Saturday, August 16, 2008

Grin And Bear It: Prophecy(1979)

I remember as a high school junior venturing downtown several times and catching movies on the cheap at the old "Omni" theater, the theater itself part of "The Omni", which was a facility that included an arena where the Atlanta Hawks(NBA) and Atlanta Flames(NHL) played their home games. Movies cost just 99 cents to see on weekends and I sure saw a lot of them. One of my fondest memories of this theater came from watching a film of nature gone berserk and directed by John Frankenheimer: Prophecy(1979). This movie garnered average to poor ratings from film critics and has been generally reviewed as a pedestrian horror movie at best. A TV spot promoting this movie got my attention, as did the theatrical poster. The film was distributed by Paramount Pictures, and stars Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire, Armand Assante and Richard Dysart.

The film's story:
A public health physician named "Rob"(played By R. Foxworth) is asked by a colleague to conduct an environmental investigation into the impact of a local logging company on a large area of Maine woodland upcountry. The logging company's production of wood and paper products clashes with the local Indian community which wants to preserve the land from man made intrusion. Rob and his wife Maggie(Talia Shire) travel to Maine and soon see first hand just how polarized things are between employees of the local paper mill and the Native American Indian community there. Rob and his wife learn that the woods are being slowly contaminated by chemicals loosed into the local river, which has caused fatalities and deformities among both the Indian and local animal populace. Not coincidentally, there is something very large, very menacing, but yet unseen, prowling the woods around our main characters, that has brutally slaughtered a search and rescue party, a family on a camping sojourn, and which is now stalking Rob, his wife, and the pair of Native American Indians who're trying to help them with the investigation. Judging from the sounds of the creature it's safe to assume it damn sure ain't Smokey The Bear. The remainder of the movie focuses on the group which tries to escape the woods before the huge, mysterious monster can get to them. (no other spoilers).

What works in this film for me:

-The score: very bold, with lots of strings and urgent horns. The score adds real urgency, and dread, to many scenes in this film.

-The actors: Robert Foxworth and Talia Shire are solid, as is Armand Assante. Foxworth's "Rob" is the disillusioned doctor looking to make a difference in the world, Assante is the surly yet courageous Indian "John Hawks" who's trying to protect his people. Talia Shire is the demure wife of "Rob" who struggles to communicate with her husband. Richard Dysart's character, "Eisley", who represents the paper mill, is also good as the mill's bureaucratic and self confident representative, who ultimately must face the consequences of his mills' contamination of the local environment.

-The film's pace: the movie moves along very well. The tension and dread that builds in Prophecy is constant.

-The cinematography: director John Frankenheimer captures the rugged isolation and raw beauty of Maine's woodland up country very well. The woods take on, in a way, a life of their own once the characters are stranded on foot, and with the hulking, menacing mutated beast seemingly always lurking not too far away, concealed in the shadows and thickets of the trees.

-The small mutated creatures: sufficiently grotesque and possessing blood curdling cries. Not for the squeamish.

What doesn't work in this film for me:

-The large mutated creature: part bear(clearly evident from its appearance) and parts of other things altogether, this monster, while not what I would rate as terrible, still leaves a lot to be desired. Imagine a grizzly bear with severe psoriasis and a serious drooling problem. The growl, roar and heavy, ragged breathing of the giant, disfigured and rabid monster was, IMO, very good, but at times the creature's movements appeared sloppy and "loose". In other scenes the monster's movements were slower and more deliberate, what you would expect from something standing fifteen feet high(or more) and weighing well over half a ton.

Overall: Prophecy remains a personal favorite of mine. I watch it about twice a year. The movie has been released onto R1 DVD by Paramount. The disc includes an audio set up and scene selections. The film's aspect ratio is 2:35.1 widescreen.

Here's a TV promo clip, from 1979, of Prophecy:

Another intense scene where one of the campers is killed by the monster:

Here's the film for sale on DVD at