The Seventh Sign

(Carl Schultz, USA, 1988)


One of the wonderful things about so-called trashy movies – especially those with fantastic premises such as time travel, or the coming Apocalypse – is that they realise a deep-seated fantasy which few forms of fiction, and no form of real life, can really allow: they can make a lone individual the literal centre of the universe – the key to the survival of the entire species and the planet's future.

As in the Exorcist films, the story of The Seventh Sign jumps from cosmic omens appearing in suitably exotic, ancient locations (Haiti, Nicaragua, the Middle East) to an ordinary, urban citizen Abby (Demi Moore). Abby unwittingly carries in her belly that key to humanity's destiny. In this sense, the film is a replay of the dream at the heart of the first few Terminator movies: a Chosen Woman will give birth to a Special Child ... except that here, both the Angelic and Demonic aspects of this muy Christian fable are writ very large.

It is a splendid tall tale which manages to incorporate capital punishment, incest, maternal guilt, the myth of the Wandering Jew, and (naturally) the Seven Signs of the Apocaplypse – plus, as in Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant (1992), a special guest appearance by Jesus Christ himself (half of a double role for Jürgen Prochnow).

The film boasts an unusual bunch of credits. Basque-born cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchía has worked in USA with David Mamet, Joel Schumacher, Leonard (brother of Paul) Schrader, Mike Figgis and James Foley – but in Spain his most revered credit is on El desencanto (1976), ranked no. 10 in Caimán's poll of the 100 Best Spanish Films.

The writers, Clifford and Ellen Green – here under the pseudonyms of George Kaplan (that non-person from North by Northwest!) and W.W. Wicket – are a married team whose list of projects run from the proudly infantile (SpaceCamp, 1986) to the weirdly New Age religious-mystical (Three Wishes, 1995). Their script for Chuck Russell's Bless the Child (2000) revisits Seventh Sign territory, perhaps because they weren't very happy with its screen treatment first time around.

The director is obscure, but not completely obscure to an Australian like me. Born in Hungary, Carl Schultz worked in Aussie TV for many years before making the hyper-stylish, at times delirious family melodrama Careful, He Might Hear You (1983) – a film of unusual emotional directness, and doubtless the 'calling card' that took him briefly to Hollywood.

© Adrian Martin June 2016

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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