The monster-movie phase underwent a mitosis into the serial killer and alien eras, somewhere circa 1980. As the disaster movie had dominated in the 1970’s, Jaws took horror in another direction with an Academy Award winning shark, shifting per the viewer’s fears, into the shredding jagged teeth of nature. Thereafter we saw every animal take its swipe at mankind, from killer whales (Orca) to ants (Empire of the Ants) to frogs (Frogs) and worms (Squirm) to bears (Grizzly) and even rabid human beings (Rabid)… But all of this branched off near its burnout. Inhuman serial killers emerged, into the woods and neighborhoods, to stalk victims in their homes and camps (Halloween, Friday the 13th, etc). And on the other half of this splitting cell, was the evolution of the animal into aliens (CHUD, Alien, etc), and the one of which we speak of here today – the deformed, supernatural animal from 1979’s Prophecy!
Prophecy is a widely respected monster movie amongst those that were around during its age. Although quite forgotten about and left behind since then, Prophecy was a gritty, violent, and deadly film that packed a death punch with very vivid, nightmarish special effects (as rubber as they were). Heads are bitten off and faces shredded beyond recognition as the local residents of a mountainside forest are eaten alive by a towering and deformed, bloodthirsty and vengeful bear.
In short, Prophecy is the story of Dr. Verne and his wife Maggie, played scientifically callous by Robert Foxworth, and the over-emotional and shy Talia Shire – as hired by the EPA to look into a logging operation in the Androscoggin mountains of Maine. Loggers have been going missing, or found dead, and the local American Indians are the main suspect. While traveling up into the mountains accompanied by the paper mill director (Richard A. Dysart of The Thing), Dr. Verne and his wife are stopped by John Hawks (Armand Assante) and a group of Indians. The accusations and the forest raping has come to a head, and they’re able to continue – but only after a nasty chainsaw is held to Hawk’s throat. The actors are good, and this scene is awesome. That massive chainsaw was running just an inch from Assante’s adams apple, without CGI. Sick.
After reaching their destination in the mountains, the doctor sees a massive salmon eat a duck in the lake, and a raccoon shred up his cabin (this is by far the fakest, dumbest scene in the whole film. It reminds you of Bruce Campbell fighting his hand in Evil Dead 2, or the brothers in Phantasm with their hands on that monster that they try to kill in the garbage disposal – only its supposed to be serious. I don’t remember one facetious line in Prophecy.)
Now sympathizing with the Indian community, Dr. Verne looks for the cause of these abnormalities, and a link to the loggers’ deaths. They discover mercury being leaked into the waters surrounding the paper mill, thus poisoning the fetal community – causing stillbirths and deformities. While struggling with the knowledge that she is pregnant, Maggie discovers a couple of mutated baby bears being washed down river in a storm. One is dead, but the other is rescued by the doctor, who intends to bring it to the local Indians, and call in the logging director to show once and for all, what is taking place.
With all of them gathered in tents – the Indians, the doctor and the loggers – comes the best part of this movie. The Katahdin attacks! Bodies are broken in half by an exo-intestinal monster mutation that the locals had been describing as “larger than a dragon with the eyes of a cat” comes in search of her screaming, baby cub. People are thrown into fires, twitching in death spasms, the high-pitched, horrid screams of the imminently dying as their necks are broken and heads are bitten off. The Katahdin rips the camp to pieces. Our stars escape to a tunnel below, until one unlucky survivor sticks his head up out of the hole to see if its safe minutes later. His head is gashed to the brain by bear claws Freddy Krueger would be jealous of. Survivor no more. All of this culminates in an attempt to escape the mountain the following day, after spending a fear-drenched night in the tunnels.
Final analysis: Director John Frankenheimer and writer David Seltzer team up to formulate a serious attempt to put fear into the hearts of the environmentally challenged with a monster that would not soon be forgotten. What makes it different than something like Grizzly? The deaths are hardcore realistic and shocking, and this is compounded by the fact that it is expertly scored and shot by composer Leonard Rosenman and cinematographer Harry Stradling Jr. – housing inside out deformities and unforgiving violence with the power of an out of control locomotive within the structure of professional actors who would go on to become legends, and a forest backdrop that is beautiful and colorfully deceiving. When heads are taken off, with it usually are the gritty bellows of a mutilated cadaver, and the accuracy of it is more unsettling than just a kill shot. Realistic, dramatically acted, and supported with graphic violence, Prophecy is not easily forgotten – forging a professional horror film from the 70’s that holds its own and stands towering amidst the sub-genre from which it spawned.