The Seventh Sign. 1988. Directed by Carl Schultz. Screenplay by Clifford & Ellen Green (as George Kaplan & W.W. Wicket).
Starring Demi Moore, Michael Biehn, Jürgen Prochnow, Peter Friedman, Manny Jacobs, John Taylor, Lee Garlington, Akosua Busia, Harry Basil, Michael Laskin, & Ian Buchanan.
TriStar Pictures/Interscope Communications/ML Delphi Premier Productions.
Rated R. 97 minutes.
Admittedly, director Carl Schultz is someone I’m not familiar with, outside of his work on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Often I try to see more than one thing by a director, just so I can then gauge their abilities more appropriately. Far as I know, The Seventh Sign is the only time Schultz has dipped into anything horror.
Then there’s screenwriters Clifford and Ellen Green, credited here respectively as George Kaplan and W.W. Wicket, whose work I know from 2000’s Bless the Child – a mediocre film, but one that gets into ideas of good versus evil in a religious sense, though never gets into preaching territory. Much like their writing in this film.
The Seventh Sign goes for a biblical horror, one that sees the Book of Revelations become terrifyingly real. It’s not amazing, it’s interesting. The horror is more psychological than anything action-oriented, making most of the movie a dramatic thriller about a woman who may be the only one with knowledge of an impending apocalypse. As far as Bible-oriented horror movies, this one is up there on the list of great titles.
A few flaws aren’t enough to make this bad, not for me. I’m too busy watching Jesus bring back the wrath of God. And I’m not even a Christian, I just love an epic horror flick.
Although I’m not a believer in God, I’ve at least taken the time to read the Bible. Full disclosure, I’ve also read the Satanic Bible, too. Fair is fair, right? Well anyway, the Book of Revelations is always a favourite of those wanting to talk about the madness you find in the Bible. Because the wrath of God is no joke, man. That’s why the opening of the film is excellently depicted. A very strange mood, as a man people seem to recognise even if they’re never seen him before walks through a seaside Haitian town. He reaches the ocean, stepping in slightly, before dead fish roll in by the dozens upon dozens (“A third of the living creatures in the sea died” Revelation 8:9). Already in those opening moments there’s an atmosphere of horrible anticipation, this dread like sweat clinging on. Very well executed to make the story ominous straight away, setting the tone from step one.
What if the biblical apocalypse were literal? What if it weren’t just “poetry” and rather a literally translated description of the destruction involved in God’s ultimate wrath against mankind, for the world – the one he created with painstaking hope – swallowed whole by sin? Premonitions of the coming apocalypse plague Abby Quinn (Demi Moore). Her experience is what generates the psychological horror of the screenplay from the Greens. Their wonderful writing turns what could, in the hands of other writers and directors, end up as a big budget destruction movie into an apocalyptic drama with far reaching consequences. They bring out the horror in how Abby sees visions, so much so at one point she ends up in the bathtub with a razor against her wrists. Without spoiling too much about Abby’s character, she, Father Lucci (Peter Friedman), and David Bannon (Jürgen Prochnow) are all modern incarnations of biblical figures, each with their own purpose and journey, some more tragic than others. The story is terrifying in how much suffering these characters go through in their respective ways.
“Will you die for him?”
The vision Abby has is haunting. She sees only a glimpse of some ancient past, first seeing a ringed hand covered with blood, someone chained being beaten. Later, we see the more unnerving truth behind it – who was being beaten, who did the beating. There are lots of spot on moments of eeriness where Schultz teases us with brief flashes. Specifically, the torturous thoughts that burrow their way into Abby’s mind are given to us much like they come to her, in flashes of shocking terror. Meanwhile, watching Prochnow’s character sort of waltz through this world heavy with the air of an incoming apocalypse is quite enjoyable. My favourite is the scene where Abby tries to stab him and he laments: “I can‘t die again. I wish I could.”
Prochnow is a major part of why The Seventh Sign works as a whole; he and Moore are equally good in their roles. But Prochnow, for someone who has been in amazing movies over the course of his storied career, has never been better. And that’s saying something! His entire demeanour, the casual speech, his measured tone, these traits makes the character feel at once supernatural and simultaneously all too human. Someone could well go over-the-top in a performance as this character. He keeps it right on the perfect note the entire time.
Another aspect I love, perhaps more than anything about the film, is the score from Jack Nitzsche (who’s worked with The Rolling Stones & Neil Young, won on Oscar for his song “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman, amongst other notable achievements). His compositions are genuinely strange, in a totally compelling, powerful way. It feels religions during many scenes, as if hearing the hymns of an ancient church from a long ago era. For a film based on the apocalypse from Revelations, the music fits will all types of sounds – some synthesizer, low and near guttural chants, spooky strings that make you feel like you’re being dragged into hell. The emotion behind these pieces is heavy, matching the epic scale of the film’s plot. Awesome score that I’d love to get my hands on.
The Seventh Sign is a late ’80s thriller people don’t often talk about. It doesn’t have the greatest rating anywhere. But I feel like somehow it got lost at the end of a decade filled with all kinds of horror. Schultz breaks out of his usual genres to do something different, and with a competent cast of actors (can’t forget Friedman; he is solid as Father Lucci) he does just that, giving us bits of biblical fantasy and some glimpses into horror that are memorable.
I’d recommend checking this out if you can track it down. There’s plenty of excitement to enjoy. Moore gives a nice central performance to match Prochnow’s magic; she plays the tough woman in distress at the heart of the apocalypse’s drama. This Halloween, find The Seventh Sign, and dig in for some chilling religious horror.