Monday, May 19, 2008


Perhaps it was the particularly strong afterglow I still had from SARS WARS going in to SABBATH, but I was fully prepared to give this 2005 shot-on-video feature from director William Victor Schotten a good review. A zombie film with a truly apocalyptic scenario--we're talking Book of Revelations apocalyptic--and ambition on both a visual and story level, I had pretty high hopes that this would be that elusive diamond in the rough. However, my good will started to evaporate around the fifteen-minute mark, as SABBATH's numerous flaws came to the fore.

A solitary woman, a minister, a pair of brain-dead brothers, and a criminal band together when the living dead start roaming the earth. The earlier scenes of this premise are the most effective, as each individual character starts out--for the most part--on their own. Schotten captures the uneasy tension lying just beneath the bucolic surface of his setting, and by using very little dialogue he almost achieves a surreal quality for the first part of the film; however, any trance-like mood the long takes and repetitive score might have built is broken by too many moments of cheap gore, and by the time the characters have bunkered together in a rural farmhouse it becomes NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD Variation #258.

The zombies aren't the characters' only problem, as they're visited by shadowy demonic forces and the Grim Reaper hisownself, though what any of it has to do with the main plot, I have no idea, but it has to do with the last soul entering Heaven and the first sinner being shut out of Hell . . . which I assume is bad. Though they certainly elevate SABBATH beyond a mere Romero rehash, these additional elements don't really work. The Reaper in particular fails to generate any sense of fear or awe, probably because of the cherubic face poking out beneath the hood. The demons, on the other hand, are obviously guys in black leotards slithering around on their bellies, but there are a couple of moments--within their first couple of scenes--where they're very much an unsettling presence (check out the scene in which the minister delivers his backstory monologue, that's some damn creepy stuff). Schotten unfortunately doesn't keep them on the sidelines enough and their disturbing power soon wears thin, until they've got as little impact as the stock zombies approaching the house.

Missteps like these keep SABBATH from reaching its frightening potential. Also hampering it are a cast littered with idiots and bad actors who can't deliver their lines without mumbling. When the climax has characters wrestling with zombies as cheesy death metal blares on the soundtrack, any hopes for SABBATH being a serious, intelligent film go right out the window.

There's something especially painful about a film that toys with your expectations, promising to be an undiscovered gem but in reality is just the same old schlock. SABBATH belongs in that category, another squandering of talent and skill taking up valuable space on video shelves.

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