‘The monster movie’
Prophecy is a 1979 science fiction horror film directed by John Frankenheimer (Seconds; The Manchurian Candidate) from a screenplay by David Seltzer (The Omen). It stars Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire (Windows) and Armand Assante.
The film is an ecological fable about the evils of industrial pollution. A novelisation of the film, also written by Seltzer, was published, with the tagline “A Novel of Unrelenting Terror”.
Dr. Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth), an inner-city physician renowned for his compassion and fairness. So he’s asked by the EPA to mediate a dispute between Native American tribes and a polluting paper mill in isolated northern Maine. Accompanied by his pregnant wife Maggie (Talia Shire), a classical musician, Robert journeys to the deep woods, where he meets the tribal leader, John Hawks (Armand Assante) and a representative of the mill, Mr. Isley (Richard Dysart).
It transpires that the mill is indeed poisoning the local water supply with mercury, causing illness among tribe members and some mutated local wildlife. The Native Americans and the paper mill point fingers at each other for a rash of recent disappearances in the area, but Robert believes that something more ominous is responsible when he observes a huge salmon eat a duck.
Robert is proven right when he encounters an enormous, mutated grizzly bear with a taste for human flesh. Unfortunately for Robert and Maggie, he has taken one of the creature’s cubs back to camp, leading an angry mother bear to his tent flap…
Some violence/gore and other scenes were deleted not because of the censors but on a decision made by director John Frankenheimer. This included a longer close-up of a man’s headless corpse and a shot of Katahdin the bear (played by Kevin Peter Hall) graphically disembowelling Isley (both deemed “gratuitous”), a flashback to the night where Rob and Maggie have sex (deleted for time), and extensions of several scenes, including a longer tour of the paper mill and Rob fishing, which showed him falling asleep and later waking up in the sun.
The original concept for Katahdin was considerably more terrifying than what would eventually show up on screen. However, when director John Frankenheimer saw the design, he suggested that it should be altered to look more “bear-like”. Interestingly, the original concept was actually quite close to the poster art.
Frankenheimer considered Prophecy a film with far more potential than what he eventually delivered, allegedly due to him being at the peak of his alcoholism. The scene where Katahdin swats the boy in the sleeping bag to smithereens is regarded as unintentionally hilarious by many viewers.
“…Prophecy has a certain something that just can’t be denied. Prophecy even contains a MESSAGE (re: don’t mess with Mother Nature or you’ll be sorry), which is more than I can say for most horror movies produced today. Is it scary? No. Vastly amusing? You bet your bottom dollar.” Patrick Naugle, DVD Verdict
“Despite some lashings of gore and the obviously surreal make-up effects (both of which are strong enough to make one really question the PG rating), the film is really undone by its awkward dialogue and the attempt to wedge some kind of moral into the proceedings.” Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital
Cast and characters:
- Robert Foxworth as Dr. Robert Verne
- Talia Shire as Maggie Verne
- Armand Assante as John Hawks
- Victoria Racimo as Ramona Hawks
- Richard A. Dysart as Bethel Isley
- George Clutesi as Hector M’Rai
- Burke Byrnes as Travis Nelson (Father)
- Mia Bendixsen as Kathleen Nelson (Girl)
- Johnny Timko as Paul Nelson (Boy)
- Charles H. Gray as Sheriff Bartholomew Pilgrim
- Tom McFadden as Huntoon (Helicopter Pilot)
- Graham Jarvis as Victor Shusette
- Everett Creach as Kelso
- Kevin Peter Hall as Katahdin
Posted by Will Holland