In the deep woods of Maine, the Pitney Mills Paper Company preys upon the land, emitting chemicals so toxic they cause the wildlife to mutate into monsters. Cult eco-horror movie Prophecy, which is new to Hulu this month, wants to outrage you with this storyline—but it also can’t resist giving into some major monster-movie tropes.
Director John Frankenheimer had plenty of notches on his belt prior to 1979's Prophecy, including 1962's The Manchurian Candidate and 1975's French Connection II. Scriptwriter David Seltzer had penned horror smash The Omen in 1976. Just prior to Prophecy, star Talia Shire had been Oscar-nominated twice, for The Godfather Part II (1974) and Rocky (1976). Somehow all three of these folks lent their talents to Prophecy, a creature feature with aspirations of telling An Important Message, though all anyone ever remembers about it is the creature itself: a hulking, rampaging bear (well... obvious stunt man in a bear costume) so affected by environmental evils it has no fur or skin covering its hideous visage.
Prophecy aims to enhance its Important Message by pitting the paper company against indigenous people who’re trying to protect their forest, though this is mitigated a bit by the casting of Armand Assante—who is Irish-Italian, not Native American—as Hawks, the main activist. Caught in between are Dr. Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth) and his wife Maggie (Shire), a professional cellist whose most defining characteristic is that she’s pregnant but isn’t sure how to tell Robert, since his long career of dealing with public health crises has entrenched him in the “why would you want to bring children into this fucked-up world?” mindset. Eager for a break from dealing with a system that’s all too eager to stomp on vulnerable inner-city families, he agrees to head to rural Maine and investigate the paper mill situation on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, with Maggie (and her cello) in tow.
Of course, thanks to Prophecy’s opening scene, we know there’s something lurking in the woods beyond (rightfully furious) indigenous people—though that’s who the paper company blames when a group of lumberjacks goes missing, followed by a search party that also goes missing. After witnessing an axe-on-chainsaw clash between the two sides, the Vernes don’t know who to believe. Complicating matters further, the grandfatherly Hector (played by Canadian First Nations actor George Clutesi) maintains local lore about a fearsome creature known as “Katahdin” is absolutely real, while the sleazy paper mill director dismisses the legend as “sort of a Bigfoot I guess, only it’s uglier.”
Honestly, they’re both right, which we eventually see when Katahdin makes itself known. There’s some additional build-up as Robert and Maggie spot some alarming anomalies, including a comically large salmon, an apparently rabid raccoon, and some oversized claw marks on tree trunks; we also follow the couple as they learn more about the forest from Hawks and his people, and take a tour of Pitney Mills that yields some worrisome findings despite the paper company’s reassurances that they are an entirely pollution-free operation. This is all just filler to get to the killer that we know is coming—aside from that opening scene, the tag line on Prophecy’s poster identifies it quite literally as “the monster movie”—and the movie begins its shift from ecological warning tale to full-on shriekfest just past the halfway mark.
Regrettably, Prophecy is rated PG, so if it’s gore you’re after, you will be disappointed by its sheer number of, for instance, cutaways from screaming victims as they’re about to get got. But the lumpy, glistening, bellowing force of nature at its center (wisely filmed mostly in night scenes and/or through thick foliage, though unintentional hilarity owing to its appearance still abounds) has an undeniable star quality, especially when it demonstrates it will slaughter any human that gets in its way—even the ones trying to defend its home turf.
Animal-attack movies were all the rage after Jaws, and Prophecy is absolutely part of that wave; even with its eye-popping central creature, it’s somehow not the silliest movie produced by the trend. But the surprisingly hefty names involved, and the fact that it remains so deeply committed to its tone—making sure you know how wrong all of this is, even though Pitney Mills’ villainy is crystal clear from the get-go—helps make it a more memorable entry in the genre. Its mutant bear, however, lifts it over the top, and will remain burnished in your brain forever.
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