Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.
Release Date: June 15th, 1979 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: John Frankenheimer Actors: Talia Shire, Robert Foxworth, Armand Assante, Richard Dysart, Victoria Racimo, George Clutesi, Tom McFadden, Graham Jarvis
ardhats with lights flicker across inky trees in a dense forest as a group of search-and-rescue team members lead bloodhounds to a deep gulley. When one of the dogs lunges over the edge, the men decide to lower ropes and see what’s at the bottom. A riverbed awaits, but so too do screams, blood, death, and some sort of ravenous monstrosity.
The next morning, Maggie Verne (Talia Shire) plays the cello in an orchestra rehearsal. But she’s hopelessly distracted, as she’s pregnant and has yet to tell her husband, Rob (Robert Foxworth) – a man overly dedicated to his work, and one who will surely disapprove of having a child. His profession as a doctor finds him continually tending to sick babies in very poor tenements – where toddlers are being eaten alive by rats while wealthy slumlords look the other way.
When an opportunity arises to work with the Environmental Protection Agency in Maine to help settle a land dispute between lumberjacks and a few Native American tribes, Rob welcomes the escape. It’ll also double as a vacation, as he can take Maggie along with him. Once there, Rob is informed that Pitney Lumber Mill employees have been disappearing in the surrounding forests, and that the Indians claim that a Bigfoot-like legend (named Katahdin) is to blame – but the intruding loggers see this as a ruse to conceal murder. Maggie and Rob witness firsthand the incredibly tense standoff taking place between the two sides, with John Hawks (Armand Assante) attempting to block road access, and Mr. Isely (Richard Dysart) willing to kill those who thwart his goal of pushing into the valuable territory.
Although the opening scene immediately insinuates that “Prophecy” will be a monster film, director John Frankenheimer seems to have other ideas. Much of the remainder of the introduction is spent detailing the ongoing feud, which boils over into a chainsaw versus axe fight. There’s also time dedicated to contemplating the selfishness of bringing a new life into the world when there are already so many children going hungry. And then, even when wildlife starts misbehaving – such as a band of rabid raccoons that attack the Vernes in their log cabin – it’s not as scary as it is weirdly comical. This also translates into some unintentional humor when Maggie worries about the fetal implications after having consumed poisoned fish. Plus, great attention is given to showing the “Original Peoples'” side of the story, which is steeped in uncaring government representatives, ruthless corporate men, and destruction to the beautiful land that has housed their ancestors for generations. Further adding to the running time is the inner working of the paper mill itself, which is far more educational than terrifying.
Excessive foreshadowing hopes to stave off the lack of traditional monster movie moments, while the mystery of the creature’s evolution (which includes the mutagenic properties of mercury) also eats up minutes that could have been used for thrills. As a result, “Prophecy” comes across as a creature feature that intends to be as realistically reasonable as possible – or at least scientifically feasible – rather than suspenseful. Curiously, the sensible explanations contrast considerably with the actual Katahdin, which looks about as phony as imaginable. Its actions are also laughable, especially when it smacks a snoozing camper with such force that feathers explode from the sleeping bag. In the end, Mother Nature strikes back – but it’s mostly boring, then silly, instead of gory and tense. And there’s absolutely no resolution – not for the creature and its offspring or the potential for further mutants, and not for Maggie and her potentially contaminated, unborn child. Still, it’s difficult not to be briefly amused by a sequence in which plenty of effort is spent to care for a wounded man, only to have him perfectly immobilized for being feasted upon during a getaway, or when a heroic village elder is tossed about like a rag doll, or when the oversized bear-thing appears and disappears as if the nimblest of mammals.
– Mike Massie