Sunday, June 19, 2016

PROPHECY 1979



NATURES FURY Blogathon
HOSTED BY CINEMA CATHARSIS


70's Ecological Horror as Mercury Poisoned Giant Mutant Bear Runs Amok in Maine Woods !


"She Lives. Don't Move. Don't Breath. There's Nowhere To Run. She Will Find You."



     This late entry in the 1970's ecological horror cycle remains a curious schizophrenic mess of a film. I admit to having a certain fondness for it (which admittedly cannot be explained) ever since I first viewed it during it's initial theatrical run on a double feature with PHANTASM during the summer of 1979. Released by a major studio (Paramount) and directed by John Frankenheimer, who although maybe not at his 60's zenith was still directing interesting pictures such as 99 AND 44/100TH % DEAD, THE FRENCH CONNECTION II & BLACK SUNDAY, it moves effortlessly from some beautifully composed & suspenseful scenes to ludicrously unintentional comedic sequences that never fail to raise laughter from a viewing audience.
      Mixing in environmental concerns, Native American mysticism, family dynamics and even shoehorning urban blight and abortion into the plot (along with a big monster) the script is somewhat muddled and the ham fisted pseudo-scientific explanations to what's going on all make it just what it appears to be - a major studio attempt to replicate a Roger Corman type exploitation movie. Interestingly Corman himself would explore some of these same things (albeit in a more compact low budget endeavor) in the following years HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP. 
      Subtitled "THE MONSTER MOVIE" (perhaps so not to confuse audience members who thought that it was going to that other mainstay genre of 70's horror cinema -devil worship), PROPHECY was released through a heavy ad campaign (the TV spots seemed to show up endlessly on late night TV) and with poster art that was similar to 1979's other "monster in an egg" release Ridley Scott's ALIEN. As to be expected it was savaged by the critics, but went on to earn a respectable $54,000,000 at the box office - which makes you wonder how close PROPHECY II ever came to fruition (especially considering the film's open-ended climax).
    Robert Foxworth plays Dr. Robert Verne who has grown bitter and burnt-out from his job in Washington DC where he investigates rat-bitten children in the ghetto and rallies against slumlords. Thinking a change of scenery might do him good, his EPA boss sends him up to the woods of northern Maine (in reality British Columbia) to investigate the claims of Native American tribes that a paper mill is polluting the waters. Accompanying him is top billed Talia Shire as his cello playing wife Maggie. Having just learned that she's pregnant Maggie is agonizing over telling her husband as he's constantly railing against the state of society and how it would be wrong to bring a child in the world at this time.




    Upon arriving in "Maine" (PROPHECY was one of the first major Hollywood productions to be filmed in Canada), they're witness to a confirmation between a group of loggers led by the evil paper mill supervisor played by busy character actor Richard Dysart (who in a few years would memorably have his hands chopped off in the chest cavity of THE THING) and local Native Americans led by Armand Assante & Victoria Racimo. After helping breakup a potential axe/chainsaw duel the couple learn that the local tribes have been suffering from black-outs and an increased number of birth defects. Disappearances of both Indians and loggers have also been occurring as in a pre-credit sequence (and one of the more atmospheric in the film) a search and rescue team from the paper mill is brutally dispatched by an unseen creature.
     A mythical creature known as the "Katahdin" is vaguely alluded to by Dysart and later while visiting the elderly tribal shaman Maggie learns that Katahdin is a creature "that bears a mark of each of God's creatures". Later Robert catches an abnormally large salmon and they also discover a freakishly giant tadpole all of which lead to the discover of a huge mutant bear with a misshapen head and a love of tearing people limb from limb, which has been caused by mercury used by the paper mill. There's also Robert's talk of the mercury jumping the placenta wall in females which causes concern for Maggie and her unborn child.
    Eventually a baby mutant bear is discovered entangled in some salmon netting and Foxworth deciding that it needs to be brought back as evidence (and in one of the film's more unintentionally hilarious sequences) enlists Maggie to carry the creature through the wilderness clutched to her bosom while it alternately yowls and chews on her with mama bear in hot pursuit.




