Directed by John Frankenheimer.
Starring Talia Shire, Robert Foxworth, Armand Assante, Richard Dysart, Victoria Racimo, Kevin Peter Hall, Tom McLoughlin and George Clutesi.
A scientist and his wife investigate why the inhabitants of a Native American reservation and the surrounding wildlife are affected by genetic mutations.
Ah, 1979! The year that cinema gave us our first battle with a Xenomorph, our first encounter with the Tall Man and a stay in the world’s most famous haunted house, and over forty years later we’re still watching and re-evaluating those genre classics. 1979 was also the year that gave us Prophecy, a lesser-known but no-less-worthy entry into the ‘nature running amuck’ sub-genre that proved to be immensely popular in post-Jaws Hollywood, and although it may not be as well-known or on as many ‘Greatest Horror Movies of the ‘70s’ lists as Alien, Phantasm or The Amityville Horror the good folks at Eureka Entertainment have deemed it worthy of an HD upgrade.
For total 1970s credibility Prophecy is directed by John Frankenheimer (The French Connection), written by David Seltzer (The Omen) and stars Talia Shire (Rocky/The Godfather) and Robert Foxworth (Damien: Omen II) as Maggie and Robert Verne. Robert is a doctor of some vague description but from his introduction, where he helps save a baby that has been bitten by a rat in a slum apartment block in a predominantly black area of the city, we know that he is a humanitarian who isn’t concerned about colour or class and just wants to do the right thing. This is why he gets asked to travel to an area of Native American land where a paper mill is situated and whose employees are chopping down most of the trees and destroying the area for the locals.
But the good doctor is a fair man and despite trying to mediate between the two warring factions soon begins to piece together what is really going on as he hears from the Native Chief John Hawks (Armand Assante – Paradise Alley) that the tribe’s babies are being born deformed and the wildlife that lives in the area are growing to unnaturally huge proportions. Of course, paper mill boss Bethel Isley (The Thing’s Richard Dysart) knows nothing about this and is adamant that the paper mill uses no chemicals to treat the timber that they cut down, but the huge mutant bear-like creature – known as Katahdin by the tribe’s elder – that appears and threatens to take them all down as it looks for her cub proves otherwise.
As a last hurrah for 1970s eco-horror Prophecy is surprisingly gruesome in places and despite the environmental messages hammering the viewer over the head every few minutes – yes, we know that big businesses are bad and don’t care about the little people but, as Bethel Isley points out once Dr. Verne has him cornered, we have to get our paper from somewhere – and a few dated ideas and filmmaking techniques here and there it is quite gripping. Much of this is down to Robert Foxworth being a manly man of the late ‘70s, with his thick curly hair, proto-Kurt Russell uber-masculine beard and range of chunky knitwear fleshing out the character trait of not wanting to bring children into such a harsh world, which is unfortunate as his wife desperately wants a baby but with that in mind eating the huge fish that Robert caught in the contaminated lake may not have been such a great idea in retrospect. Still, builds character development and Prophecy has a lot of that going on as well as the carnage of the final act.
But Robert Foxworth being manly, albeit it with a sensitive side, isn’t everything here as Richard Dysart is wonderful as the slimy paper mill boss who claims to know nothing about what his company is doing, and although John Hawks first appears as unlikable thanks to Armand Assante and his brooding menace, once the full horror of what is happening sets in he becomes more than just a one-dimensional character. In fact, the only actor who isn’t given that much to do is Talia Shire, who turns on the tears a few times and has some potentially meaty plot points to contend with but whilst Maggie Verne has a few character beats here and there she is really only in the movie to give us exposition on her husband and his world view.
Thankfully, once Katahdin appears at just over the hour mark the mutant creature isn’t as laughably bad as some of the twisted monsters that appeared in some of these movies from the time. Alright, it does look a bit like a melted candle version of a bear covered in jam but instead of an animatronic monstrosity lumbering about the creature was played by three different people – extremely tall Predator actor Kevin Peter Hall plays it in the long shots when it needs to be towering over the other actors, Charles Flemmer for a couple of shots and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives director/professionally trained mime artist Tom McLoughlin for the more animated close-ups – the editing is quick and energetic enough not to linger so we don’t see the joins in the costume, and it certainly looks better and more credible than 1976s version of King Kong that was likely still lingering in the memory at the time.
Extras come in the form of audio commentaries courtesy of Richard Harland Smith and film writers Lee Gambin & Emma Westwood, plus interviews with David Seltzer and the ever-cheerful Tom McLoughlin that contain a few fun nuggets of information for the curious. Overall, however, Prophecy runs about ten minutes too long thanks to an extended hiding scene where John Frankenheimer goes over-the-top with split-screen and focus to illustrate the panic and frustration of hiding from a giant jammy bear monster with a grudge but is still a damn fine creature feature to end a decade on and a worthy addition to the ‘Eureka Classics’ line of releases, and will hopefully now start showing up in a few more of those ‘Best of the Decade’ lists that everyone loves. If nothing else Prophecy is a gem that is certainly ripe for (re)discovery.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★