The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - PROPHECY | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - PROPHECY

prophecy review
Chemical poisoning leads to mutant bears with a thirst for blood.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: John Frankenheimer

Starring: Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire, Armand Assante, Richard Dysart, George Clutesi

prophecy blu-ray

The latter half of the 1970s gave rise to a wave of environmentally themed horrors, a way for Hollywood to cash in on the success of Jaws while indulging their liberal leanings. A small subset of these films - Arthur Hiller's Nightwing, George McCowan's Shadow of the Hawk, and best of all, William Girdler's bonkers The Manitou - played out against a Native American backdrop. Another such movie is John Frankenheimer's 1979 eco-horror Prophecy. It's a sign of how seriously Hollywood was taking these issues that the project could attract a director as respectable as Frankenheimer, with a budget higher than that of Star Wars was sunk into the project.

In the woods of Maine, employees of a logging outfit have been brutally slaughtered by an unknown assailant. The loggers blame the local Native tribe, whose forest habitat they've been gradually eroding. The Natives blame 'Katahdin', a mythical Sasquatch type creature said to be "larger than a dragon with the eyes of a cat."

prophecy review

For some reason I never could figure out, the Environmental Protection Agency hauls a random doctor, Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth), off the streets of Washington DC, believing only he can objectively assess the situation. Don't ask me what qualifies him for this particular job; you just have to go with it.

Arriving in Maine with his pregnant wife Maggie (Talia Shire), Verne sees first hand the animosity between the loggers and the Natives (led by Armand Assante in a classic piece of "he's tanned enough" casting). He also discovers the effects of pollution from the local mill, which is dumping mercury into the river, causing animals to hideously mutate. One such animal is a giant bear that has been ripping the heads off lumberjacks and massacring camping families.

It's a curious coincidence that Eureka's blu-ray of Prophecy arrives the same week as the new Johnny Depp vehicle Minamata hits cinemas. Both movies deal with essentially the same subject - in reality, the people of the Japanese town of Minamata suffered mercury poisoning at the hands of their local chemical company, just like the Natives of Frankenheimer's fiction. It's a sign of how little has changed in four decades that both movies centre a white man as their hero.

prophecy review

I use "hero" loosely as Foxworth's Verne is one of the most unlikeable leads of '70s horror cinema. He's a condescending liberal jerk who thinks of himself as progressive yet is as willing to screw over the Native American population for the sake of the environment as the local mill is for the sake of profit. David Seltzer's script offers an early critique of how neo-liberals weaponise identity politics to turn working class communities against one another when Verne tries to guilt-trip the Natives by comparing their sprawling forest home to the Washington tenements that house 11 African-Americans to a room.

Prophecy isn't exactly subtle about its political message. At one point the clash between tradition and progress is illustrated when a chainsaw-wielding lumberjack takes on an axe-wielding Native in a one-sided duel. The movie often slows down so one character or another can deliver a lecture on environmentalism (it's not quite Steven Seagal at the end of On Deadly Ground, but it's not far off).

prophecy review

For all of its progressive intentions, Prophecy is ultimately a monster movie, and a pretty hackneyed one at that. With his scripts for Piranha and Alligator, John Sayles showed how you can deliver an environmental message in a monster movie without causing any friction or slowing down the plot. It's a feat Seltzer and Frankenheimer can't pull off here, and in the bloody climax it feels like the pair have given up on trying to educate the unwashed in the audience and decide to finally deliver the carnage they've been waiting for.

And what carnage! When the mutant bear (played by Kevin Peter Hall, who would later don the Predator outfit) goes on the rampage the movie really delivers on shock moments. There's a scene involving a young boy in a sleeping bag that will have you rewinding to check if you really did just see what you thought you saw (and you did!). The bear looks frankly ridiculous, covered in grotesque warts that make it look like a giant STD-infected penis. It's probably just as well that the creature effects are so laughable, as seeing well-rendered mutated animals is tough to take, as anyone who has seen that dog in The Fly 2 can attest.

New feature length audio commentary by Richard Harland Smith; a new feature length audio commentary by film writers Lee Gambin and Emma Westwood; new interviews with screenwriter David Seltzer and mime artist Tom McLoughlin; original trailer.

 is on UK blu-ray August 16th from Eureka Entertainment.