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THE SEVENTH SIGN (1988)

"Yes. I will. I will die for Him...."

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Director: Carl Schultz

Starring: Demi Moore, Jurgen Prochnow, Michael Biehn, Peter Friedman, John Taylor, Manny Jacobs

Screenplay: George Kaplan and W.W. Wicket (Clifford Greene and Ellen Greene)

Synopsis: A mysterious stranger, David (Jurgen Prochnow), is present as a series of strange disasters strike around the world. Dead fish wash up upon a beach in Haiti; a town in Israel is buried in ice; rivers in South America run with blood. A Catholic priest (Peter Friedman) observes these phenomena, and reports to the Vatican that everything can be explained logically. Meanwhile, in California, David rents a small flat from Abby (Demi Moore) and Russell Quinn (Michael Biehn). Abby is pregnant, and is disturbed both by the memory of a previous pregnancy, which ended in the death of her baby and her own suicide attempt, and by her husband’s obsession with fighting the death sentence of Jimmy Saragosa (John Taylor), a young man with Down’s Syndrome convicted of murdering his parents - who were brother and sister - saying it was "The Word Of God". Abby becomes intrigued by her boarder, and discovers a series of papers in his room written in a strange language. A young Jewish student (Manny Jacobs) translates them for her, and reveals that they deal with the Seven Signs, portents signalling the end of the world. Terrible weather suddenly hits California. Abby encounters the mysterious Catholic priest, and as she discovers that neither he nor David are what they appear, she realises that the fate of the world is inexorably linked to herself and her unborn baby.

Comments: At one point in this movie, Abby Quinn listlessly flicks around the channels on her TV, revealing through a series of news broadcasts a world filled with wars, disasters and killings. It is hardly surprising that such a backdrop should spawn a horror film in the spirit of The Exorcist (1973), pitting traditional religion against the apparent disintegration of the world order. Although, as is rightly pointed out in Phil Hardy’s Encyclopedia Of Horror, the film seems to suggest that God has pretty much the same foreign policy as Ronald Reagan - in short order, we see catastrophe strike Haiti, Iran, Iraq and Nicaragua - the attacks upon The Seventh Sign in that book and others for its conservatism are both unnecessary and somewhat inaccurate. After all, there’s nothing inherently wrong in a film choosing to side with orthodox Christianity. Following years of watching evil triumph in film after film, it’s even a relief to see the good guys win one.

The Seventh Sign challenges convention in a number of ways. The "last Martyr" of the prophecy turns out to be a young man scheduled for execution, while the fate of the world is in the hands of a failed suicide, who in the course of the film contemplates trying it again. Jurgen Prochnow’s "David" is a cold Christ-figure, calmly observing the fulfilment of the signs that fortell the Apocalypse, and the film’s immortal villain attains his power by masquarading as a Catholic priest, in which guise he is able to commit murder, lie to the Vatican, and very nearly destroy the world.

The real problems with this film lie elsewhere: in an annoying and heavy-handed score - by Exorcist composer Jack Nitzsche - which almost without respite informs us that this is Very Very Serious Indeed; in assuming a bit too much Biblical knowledge in its audience (even now I’m not sure who Demi Moore’s character is meant to be, except that she’s apparently the reincarnation of someone who was present at Christ’s trial, which doesn’t seem very Christian to me); and in the scaling down of its themes.

After the grandeur of the opening sequences, there is an inevitable letdown when the film focuses upon the tribulations of a Californian housewife, although choosing California for the main body of the film does lend a certain edge to the scenes of storms and devastation (if it happened now it would probably be attributed to El Nino rather than the Apocalypse).

Demi Moore is actually quite effective in a role that is an obvious riposte to Mia Farrow’s in Rosemary’s Baby (1968), finding it impossible to get anyone to listen to her as she becomes aware of the conspiracy against her - initiated by God rather than Satan - and having her behaviour attributed to her pregnancy (sadly, this still feels authentic). It’s just a tiny bit difficult to swallow her as the saviour of humanity (first the bad news: the world’s coming to an end. Now the really bad news: only Demi Moore can save us.) For those who care, Moore was really pregnant when the film was made, and appears naked in a scene prefiguring her Vanity Fair cover. However, Ghost was still two years away, so no one took any notice.

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB