Directed by: John Frankenheimer
Written by: David Seltzer
Original Year of Release: 1979
Distrubtor: Scream Factory
Order it HERE
Long did I look at the VHS for 1979’s Prophecy when I worked at the video store. Occasionally I would ponder taking it home, but no one ever recommended that I should. Actually, until I just watched it, I had never heard anything about the film. It is directed by John Frankenheimer, best known for The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and stars Robert Foxworth, known for being the voice of Ratchet in the Michael Bay Transformers movies, and Talia Shire (you know her best as Mrs. Rocky Balboa from the first 5 Rocky movies). Not your typical horror cast or a crew that warrants a film geek to seek it out. In fact, the two actors who played the “beast” in the Prophecy, Kevin Peter Hall (who played the Predator in Predator) and Tom McLoughlin (who is a Horror Genre staple) are more recognizable. Nonetheless, Scream Factory, as is their reputation, has released a fantastic transfer, new special features, and given more love to Prophecy than anyone else, perhaps since writer, David Seltzer, wrote the story.
Prophecy is better placed in the sub-genre of ecological terror. Man is the true monster and here he is poisoning the environment and thus creating terrors to plague the innocent. Maggie (Talia Shire) and Rob (Robert Foxworth) are brought in to investigate a sawmill in Maine that is being attacked by Native American Indians. The Indians, led by John Hawks (Armand Assante), claim that the sawmill is poisoning the ground and their world is unbalanced. Rob is both a doctor and environmentalist and after grilling the powers that be, he discovers, with the help of the Indians, that the earth is being poisoned. The result is a beast the likes of which no one has ever seen before, a beast that is multiple steps in the evolutionary chain, in one. With that being said, it looks like a giant mutated skinned bear. Snore.
The whole film moves at a very strange pace. Frankenheimer introduces us to Maggie first, though her part of the story is almost left to the damsel in distress character more than anything else. She is a cellist and simply tags along with her husband, Rob. Oh, she is pregnant, unbeknownst to Rob, and outside of this being a point of contention between the two she initially has some fear that the food and water they have consumed may have affected her baby. Yet, as the final reel rolls, it isn’t brought up again.
The terror of the “beast” hunting Rob, Maggie, and the Indians is far from scary. In fact, they should have pulled a cue from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and gone with a “less is more” approach. The young cubs are creepy and even evoke a bit of emotion when you see them. They didn’t ask for this, they are just living creatures. So kudos to the makeup artists and puppeteers for bringing that to the table.
So what went wrong? Well, the great thing about getting retro releases of old movies in a new format is that the surviving cast and crew members can discuss the film with honesty. They aren’t legally obligated to endorse the film or worried about their careers. Robert Foxworth and Talia Shire both discuss why they picked the script and the director to work with, but Shire is a bit of an anomaly. She openly admits to never having watched the film (she doesn’t care to see herself on screen). Foxworth discusses issues with production, but not to the scale of which screenwriter David Seltzer does. Yes, this is the special feature you want to watch. Seltzer dives into why he wrote the story, the novel (closer to what he wanted on screen), and how he and Frankenheimer parted ways during production. Seltzer seemed like a no-nonsense type of guy that I would love to hear more stories from. Because if he told Frankenheimer to go fuck himself, what type of stories does he have for Richard Donner and The Omen, which he also wrote?