Color, 1979, 102 mins. 32 secs.
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Starring Talia Shire, Robert Foxworth, Armand Assante, Richard Dysart, Victoria Racimo
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Paramount (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16x9 enhanced)
Released during the peak of the new horror revival which also saw such entries as The Omen, Dawn of the Dead, and Alien, John Frankenheimer's shaggy dog - err, bear - of a monster movie, Prophecy, became the object of immediate ridicule for its big budget squandered in the service of a diatribe about the environment. Over twenty years later, Prophecy still suffers from a fairly negative reputation but has gained something of a cult following for its outlandish highlights including the nasty fate of one helicopter pilot and an unbelievable vignette involving a sleeping bag. Say what you will, Prophecy certainly isn't boring and, despite some post-production tinkering, still ranks as one of the more grisly PG-rated films of its era.
The wilds of Maine have become a breeding ground for hatred when the local Indian tribes clash with industrial paper mill developers running roughshod over Mother Nature. For some reason Dr. Robert Verne (Foxworth) and his wife, Maggie (Rocky's Shire), head up to deal with the problem, which also involves the mysterious disappearances of several locals. The discovery of some mutated bear cubs tip off the doctor that a grizzly bear affected by the rampant mercury poisoning in the water is responsible for all of the mayhem, so he packs up the cubs and heads back to home base. Naturally, mama bear (referred to as Kataden) is none too pleased and, quicker than you can say Gorgo, stomps through the woods hellbent on revenge.
Considering the relative competence of most of the actors (including a young Armand Assante as an intrepid Indian activist) and Frankenheimer's good track record with popcorn fare, Prophecy stood a chance of at least turning out as a good, pulpy monster movie. Despite some lashings of gore and the obviously surreal make up effects, the film is a bit hamstrung by its awkward dialogue and the attempt to wedge some kind of moral into the proceedings. Frankenheimer publicly stated he was brought on as a director for hire and was never too keen on the whole environmental angle, so you can attribute that to screenwriter David Seltzer whose work on The Omen scared the bejeezus out of God-fearing viewers everywhere. No matter what, as far as horror movies involving Native Americans and nature running wild go, Prophecy is still far more entertaining and compulsively watchable than Nightwing from the same year.
Prophecy is certainly a visually pleasing film thanks to its sprawling British Columbia scenery and professional widescreen lensing, but the Panavision compositions were brutalized for years by Paramount's blurry, badly cropped TV and video transfers until a 2007 DVD restored the film to its original scope glory. The early Dolby Stereo track features some separation in the music tracks and a few directional foley effects giving some nice spatial depth where it counts. As for extras, well, there are "scene selections" and "interactive menus," which is pretty threadbare for a disc that originally retailed for $30!
In 2019, the film made its inevitable bump up to Blu-ray from Scream Factory with a significantly better transfer that really brings out the lush foliage and inky darkness of the night scenes, nicely reflecting the dense, textured look of late '70s film stock. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track is a solid improvement as well with a hefty richness to the music and stronger separation than before, showing off how far Dolby Stereo had come in just four years. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided. The Blu-ray also comes outfitted with an impressive slate of new extras that manage to capture a lot of insight about the film, which is even more of an achievement given how long ago Frankenheimer passed away. In "All of Our Sins" (18m59s), Shire recalls getting the part after a run-in with the director and Jeff Bridges, the dedication to the musical aspect of her role, her dislike for travel (especially helicopters), her even greater dislike for chainsaws, and the ecological message of the film then versus now. Then it's Foxworth's turn in "Bearing Up" (10m2s) for a chat about the state of special effects at the time, Frankenheimer's strengths as an urban, people-focused director (including the one term that was verboten on the set), and the method of making an environmental story accessible to the general public at the time. If you thought that was it for the bear puns, forget it as we move on to "Bear and Grin It" (13m14s) with Seltzer explaining how he wrote the screenplay before the tie-in book and felt quite a bit of displeasure when he saw the monster compared to the one he intended in the script. That latter topic also gets tackled in "Hard to Bear" (19m34s) with special makeup effects designer Tom Burman and "Prophecy Prodigy" (21m14s) with special makeup effects artist Allan Apone about the process of coming up with the ursine beast in the film compared to the radically different earlier iterations, the last-minute challenge of having the creature go in the water, the misery of being in a monster suit, the daily process at the effects shop with other people around like Craig Reardon, and the puppeteering process for the baby mutants. Finally "The Man Behind the Mask" (21m51s) features mime artist Tom McLoughlin, who first got in the business with Woody Allen's Sleeper and ended up performing some of the crucial scenes for the so-called "pizza bear" (along with a ballet dancer for some shots), which led to many later gigs with Burman and company. Also included are the theatrical trailer, a batch of six radio spots (2m28s), and a gallery (7m11s) of stills, lobby cards and promotional artwork.
Reviewed on December 1, 2019.