End of the World (1977)
Beyond being an incisive commentary on colonialism, a fine example of 1970's paranoxploitation, and one of the most classically Lovecrafttian films I have seen, End of the World is your only chance to see Christopher Lee and Dean Jagger together. And not just in an end of the world film, either. Your only chance period. Throw in that the script is by the writer of Dracula's Dog and directed by the maker of Grave of the Vampire, and you have a surefire winner. If you're still not convinced, consider that, after a prologue that features a short-order cook, exploding neon signs and remains mystifying long, long after the film has ended, the story opens with extended footage of a vintage computer terminal with tape storage. When, after long reflection and much silent staring at green screens, the man working the computers picks up the red telephone on his desk, lying next to the white telephone, and utters the single line 'Codeword equator', you know you are in for a treat. Besides, how many ofther films end with an exploding papier maché earth seen from space? Precious few outside the seventies.
Professor Boran, who cryptically keeps saying that he works in 'communications', whose lab is shot on location at the North American Rockwell Rocketdyne research facility, and who seems to be on the phone to some supra-mysterious infra-NORAD organization much of the time, thinks that his instruments have been detecting coded messages coming from space. Even more interestingly, he thinks he has also been picking up similarly coded replies originating from earth. Well, actually, from southern California, just down the road from his lab.
Things become even more interesting for the professor, when, ignoring his superior's urgent intimations to 'work on something else', he breaks enough of the code to decypher parts of the communications. They speak of natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Listening to the news that evening (yes, listening), he realizes that the messages announce actual natural disasters that are taking place around the globe. He immediately returns to his lab to transmit this important intelligence up the chain of command, only to be told that he has been booked on a nationwide lecture tour of university campuses. Young kids, it seems, have not been entering space science in anything like the numbers needed to get the best minds involved, and the future of humanity depends on this. The professor, being such a skillful, thrilling and entertaining speaker, is the obvious man to reverse the trend.
Uneasy, worried about what comes next, accompanied by his day-planner bearing, sixties-groovy supportive and enthusiastic wife slash personal assistant, Boran embarks upon his vitally important lecture tour. It isn't terribly surprising that he deviates ever so slightly from his instructions and thereby becomes invovled in a plot of some finality. Well, perhaps not for him, as will be seen, but certainly for everyone else.
By some coincidence, a leg of the lecture tour takes the professor and his wife past the place from which the coded signals originate. Driving out there, they are surprised to discover a charming little convent in a late colonial spanish mission building in a fairly remote but well manicured corner of California wine country. They are welcomed by the nuns and father Pergado, played with habitual summerisleness by Christopher Lee.
Finding nothing suspicious with a few handheld instruments, the couple return for an illicit night visit and are promptly captured by mother superior and her henchnuns. As the viewer has suspected for some time now, and as the professor and his wife find out the hard way, the nuns and father Pergado are actually aliens who have occupied the convent and destroyed its original occupants for their own shadowy purposes. They have taken on their appearance through the menacing sounding techinque of cloning. There were presumably convents available in which the occupants did not look as menacing and creepy as Christopher Lee and could have been cloned just as well, but one presumes that this particular convent was chosen out of some sense of alien style, however misguided as a security measure. Like some grand Churchillian operational code name, the towering presence of Pergado should have given the game away.
The aliens were sent to do a job, and they have realised that they will need the help of the professor to complete it. Their only objective beyond the completion of that task is to return home, to a world they describe as a Utopia. They are stuck in a colonial backwater, and long for home. They need the professor, the local elite, to achieve their goal. They hold his wife hostage while he goes back into the world to collect what they need. Despite the professor's best intentions, however, the task is not accomplished without damage to his friends and countrymen. But as the wife notes, what choice do they have beyond the immediate saving of their own lives? What limited good can they bring their conspecifics if they are not alive, mediating?
The taks accomplished, the aliens put in motion the destruction of the earth, which, according to them, has been condemned as a galactic source of disease both physical and social. The earth, having served its purpose, having been looted of what the aliens need, no longer serves a purpose. Worse, it could some day be a threat. It must be neutralized. The colonial masters, marginal in their own world, have earned their ticket home. The natives, useless now and potentially dangerous, have been condemned. But what of the local elite, hostage of the colonial masters, protector and torturer of the native population? The professor, opines father Pergado, would make a good citizen of his world. On earth, the professor's gifts are used for destruction. On his world, they would be used for construction, he says, like an Old One whose behaviour is locally evil for tiny humanity but indifferent at a more appropriately cosmic scale, as he puts the final touches on the destruction of the earth. He then follows the nun clones into the gate that will transport them home. With the planet disintegrating around them, the professor and his wife take their only chance, and step through the portal.
all these dreams are swept aside
By bloody hands of the hypnotized
Who carry the cross of homicide
And history bears the scars of our civil wars
--Guns and Roses