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PROPHECY (1979)

-Review by Nic Brown-

There’s an old saying: “Don’t mess with Mother Nature.” Maybe it was a line from a butter product commercial, either way the advice is good. Unfortunately, regardless of its validity or origin, the saying is often ignored as mankind seeks to improve our standard of living and feed an ever growing population. Director John Frankenheimer (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY) took a stab at environmental issues and a piece of the ‘nature gone wild’ horror market opened up by JAWS with his 1979 film PROPHECY.

 

The film opens up with Dr. Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth) suffering from severe burn out with his job serving the poor in the slums of Washington D.C. As a way to seek some relief, and possibly do some real good, he takes an assignment to investigate claims by Native Americans that a logging and paper mill business in the forests of Northern Maine is poisoning the land and killing the natives. Verne jumps at the chance and takes his wife Maggie (Talia Shire) with him so she can have a holiday in the woods.

 

The representative of the logging company and paper mill, Mr. Isley (Richard Dysart) is eager to show Dr Verne and his wife around and play the good host. However, his darker side comes out when they encounter Native American activist John Hawk (Armand Assante), and it quickly becomes apparent that the dispute between the company and the Native Americans could easily turn to bloodshed. Isley claims that a number of recent disappearances in the area are due to Hawk and his people seeking vengeance on the logging company, and local law enforcement backs this theory up whole heartedly.

 

The truth of the matter is soon clear as mercury pollution from the paper mill is discovered, and the disappearances are found to be caused by a giant mutant grizzly bear. The creature is bloodthirsty and super strong. It starts its reign of terror by attacking campers and anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves in its territory. That changes when Dr Verne finds one of the creature’s mutant spawn and tries to take it to prove what the mercury contamination has done. Now the monster will stop at nothing to get its offspring back, and Hawk, Isley, the Doctor and his wife must try to escape before the mutated abomination kills them all.

 

PROPHECY is a film with a message. Unfortunately, the message is delivered through a weak story with plot holes large enough to sail a Green Peace ship through. If you can set the story issues aside, however, you will find a respectably fun monster movie hiding inside. Frankenheimer did not have access to the best big budget special effects available, but he uses tight camera shots, fast cuts and other tricks of the trade to make the monster bear a genuinely scary creature. It seems to appear almost at random as it stalks its victims, and the speed and ferocity of its attacks are truly stunning. The monster has a unique look as the special effects crew took the basic shape and physical attributes of a bear and changed them into a horrific nightmare of exposed muscle and bone, blood and gaping jaws. The nearly hairless creature is disgusting to look at when the audience is given the chance to truly view its features.

 

Although the film’s message is delivered in a somewhat used up vehicle with numerous factual errors, it does still hit the audience over the head repeatedly with the idea that we must be more environmentally responsible. Of course today we’re more concerned about global climate change than giant, mutant grizzly bears, but the point is still there, hammered home repeatedly by Assante and Foxworth’s monologues on the evils of man’s destruction of nature (and yes they do go on about it). The film also had the unfortunate timing to open at the same time as the 1979 hit ALIEN, thereby ensuring that it would disappear from the box office almost unnoticed. That is too bad because despite the weak story, PROPHECY still delivers some good scares, lots of gore and a truly memorable crazy raccoon attack! So check out John Frankenheimer’s PROPHECY and then if you still feel like camping in the woods remember not to zip that sleeping bag all the way up, you may need to get out of it in a hurry!



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