Dr. Robert Verne is overworked and sick and tired of doing everything he can, yet still being unable to make any kind of difference or impact regarding the inner city tenements. While out on a job, one of his colleagues offers him a job at the EPA. There’s been some strange goings on up there, and they need somebody to go to Maine to inspect a lumber mill and the surrounding area, as well as act as a go-between for the local Native Americans and the lumber company. Eager to be involved in something where he may actually be able to make a difference, Verne accepts, and takes his wife along with him.
They look like a fun couple.
Upon arriving, Verne realizes there’s more going on here than he was originally told. The lumber mill and the Natives seem to literally be at each other’s throats. Several people have gone missing or turned up dead, something the Natives attribute to their local legend, Katahdin, a creature that is supposed to be larger than a dragon with the eyes of a cat. On top of that, the local wildlife is a lot bigger than it should be and the Natives report that their children are being born sillborn or mutated. Verne quickly figures out that the lumber mill is seeping mercury into the water and contaminating everything in its path. But the more immediate problem may be that the legend of Katahdin may not be a legend after all.
Or at least it’s not a legend ANYMORE. Thanks, Lumber Mill.
Prophecy is another example of the ecologically tinged, exploitative, ‘the animals are coming for us’ horror movie subgenre that was quite popular in the 1970s, a genre that blessed us with movies such as Night of the Lepus, Frogs, and Day of the Animals. If you’re out there thinking that those movies don’t garner any goodwill beyond amusement for how campy they were, then that should give you a fairly good idea of what to expect from this film. Though Prophecy does have a couple of notable things going for it.
None of which involves 1970s fashion tips.
For starters, the setting and the story are actually pretty good. Sure, it falls into the cliche category of ‘the evil corporations have doomed us all,’ but there’s nothing wrong with a cliche if the cliche is actually done well. Addmittedly, the ending falls apart a bit when everyone starts making astoundingly stupid decisions during the film’s climax, but the corporate story, the Native’s story and the Doctor’s story are all pretty well put together, even if the Doctor’s portion feels a bit overly dramatic and hamfisted at times. Plus we get some very nice vista shots of Maine (*cough*Canada*cough*), which helps add to the immediacy and tie the whole thing together.
And it’s just damn pretty to look at.
The film is also very well acted. Most of the main characters are veterans of the silver screen. Talia Shire and had just come off films like Rocky and The Godfather, and Richard Dyart had just finished up Carpenter’s The Thing. It also starrs Robert Foxworth, who seemed to be the 70’s prefered choice when the role called for a ‘bearded everyman’ type. Then there’s Armand Assante, who, while he does a fantastic job, manages to feel a bit out of place. Not so much because of his acting, but because I know he’s Italian and not Native American, and I found that little factoid very distracting. But again, it was the 70’s, whacha gonna do? At least they hired Native Americans for the other Native American roles.
No, the fault with this film lies not with the story or the acting but with, sadly, the creature. At some point before the beast is revealed the doctor suspects, based on the Native legend and the known effects of mercury poisoning, that the creature is a combination of different evolutionary stages of embryonic development. He starts talking about reptiles and fish and birds and it sets your expectations way higher than they should be, because what we ultimately end up with is something that looks like a burnt bear with a few pig features…if you look at it just right.
It’s so disappointing that I can’t even muster the energy to be angry.
I’d rather laugh instead, so here’s a gif of a kid being obliterated in a flurry of feathers.
To add to this insult of destroyed expectations, it’s horribly obvious on multiple occasions that this thing is little more than a very large rubber puppet. Sure, there are times when you can tell it’s actually a very tall man in a bear/pig costume, but most of the time it’s not, and you can tell when those times are, because this thing moves around as if it has no weight whatsoever. They either put it on a dolly and rolled it or just threw the damn thing and it just draws you out of the moment, because you know that something that big has to be heavier than that.
And you can’t chalk it up to ‘the times’, because ALIEN came out the same year and didn’t have this problem.
Then there are the times before the creature even shows up, the times when they’re trying to build up suspense by just letting you hear the creature before you can see it, and even that, they managed to screw up. I’m not sure what they were trying to do in these moments. Well, that’s not ture, I mean, I’m sure they were trying to make the thing menacing, sure. But instead of having the thing growl, they decided to have it breath. Don’t get me wrong, I know you can make just the sound of breathing intimidating, but here they missed the mark. Instead of evoking danger it just sounds like it’s having some kind of asthma attack. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to feel threatened by something when I’m thinking of going down to the pharmacy to try to get the poor thing an inhaler. So not only did the movie make it ugly, but it gave it breathing problems too. That’s just cruel.
It’s already in this movie, has it not suffered enough?
And I would be terribly remiss in not mentioning the film’s climax, because it’s not much of one. Not only is it predictable, but some of the decisions the characters make are just horribly laughable. At one point one of the characters is essentially incapacitated. So the other characters find what amounts to a large Jeep and try to escape the forest in the middle of the night. Now, the poor guy who can’t move doesn’t fit into the vehicle, so their solution is to tie him to the roof. Keep in mind that the creature they’re running from is over 8-feet tall, is primarily nocturnal…. and they’re in a horror movie. They might as well as rubbed the dude in fish oil and stuck a sign around his neck that said “Bait.” And it only gets better from there. Some time later the ‘hero’ starts rejoicing because the creature has supposedly ‘drowned.’ Meanwhile, the other survivors are staring at the water, likely thinking the same thing the viewer is: “Um, can’t bears swim?”
Why, yes. Yes they can.
They can also swing grandpa around like a ragdoll, in case you’re wondering.
So is Prophecy any good? It’s a mixed bag. The acting, setting and story are pretty decent for a creature feature, but the dialogue can get a little preachy and long-winded at times and some of the scenes feel artificially drawn out. Most of the effects are pretty good, but the creature, aka the main draw of the film, is just kind of pitiful. But it’s greatest sin is that it’s just not scary. It’s clear that they were going for scary, but the design decisions and the ending tip it over into ‘campy’ territory. Which is great for me, because I was amused as all hell and laughing hysterically towards the end, but I’m 99% sure that that wasn’t the effect they were going for. So if you’re looking for a scary eco-terror film, this is not what you are looking for. But if you’re looking for campy goodness, you will likely be amused.
Prophecy is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
It is also available on DVD and Bluray.