AMAD-Horror Edition: Prophecy (1979)

12 Oct

Prophecy

Oct 12th, 2009–

cinemagrade c+John Frankenheimer’s Prophecy is a strange beast, pun fully intended. A schlocky update of the mutant animal flicks of the 50s and 60s, the film wasn’t a hit upon its release and it hasn’t really fared much better since then; it possesses a Rotten Tomatoes score of 25%. But while Prophecy might not win awards for competency as a serious eco-thriller, it does deliver silly B-movie pleasure.

Undoubtedly, there were better horror movies released in 1979;  Alien, Dawn of the Dead, Phantasm,  Langella’s Dracula, and Herzog’s Nosferatu all hit the same year. But let me ask you this. Do any of those movies have Armand Assante playing a Native American who gets into an axe vs. chainsaw battle with loggers? How about a monster that looks like the result of running a grizzly and a meatloaf through the Brundle machine? Richard Foxworth, as Bob Ross’s studly younger brother, fighting off crazed raccoons all tripped out on mercury poisoning? No, I didn’t think so.

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I think the biggest problem with the film’s image both then and now, is that it clearly aspires to be more than a piece of jokey trash. Prophecy’s pedigree is the kind of thing that would have been impressive beforehand; the screenplay was based off a novel by David Seltzer (The Omen) and director John Frankenheimer already had a daunting list of films under his belt when he took this job. Robert Foxworth and Talia Shire (pretty much fresh off Rocky when she did this) lead the cast and the cinematography and score are relatively strong.  There’s one detail missing though. The very thing that kills the movie’s serious ambition is the same thing that makes it even worthy of a higher grade: the esteemed and peerless inside-out bear. That’s right, the primary adversary in this spectacle is a giant, latex muppet beast that resembles Two-Face if he were an enraged mother bruin.  

Foxworth’s Dr. Robert Verne and his pregnant wife Maggie are called in to Maine to investigate a logging company  that’s having a tiff with the local indigenous people who suspect it of polluting the water. After an odd (and oddly funny) scene where Verne is attacked by vicious, frenzied raccoons, he makes an astounding (or at least the movie thinks so) discovery; the animals have been poisoned by mercury in the water. This contamination explains other oddities like tadpoles the size of cats and a lake trout that could swallow a child.

Yea, in the 50s it took atomic radiation. In the good old 70s, just add a little mercury and you get a monster. Maggie has cause to worry because it appears most mutations occur in the womb and she and Robert had a few pieces of the Incredible Mr. Limpet prior to his discovery. Robert isn’t aware of her pregnancy because he doesn’t want children and Maggie hasn’t the nerve to tell him. Now that the baby might have an eye on its chin, it’s gonna be even harder to drop that little bomb. Then they have a run-in with the mutant bear and the movie starts marathon sprinting down the lane of lunacy.

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I love cheesy b-movies, but must confess that sometimes it is hard to shoulder through the low-grade filmmaking of most.  One of the advantages of Prophecy is that it’s quite competently directed and the production(excepting the incredibly fake creatures) is comparable to other similar films of the 70s and early 80s. Prophecy boasts some really lovely scenery(with British Columbia doubling as Maine) and some acting that while not inspired, doesn’t cause one to cringe. You don’t get that often in schlock. 

The movie opens with Spielbergian flashlight beams in the dark as something hunts a search party and later Maggie makes a grotesque discovery by the river; the she-bear’s deformed offspring are caught in a net, warbling mindlessly.  It’s scenes like these that make for nice, shivery, drive-in moments. Prophecy is also not without a twisted sense of humor. Classical music plays over scenes of an injured dog being air-lifted out of an attack site. Armand Assante, as the token Native American, stares stoically,  scans the trees for mutant bears and tries to forget the fact he’s Italian.

There is a clear turning point in the film. A family of campers settle down for the night , and are awakened by something growling. The daughter and father scream in terror as the meatloaf bear approaches, but its clearly too late for them. The young boy, wrapped up tight in his bright yellow sleeping bag, pulls himself to his feet and begins to hop around the campsite like a big (mutant) banana. The beast turns towards him and swats him into a rock where both the boy and sleeping bag explode into a flurry of feathers. As a kid, the scene was terrifying. As an adult, its an hilarious, off-kilter moment worthy of cheering. After this, the movie turns into a rubber-suit monster fest and never looks back.

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The bear goes after the cubs and trashes a camp. In a scene that is reminiscent of Jurassic Park, Assante, Foxworth and Shire flee in a truck as the bear lumbers behind, trying to swipe and nudge them off the road. The movie becomes so intent on its obviously ridiculous monster it even forgets about Shires doomed pregnancy, the logging debacle, and everything else.

However, Prophecy has an atmosphere to it that helps the whole thing go down.  It embraces the roots of a cheesy monster picture, but at some level it still operates on that dark, serious tone of the 70s that gave us movies like Deliverance and Jaws. Its not a scab on the knee of either of those movies, but utilizing that style makes it seem more…I dunno…legitimate. If you are a die-hard horror fan, you definitely need to check it out. Its not going to scare you, or make you reconsider eating the fish in Maine, but its such a spirited failure that it can’t help but be entertaining.

Check out several of the youtube clips–including that sleeping-bag attack– here:

 Oct 12th-(Crazy Catch-Up)AMAD: Infestation Of Unknown Origin, The Changeling

Oct 13th: AMAD: The Stepfather

Oct 14th: AMAD: Tales of Terror 

Oct 15th: AMAD: Night of the Demon

Oct 16th: AMAD: Cold Prey II

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One Response to “AMAD-Horror Edition: Prophecy (1979)”

  1. Xiphos October 13, 2009 at 12:08 pm #

    I’ve never heard of this one. I know the other one with Walken but not this. I need to find it and give it a go sounds like it could be niffty. It has Armand Assante so it can’t be bad right?

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