     Frankenheimer seems alternately bored and inspired here as there's a standout scene in a tunnel (again reminiscent of ALIEN in it's ventilation duct sequence) and the true highlight is the scene (which is ALWAYS remembered by viewers) as in a crazy combination of genius and "you can't serious" WTF film, a young child is frantically hopping away in his sleeping bag with the monster in pursuit before a swipe of its paw sends him cartwheeling into a rock followed by a huge explosion of sleeping bag stuffing.
     Robert Foxworth seems to be channeling some 70's jut jawed Charlton (SOYLENT GREEN and THE OMEGA MAN) Heston while Talia Shire (who was coming off GODFATHER I & II along with ROCKY I & II) seems mostly to be wondering what she's doing here. To be fair though her part is horribly underwritten, with the pregnancy angle seeming to drift in and out of the plot at various points (although she does get in some excellent screaming toward the film's climax).
     The make-up & puppet effects by the Burman Studio are quite good although the attack sequences are for the most part are unimaginably shot and take place at night where Paramount's decade old and somewhat murky DVD transfer does the film no service. There's a decapitation scene which is a great example of just how much you could get away with a  PG rating in the 70's. The original creature was much closer to the poster art and is vividly described in screenwriter David Seltzer's bestselling novelization as an almost Lovecraft like monster having large saucer like eyes, scales with membranous wings and would have been much closer to what's alluded to in the script.




    As stated I do have a fondness for PROPHECY, but the big thing that it has going against it, is that it just takes itself way too seriously. With the result being it makes its sometimes unintentional comedic sequences stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. The Native Americans led by Assante (who like Anthony Quinn in the 40's was the go to guy for various ethnic roles) are infused with such nobility that it almost borders on parody. You keep expecting Billy Jack to come wondering out of the underbrush to slowly utter a few words of wisdom and then judo kick the bear.
     Leonard Rosenman's sometimes over dramatic score ominously swelling over a tracking shot of the paper mill is the next best thing to having a flashing neon sign on its roof screaming out "Evil Paper Mill Here Polluting The River !!!". Shot almost entirely outdoors, it is a handsome looking movie as Frankenheimer and cinematographer  Harry Stradling Jr. have an excellent eye for the wide open vistas.
    In spite of it uneven tone and the chunkiness of the plot, there is something entertainingly goofy going on here and it makes an interesting comparison to what William Girdler did in DAY OF THE ANIMALS and GRIZZLY on a much smaller budget (and what a triple feature !) along with the above mentioned HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP the next year.








   A big thanks to Cinema Catharsis for hosting the Nature's Fury Blogathon !









9 comments:

  1. You know, this is yet another(you have a real skill for picking these) movie that I remember well, fondly almost, but never actually saw. I saw that cover so many times and always thought it looked super cool. And I loved monsters. I have no idea why I never rented it. Now I wish I had. That monster looks really cool.

    What would you say is your favorite Nature gone wrong movie?

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    1. Hi Rob,

      How's it going buddy ? I think my favorite is GRIZZLY directed by the great William Girdler. It was already taken by someone else for this blogathon. I'll do a post on it later this year.
      That's pretty cool about those movies you remember (I guess we both have great taste !).

      Dick

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  2. Great review!
    I have never seen Prophecy, and now I totally want to.
    Yes, just to see the sleeping bag scene, which isn't a surprise.
    I suffered through just enough of My Girl to see a certain Home Alone kid get swarmed. I then turned off the tv and called it a happy ending.

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    1. Thanks John. Glad I peaked your interest. It's worth a look !

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  3. One of the great things about hosting a blogathon is learning about all of the movies I should have watched. Not sure how I missed this, but I need to check it out. Fun review!

    Thanks so much for joining the Nature's Fury Blogathon. I'm honored to have you aboard!

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    1. It's somewhat goofy and unintentionally funny, but there's something quite fascinating about it.

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  4. That's not anywhere near what I thought the movie was about... Of course, I only saw the cover of the video and reached my own conclusions. Something along the lines of Rosemary's Baby knockoff. Looks like it might be worth a look. BTW, your blog is closer to what I wanted mine to be when I envisioned it, but its not quite there... Good review.

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  5. I saw this in its initial release too, and I will never forget what fun it was! The scenes with the "bear" chasing people behind foliage so that you couldn't see it was a puppet jerking along were sooo obvious and hilariously cheap looking it was amazing. I remember laughing my ass off from the sleeping bag explosion on! My friends and I started a running gag about the melting face of the mutant monster where we called it Pizza Bear,and "Pizza Bear-he delivers!"

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    1. Fun stuff ! Everybody I know who saw this during it's theatrical run has always had a soft spot for it.

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