple who have sold their car and another woman who is pregnant and wants her baby to be the first human child born in outer space (or something? l don’t know, l was kind of zoning out by then). Anyway, it’s all completely fascinating. Forsythe and Pointer turn up every now and then in white robes and tell everyone to wait and that ‘It’s Time!’ ( I should really put that in capital letters). Eventually, the faithful are spirited away to the missile base in a fabulous alien craft (ok, it’s actually a School Bus!) where there’s a permanent dust storm and lots of bright lights that flash. And that’s about your lot.
Perhaps Sherman was attempting to make a serious film examining the nature of cults, and the people who follow them. It’s a subject worthy of examination, but one that requires a far more in-depth approach, rather than the series of soap drama vignettes that he provides. And there’s also the suspicion that he was unsure of his own point of view. Are Forsythe and Pointer on the level, or just charlatans? The ﬁlm backs out of the question, and provides no real resolution. It is possible, given the closing narration, that this was actually the pilot for an intended series where Stephens would try to track Forsythe and Pointer down and rescue McLarty. If so, we can only be grateful that it never happened.
Sherman’s subsequent career included zombie horror ‘Dead and Buried’ (1981) (hilariously banned during the trumped-up Video Nasty scare in the UK), ‘Wanted: Dead Or Alive’ (1987) with Rutger Hauer and ‘Poltergeist Ill’ (1988). Not a notable record, especially considering his debut had been gritty, subterranean horror ‘Death Line’ (1972) with Donald Pleasance.
There are some familiar faces in the supporting cast here; Noah Beery Jr plays the sheriff toward the end of a long career stretching back to the 1930s. He played a jungle boy in ‘The Call of the Savage’ (1935), and supporting roles in more notable productions such as ‘Of Mice and Men’ (1939), ‘Sergeant York’ (1941), ‘Rocketship X-M’ (1950), ‘lnherit The Wind’ (1960) and the ‘7 Faces of Dr Lao’ (1964). By this point, he was famous as James Garner’s old dad on long-running detective show ‘The Rockford Files‘. His Deputy here is played by a young Robert Englund, a few years before he pulled on the sweater and razor glove of Freddy Krueger for ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ (1984).
The story was loosely based on the real-life exploits of self-styled ‘UFO missionaries’ Marshall Applewhite and Barbara Nettles, who were famous enough to be the subject of national media scrutiny at the time. By all accounts, their group was financially well-off by the end of the 1970s so whether the fear of legal problems prompted the network’s decision to shelve Sherman’s ﬁlm for 3 years is a possibility. It is true that the group were less active by the time it was broadcast. Somewhat ironically, that was in the same month that Forsythe began his 217 episode run as Blake Carrington on soap juggernaut ‘Dynasty.’
Tragically, real life proved to be far more dramatic than Sherman’s lifeless fiction. Applewhite rebranded his group a few years after Nettles died as ‘Heaven’s Gate’ and became fixated on the approach of Comet Hale-Bopp. When the local sheriff’s department broke into their mansion in the San Diego area in March 1997, they found all 38 members had committed suicide at Applewhite’s instruction, and that he had taken his own life as well.
As l say, there is an important film to be made on this subject, but Sherman’s effort is sadly lacking in depth or insight. And in any entertainment value whatsoever.