Every year I watch an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie on my birthday as a gift to myself. It’s a small, often private ritual that I hold sacred, and it’s one I plan months in advance. Which version of Arnold am I going to celebrate with – the one who gets in gunfights with alligators?, the one who gives birth to a baby with his own adult face?, or maybe a double-trouble combo of Arnie clones? The possibilities are endless. This year, the decision was easy. I happened to find a used DVD copy of the nü-metal Schwarzenegger relic End of Days on a thrift store shelf a few months before my birthday, making my selection obvious. Then, just a couple days before this year’s Big Event, a tabloid new story came out about Schwarzenegger’s abhorrent behavior on the set of End of Days. Specifically, he was accused of deliberately farting in the face of his co-star Miriam Margoles during their fight scene. And did he apologize for this workplace transgression? No, dear reader, he laughed. Beyond confirming yet again that all millionaires are assholes, it was kind of a nothing news item, worthy only of a chuckle while scrolling though headlines on the old Twitter feed. It was the easily most press End of Days has gotten in this century, though, and its timing meant that this year I was celebrating my birthday with The Fart Movie.
Anyway, the Nü-Metal Arnöld movie holds up fairly well. There was once a time in my life where any vaguely gothy movie with a prominent KoRn single on its tie-in soundtrack was an instant 5-star classic in my eyes, so I can’t say I enjoyed it as much now as I did when it was a Blockbuster rental, but it’s still a hoot. End of Days is a product that only could have been made in that exact spiked-collars-and-wallet-chains era, marketing itself specifically as Y2k horror. Set “three nights before every computer fails,” the film dreads the approach of the year 2000 with the same dread Christian doomsayers approach the birth of antichrist. In fact, it directly links the two strands of paranoia. You see, the Mark of the Beast has been misinterpreted in modern translations of the Bible. That “666” has been flipped by mistake, making 1999 the Year of the Beast, when Satan would return to Earth to choose his bride and the mother of his world-destroying son. The oncoming worldwide computer crashes of Y2k appear to be coincidental, but they’re frequently cited by radio DJs in the background as a parallel end-of-the-world scenario. In case you don’t remember, Y2k never happened the way its biggest doomsayers promised, but Gabriel Byrne sure does arrive on Earth as a father-to-be Satan in this film, and there’s only one Austrian-accented supercop in all of NYC who can stop him before it’s too late: Jericho Cane.
End of Days takes the genre mashup “action horror” about as literally as it possibly can. Satan’s quest to become a father before the Times Square ball drops on Y2k positions the film as the 90s blockbuster version of Rosemary’s Baby, but it’s the 90s version of Rosemary’s Baby that would’ve been produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Sure, there are spooky Catholic ceremonies behind every locked door in every NYC church, as the city’s priests wage a secret Good vs Evil battle with the Prince of Darkness. And there are plenty of CG demons, back-alley crucifixions, and Satanic orgies to keep the teenage edgelord KoRn fans in the audience drooling on their JNCOs. None of it is supposed to be especially scary, though. It’s all just badass, gothy set dressing for a standard-issue Arnie action flick, complete with helicopter chases and storefront explosions. Schwarzenegger plays such a cliché version of an action-hero cop that he borders on parody, especially in an early scene when he’s introduced pouring coffee, pizza, Pepto, and Chinese leftovers into a blender as a makeshift hangover cure – like a noir goblin. Luckily, that approach means he still gets to land some of his standard action hero one-liners despite the oppressive gloominess of the setting, like in a scene where he tells Satan, “I want you to go to Hell,” and Satan shoots back, “You see, the problem is sometimes Hell goes to you.” That’s some beautiful late-90s cheese, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
End of Days has a lot of problems. Its 2-hour runtime is super bloated for a movie with so few ideas. Its female lead, Robin Tunney, doesn’t have much to do besides wait around as a damsel in Satanic distress (and to vaguely resemble Brittany Murphy). Worst yet, Kevin Pollak was brought in as sarcastic comic relief, as if the producers weren’t convinced Arnie wasn’t funny enough on his own (despite being, hands down, the funniest action lead of all time) and somehow thought Kevin Frickin Pollak was the solution to that non-problem. Still, it feels like an essential artifact in both nü-metal & Y2k genre cinema, bridging the gap between two really dumb things I cared way too much about when I was 12 years old, with my all-time favorite action star at the helm (and sometimes on the cross). It has an interesting production history too. Both Sam Raimi & Guillermo del Toro turned down the chance to direct before it fell in the lap of anonymous workman Peter Hyams. It was also written with Tom Cruise in mind to star, which would’ve changed the entire tone & meaning of the project. It’s the kind of what-could’ve-been scenario that really fires up your imagination . . . until the conversation is dominated by the fact that Schwarzenegger is a bully who farted in the face of Miriam Margoles. Oh well, at least he didn’t fart into an open flame, since flames & explosives were such a prominent aspect of its Satanic set decoration. A lot more people could’ve been hurt.