Friday, April 19, 2013

Loaded for bear: 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. On a $12 million budget the movie still turned a profit in the U.S. and generated respectable box office receipts in other countries. A TV spot promoting this movie got my attention initially 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 Robert 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, specifically methyl mercury which has caused both fatalities and deformities among both the Indian and local animal populace. Not coincidentally, there is something very large, very menacing but as yet unseen, prowling the woods around our main characters. The unknown creature has brutally slaughtered a search and rescue party, a family on a camping sojourn and is now stalking Rob, his wife, and the pair of Native American Indians who are 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).

Bear with me: the giant, mutated bruin from PROPHECY(1979)

What works in this film for me:

-The score, courtesy of Leonard Rosenman: very bold, with lots of strings and urgent horns. The score definitely lends to the sense of real urgency and dread 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 and, for me, doesn't waste any of my time with needless "talking" sequences. The tension and dread that builds in Prophecy is constant, especially given that a full reveal of the monster doesn't happen until later in the movie.

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

-The small mutated creatures: sufficiently grotesque and possessing blood curdling cries. Their appearance is definitely disturbing and might be unsettling to look at by 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 burn scars accompanied with a serious drooling problem. The growl, roar and heavy, ragged breathing of the giant, disfigured and rabid monster is quite good. At times the creature's movements appear sloppy and "loose". The large creature was rendered through a man in a suit, specifically an uncredited Kevin Peter Hall, a 7'2" tall gent who would later appear in 1987's Predator as the title claracter, the hunter alien "Yautja" and an NBC TV series called "Misfits Of Science".  I like the overall look of the monster "Katahdin" in this movie but wish it would have more closely resembled the monstrosity in the movie's poster art.

Overall: Prophecy(1979) remains a personal favorite of mine. Watch this movie and you may not be so enthusiastic about your next camping trip in the great outdoors.

I watch this movie once a year on DVD. The movie has been released onto R1 DVD by Paramount and is available for order at Amazon and other online retailers. The disc includes an audio set up and scene selections. The film's aspect ratio is 2:35.1 widescreen. No Blu Ray release yet but one can always hope. Click the DVD cover art image above or the link to see this movie for sale on DVD at Amazon: PROPHECY(1979) DVD