Prophecy (1979)

Released by Paramount in 1979, Prophecy, along with Alien, Phantasm and George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead formed an unholy quartet of horror movies that assaulted the hearts, minds and stomachs of cinema-goers during that infamous ‘summer of fear’. Of these four films probably the most neglected, and deservedly so, is John Frankenheimer’s ecological horror film starring Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire, Armand Assante, Richard Dysart and a carnivorous, drooling fifteen foot mutant bear.

Working from a ludicrous script by David Seltzer, author of The Omen (1976 & 2006), the film makes a plaintive plea about the dangers of a contaminating industry on the natural environment and how it could spawn obscene freaks of nature that may one day bite back. Seltzer specialises in films that explore the end of the world as exemplified in both incarnations of The Omen as well as his bug-movie The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971). Needless to say, Prophecy is equally dour in its predictions.

Tagged with the subtitle ‘the monster movie’, it has its moments of genuine suspense, especially in the impressive opening sequence where several mountaineers descend into a gloomy, Lovecraftian-like pit where the titular monster decimates them in the darkness. Unfortunately, there are not enough scenes of this kind and most other shocks in the film are not so cleverly engineered by the director. This is a shame.

The performances by Foxworth and Shire are heartfelt and everybody else tries hard but the material is so ridiculous that the results are sometimes painful to watch. The special effects by Tom Burman are not up to the standards of his work on Philip Kauffman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) or Paul Schrader’s remake of Cat People (1982) and at times look distinctly fake and rubbery.

Now forget all my previously negative comments and go rent or buy this film immediately. Prophecy is the kind of z-grade, messy, misguided, big-studio trash that is so bad its simply quite brilliant. On the positive side, the film does build nicely towards its climax, wringing quite a few moments of suspense along the way. This isn’t the Frankenheimer of The Manchurian Candidate (1962) or Seconds (1966) but Prophecy, though not an entirely successful synthesis of its themes and ideas, is a joy to behold.