½*/**** Image B Sound C-
starring Talia Shire, Robert Foxworth, Armand Assante, Richard Dysart
screenplay by David Seltzer
directed by John Frankenheimer
by Walter Chaw There is a moment in the middle of John Frankenheimer's relentlessly campy (and prophecy-free) Prophecy when noble savage John Hawks (essayed by Irish-Italian Armand Assante), eluding the fuzz, runs through a forest clearing, into a cabin, and out a closed window. Why Hawks didn't just take off into the woods is a mystery almost as great as what happened to Frankenheimer after the 1960s. I also liked a scene that finds professional weepy milquetoast Talia Shire with a mutant bear cub chewing on her throat.
Prophecy is a self-important, self-conscious environmental horror film scripted by David Seltzer (recently guilty of Dragonfly, he continues to coast on the surprise success of his The Omen) that makes time to somehow preach a pro-life platform as well. "Preach" being the operative word. Prophecy stars professional blue-veiner Robert Foxworth as do-gooder inner-city doctor Robert Verne who moonlights, I guess, as an EPA agent. The performance is frankly hilarious, a dead-on extrapolation of what it would be like were Mike Brady not restrained by the half-hour sitcom format and allowed the opportunity to rail at spoilers and man's inhumanity to nature. His wife, browbeaten and simpering as only Shire can be, is concert cellist Maggie. Maggie is--gasp!--pregnant; in a film about mutagens in the water (Foxworth helpfully emotes "FREAKism!" to explain the problem), having a bun in the oven is problematic, to say the least. A guy in a rubber suit plays an evil mutant bear, George Clutesi plays the mystical elder who overestimates his mystical bond with nature, and Richard Dysart stars as a bug-eyed paper mill owner.
Frankenheimer's best films (I'm thinking of The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, The Train, Seconds) feature wide-angle compositions, layered depth of focus (with primaries in the fore and sharp secondaries in the background), extreme low-angles (featuring the use of ceilings pioneered by Toland and Welles), static forced perspectives, and stark lighting compositions. Prophecy features some nice deep-focus shots in an underground tunnel scene (mistaking Maine Indians for the Viet Cong, I guess), but otherwise could have been directed by William Girdler. Most upsetting is the fact that Frankenheimer was, for a time, at the forefront of topicality: Prophecy is the kind of eco-paranoia monster B-movie that went out of style with the giant bugs of the fifties. It takes its place alongside such seventies stillbirths as Kingdom of the Spiders, Frogs, and Willard.
Prophecy is indisputably awful but funny enough in its earnestness that it's virtually impossible to dislike. Its easy message of tree-hugging environmentalism rings laughably hollow while Maggie's strange aversion to aborting a mutant, bloodthirsty foetus does infinitely more to damage to the intractable pro-life rationale. Still, with Shire screaming stuff like, "You were too busy playing God to be a human being!" and Foxworth sweatily sermonizing on every imaginable liberal manifesto, Prophecy is a prime example of a movie so bad it's uproarious. (My favourite bit comes as an unfortunate camper tries to hop away from the monster while encased in a yellow, star-shaped sleeping bag.) Prophecy fails so miserably that it reaches depths generally reserved for William Shatner records and Nora Ephron screenplays. Watch it with a friend.
Paramount presents Prophecy on DVD in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that defies expectations for a negative pushing twenty-three years old. The colours are brilliant, the black levels are excellent, and despite some obvious edge-enhancement, age-related grain, and minor blurring, the film looks fantastic here. I suspect that short of catching this thing in the theatres with Mr. Peabody the three or four weeks it ran back in '79, this is the brightest Prophecy will ever glow. Less impressive is the Dolby 2.0 surround mix, which randomly shifts noises between the two front mains and drops the volume on the dialogue to the inaudible in favour of cranking up the score and the screeching sound effects. There are absolutely no special features. Originally published: March 4, 2002.