Today’s movie was one that I’ve heard a lot about and always meant to check it. It’s a classic of eco-horror, the genre where humanity’s tampering with the environment comes back to haunt them with deadly results. Eco-horror sprang up in the 1960s and 1970s, a sub-genre of the “science gone mad” movies where atomic testing birthed monster. I’m not sure if you can find a better eco-horror film from the 1970s that this one, as it’s very much a product of its time.
Prophecy (1979) stars Talia Shire (best known as Adrian from the Rocky films) and Robert Foxworth as Maggie and Rob, a scientist and his cello-playing and secretly pregnant wife who travel to Maine to conduct an ecological study. A paper mill and the Native America locals have come to loggerheads (see what I did there?) over acres of forest and someone needs to look into the matter. The movie’s opening already introduced us to the grizzly (I did it again!) fate of a search-and-rescue team in the woods, so we know there’s more going on than just clear-cut logging.
Once on the ground, our heroes encounter the Native protesters, led by, as in The Manitou, another very non-Native Armand Assante, in the role of John Hawks. Hawks explains his people are getting sick and there’s an increase of birth defects going on. Rob previously encountered a 5’ long salmon and is later shown a tadpole the size of a full grown bullfrog, so he’s already suspecting bad things are afoot. It seems something’s in the water supply. This same something is responsible for what’s out there in the forest eating search-and-rescue teams—a mutant bear of immense size. Maggie and Rob are about to learn that when a bear gets that big, picnic baskets just won’t suffice.
As stated above, Prophecy is a very ‘70s movie. Themes of Native American rights, environmental pollution, inner city decay, and government negligence run rampant throughout it. Against this backdrop, we get people doing ‘70s outdoorsy things, like kayaking and camping as if they’re an Adventure People playset come to life. Cut out the mutant bear, and this could have been an episode of Grizzly Adams or Gentle Ben. I enjoyed the nostalgia for my childhood the film conjured up.
The movie—directed by John Frankenheimer—takes some cues from Jaws. We don’t see the bear much at first, which is probably a good thing as it’s clearly a guy in a suit (Kevin Peter Hall, also known as the Predator and Harry from Harry and the Hendersons). Leonard Maltin famously described the bear as a “giant salami,” although its walk reminded me more of Grimace from old McDonald’s commercials.
The main question I had upon finishing the film was “How come nobody told me this has the greatest death scene in movie history?” It involves a mutant bear, a kid in a sleeping bag, and a rock. You can find it here, but I’d suggest you actually watch the movie first as it really should be seen in context.
For this amazing slice of 1970s’ nostalgia, I give Prophecy a score of three and a half mercury-saturated skulls out of five. Check it out and tell Katahdin I sent you.