SIX-HUNDRED & SIXTY SIX (1972) – Directed by Tom Doades and written by Marshall Riggan, this film is a very unusual blend of science fiction, horror, post-apocalypse drama and religious message. Cult actor Joe Turkel, perhaps best known as the ghostly Lloyd the Bartender in The Shining, stars as Colonel John Ferguson.
Before I go further I want to point out once again how films can serve as indicators of what was or was not prominent in the public consciousness during the time of their release. This particular movie came out in 1972, meaning that the use of gematria to arrive at 666 as the Number of the Beast was not yet as firmly lodged in the minds of movie-goers as it would be after The Omen became a sensation a few years later.
Obviously, a post-Omen film would not blow their story’s final reveal in the title, like we get with Six-Hundred & Sixty Six.
As our story begins, Colonel John Ferguson is reporting to a man called Tallman (Byron Clark) for his new position as Head of Operations at an underground installation in the American west. Conversation between the Colonel and Tallman, the highest civilian authority at the base, provides plenty of exposition.
It is an undisclosed time in the near future. The United States of America and “the United States of Europe” have been joined into one big political entity known as the New Roman Empire. In fact, Colonel Ferguson and his men refer to “Rome” as the nation they serve.
This union was brought about by a charismatic figure known only as The Man, played by Robert Crawford but voiced by Malachi Throne. The Man is a combination Big Brother/ Caesar, but because of this film’s title and his establishment of the New Roman Empire we viewers know who he REALLY is.
Though the Man at first brought peace to the world there have been growing tensions caused by his decision to try uniting the globe under one religion, based in Israel, but which combines elements of multiple existing belief systems. This and other high-handed measures on the part of the Man have China, the Soviet Union, the Middle East and the New Roman Empire at each other’s throats.
We viewers learn from Colonel Ferguson and Tallman that the Man’s rise to power prevented World War Three after the Vatican was destroyed and Florence was bombed. The Man has spent much of his time in power assembling all of humanity’s works of art, science and literature into one location: this underground base.
With international tensions rising because of the Man’s attempt to impose his one world religion on humanity, it looks like another World War is going to break out anyway, but all the products of Earth’s finest minds will be preserved here at the subterranean installation that Colonel Ferguson is now in charge of.
Tallman, who loves playing with what looks like the world’s largest chess set, is smug and happy to be sitting out the war safe and secure underground. He seems (at first) to be almost slavishly devoted to the Man, but Colonel Ferguson has obvious reservations about the reclusive, enigmatic figure whose face stares out from countless posters on every wall.
Karsch, a civilian scholar who is a subordinate of Tallman’s, is played by Ed Delatte. John O’Connell portrays Lieutenant Baldry, who serves under Colonel Ferguson and is as disenchanted as he is at being stuck in this duty station with a global conflict approaching.
The underground base’s master computer speaks with a serene female voice (Helena Humann) and is called Angela Company (yes, as in Company of Angels). The base is tied into satellites and computers all over the world, letting the men stationed there observe everything unfolding on the surface.
As days go by, the Euphrates River dries up completely. Then China invades the Middle East, prompting the Soviet Union and the New Roman Empire to get involved as well. As the military campaigns play out, all forces converge on the Plain of Megiddo, finally prompting Ferguson, Karsch and the others to sit up and take notice of the potentially Biblical nature of the global conflict.
Eventually the thermonuclear warfare on the surface causes such massive displacement of land that the air ventilators for the subterranean base are covered up by a mountain-sized pile of debris. Their elevator system becomes damaged beyond repair as well.
Though our main characters have food, water and medical supplies to last for several decades, with their air system no longer working they will all be dead in roughly eight days.
From there Six-Hundred & Sixty-Six becomes a disaster movie/ survival drama crossed with a lot of religious and quasi-Waiting for Godot style philosophizing. Some of the men under Ferguson go crazy or kill themselves. Tallman loses his pompous airs now that his own life is on the line and he’s not just a spectator to the end of the world.
Amid hints of a possible rescue operation being mounted on the surface, our dwindling cast ultimately put aside their squabbles and begin accessing all the information at their disposal to trace how Biblical prophets foretold all the events they’ve just witnessed. (LMAO) They also set out to solve the mystery of the Man’s true identity, but we viewers already knew the solution from the title alone.
Though the movie doesn’t explore the concept, I found the underground base – using the religious overtones established by the tale – to be a kind of Reverse-Tower of Babel. Instead of humanity constructing a monument to their own vanity reaching to the heavens above, this Anti-Christ inspired installation proves just as monumentally vain. Sure, the supposedly greatest works of the human mind will be preserved down there but if absolutely everyone on Earth dies nobody will ever be around to appreciate them.
Six-Hundred & Sixty-Six was shown at churches and Youth For Christ events and Truth For Youth Ministries but it’s not a camp classic like the Holy Roller/ Soviet Invasion flick If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? I’m not religious myself but this movie can be enjoyed as a character study, horror film or sci-fi drama even if you find the “prophecy” angle as silly as I do.
And, as always, Joe Turkel doesn’t disappoint and is as watchable as ever. His Colonel John Ferguson stands out to me as the Captain James T Kirk of End of the World melodramas. He helps make this obscure item worth watching despite its overall Grade Z airs. +++
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