Review: Prophecy (1979)

Directed by the great John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Seconds, Ronin), Prophecy is the story of a public health doctor sent to the great outdoors of Maine to see if the lumber company up there is hurting the environment. Sounds pretty horrific, right? Well, the film’s subtitle is The Monster Movie, so, you know, there’s more to it that lumber.

Actually, much of the film concerns Dr. Rob’s (Robert Foxworth, his white man fro and his shaggy beard) investigation into the Native American Indians who are protesting the paper mill. They say company is poisoning the water and hurting their people, beside the fact that they consider it their land and want no part of the cutting down of trees. Things start to get all creature-feature during the film’s second half (mainly in the last third).

So, is it a good movie? No, it isn’t but I love it anyway. Why? Because its fun and I respect the fact Frankenheimer plays the material earnestly and with no winks at the audience.

Unfortunately, the director forgets he is making a monster movie for much of the running time. The blend of serious social commentary about pollution and the suspense scenes of terror are not blended together well. After the gruesome opening it’s about fifty minutes before another scene of horror (save for a ridiculous scene of a raccoon attack, you’ll have to see it to believe it). The film is not well paced, and lags in spots, especially in the slow middle act.

Even bad Frankenheimer is well shot and professional and that’s why I love the movie. If it had the same story but had been shoddily directed by an uninterested hack, then it would have been unwatchable.

There are definitely interesting touches in Prophecy. One is the camera work that shows of the great beauty and the great danger nature provides. Many times the director uses classical music while showing the violent imagery of the story thus contrasting the beauty and ugliness of man and nature.

Secondly, one of the few times dark, foreboding music is used in the first half of the film is when the camera pans over the paper mill. It’s clear that Frankenheimer is more interested in the horrors of big business than in the horrors of the monster.

Last, the lumber company executive, played by Richard Dysart (The Thing) is not a mustache twirling evil suit, but a more realistic business man. He states late in the film that while he didn’t know that the paper mill was poisoning the environment and was responsible for creating the mutated monster, he admits, “I didn’t want to know”.

Unfortunately, the film is just too unintentionally cheesy to be that be called a good film. The silliness of a late-in-the-game plot point where the hero must keep the monster deformed babies alive, as proof of the pollution, is too much for the film to overcome.

The creature effects are also greatly lacking. When the monster is revealed in full body shots, it is clear that it’s a bear with bad make-up effects thrown on it haphazardly. Another negative is a family that is introduced early in the film and has nothing to do with the plot or the main character. We learn nothing about them as people and they are strictly in the film just to get killed later on by the monster. Though, to be honest, that particular scene is hilarious. The monster, instead of mauling one of the children in their sleeping bag, just hits the running child. The youngster goes flying against a rock and the sleeping bag bursts, its feathers shooting out everywhere.

At the end of the day, Prophecy isn’t a good film but it’s a fun and interesting one that due to its politics, clothing and hair styles is a nice time capsule of late seventies, early eighties horror.

Click here to see the trailer I edited for Prophecy.

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