Prophecy: No Not That One, The Other One
Dir. John Frankenheimer (1979)
A logging company is destroying Native American land, and a health inspector is dispatched to figure out the problems that are arising as a result. He finds a big one in the form of a mutated bear monster.
Perhaps the greatest eco-horror film ever made, Prophecy, made in 1979, was one of the first to discuss Native American rights and evil lumber companies who seek to profit at their expense. It’s also often confused for The Prophecy, the Christopher Walken vehicle where the angel Gabriel tries to destroy humanity. This is not the same film by any stretch of the imagination. Director John Frankenheimer, who also directed The Manchurian Candidate, Black Sunday, and several other political thrillers, decided to turn his attention to human rights issues in this film. For some reason, he thought making it into a creature feature would be the best way to get his point across. I can assure you, this strategy works in spades, because no one in 1979 wanted to watch a movie about Native Americans protesting lumber mills, and I damn sure don’t want to watch one now. While that other option may have made for a more Oscar-ready film, this one is starring Talia Shire (Adrian from Rocky), Armand Assante (Gotti from Gotti), and a giant mutated PenisBear™. So suck it, Academy.
Taking place in Maine, the movie features some amazingly terrible accent (which I can assure you are unfortunately exactly how Mainers sound), a monster named after local Mount Katahdin (which seems to be spelled phonetically), and lots and lots of wooded areas (which is an exact replica of what Maine is actually like. There’s trees and nothin’ else.) Of course, the whole damn movie was filmed in Canada, so… nevermind on all of the above. Local legends tell of a Bigfoot-like monster called Katahdin, which is “bigger than a dragon with eyes of a cat.” That’s got to be the most vague description of a mythical monster I’ve ever heard, but it’s, I guess, not inaccurate? Armand Assante plays a Native American who chains himself to the trees the loggers want to cut down, and this results in an intense standoff where Assante is willing to be beheaded by a chainsaw rather than allow them to continue to defile nature.
Armand Assante with an axe somehow more badass than Armand Assante without an axe.
Where most eco-horror films use the ecological mishap or misdeed simply as a reason for the monster to be there, Prophecy is a movie about ecological crimes that cause mutations in the wild, including the huge bear monster. It is not the bear that is the problem most of the film is concerned about but the evils of capitalism and how it affects native populations. The film is intriguing in that regard because it feels more like a real movie than the others, more of a film than a drive-in exploitation of minorities. The main characters are just as concerned with resolving the problems of the Original People (as they’re called in the film) as they are with fighting off the monster that these concerns created. With today’s socially conscious world, it’s an interesting tactic to take, and an interesting stance that one must solve the overarching problem instead of getting bogged down by the evils that it creates.
By the time our heroes identify the fact that the logging company has been spilling mercury into the waters, we have already been given several views of contaminated wildlife, and we know what’s coming next. If a fish grows three times larger than normal, what would happen to other, larger creatures? The explanation for these mutations is a tad far-fetched, having to do with the developmental cycles of animal fetuses and how each fetus goes through stages where its different animals during these cycles. This, somehow, results in a giant bear creature that is part bear, part other shit, and part even more shit. It looks like a Bear/Dog/Abortion, and it finally shows its face, and its wrath, in the most famous scene in the film. In this scene, it manages to dispatch an entire family, all without allowing them to leave their sleeping bags.
They’re basically bear burritos.
The creature effects are really good, creating disgusting little monsters to go along with the disgusting big monster that’s the star of the show. The acting is pretty decent, the writing is excellent, and while the film does move pretty slowly throughout most of its runtime, it’s not terrible because it’s very well done even during those times. The sound quality is excellent (even on YouTube!), and the sound effects used for the cries of the creatures is bone-chilling. The giant monster bear crashes through the trees like the T-Rex from Jurassic Park but looks more like a bloody version of the Annihilation bear. The film’s greatest downfall is its sparing use of the bear itself, which is really a fantastic showcase of creature design.
Like a cross between a bear and a giant dick. But like, in a good way.
Who this movie is for: Creature feature buffs; B-movie monster fans; People who accidentally rented the wrong movie
Bottom line: One does not usually get such a complete film when watching monster movies, and you’d have to go back to the Godzilla days to find these films making such important social critiques. Whether it’s a good film is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but I thought it was extremely watchable and an important entry into the eco-horror genre. The branding of the film, including the tagline “The Monster Movie,” is a deft attempt to get the film seen, which worked in making it at least profitable. But, for horror films with social critique that is as important as ever, it hits on all of the points it swings at. Give it a shot if this kind of movie is your thing. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.