Prophecy (1979) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Jan 20, 2020
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Prophecy (1979) (Blu-ray Review)

Director

John Frankenheimer

Release Date(s)

1979 (November 26, 2019)

Studio(s)

Paramount Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
  • Film/Program Grade: C-
  • Video Grade: B+
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: B+

Prophecy (1979) (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

After the runaway success of Jaws in 1975, a slew of films involving animals and insects of all sorts followed in its wake, imitating its formula but never equaling it in terms of quality. Eco-horror, a successor to the genre, spawned out of it but has never realized its fully potential. Based on a script by David Seltzer (The Omen) and directed by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate), Prophecy—or as it was originally released Prophecy: The Monster Movie—attempted to make a serious go at the genre, but with less than stellar results.

The story involves a tribe of Native Americans who are stalling to protect their land from loggers working for a nearby paper mill. Brought in by the Environmental Protection Agency to report on the matter is Dr. Verne (Robert Foxworth), a driven and dedicated man who aims to the right the wrongs of the world. Coming with him is his wife Maggie (Talia Shire), recently pregnant but reluctant to tell her husband. The pair travel to Maine where they meet Bethel Isley (Richard Dysart) who gives them a tour of the paper mill where Verne secretly discovers vast amounts of mercury spilling into the nearby river, affecting all of the wildlife, as well as the Native American tribe headed by the steadfast John Hawks (Armand Assante). In the nearby woods, a monstrously deformed bear, the direct result of this pollution, is rampaging its way toward them, intent on slaughtering everything in its path, including loggers, tribesmen, and campers.

The biggest issue that Prophecy has is that it never harmoniously mixes its messages about important real world issues with the genre it’s meant to be a part of. It’s completely lopsided, focusing mostly on all of the human drama outside of a murderous mutated bear. On the hand, how many horror films exploring issues of racism, abortion, class structure, and environmental impact are there? Well, quite a number of them actually, but few as dutiful in exploring them. John Frankenheimer blamed his dependence on alcohol for the film’s shortcomings, while others blamed the film for having too many things cut out of it, including additional horror elements. Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t fully satisfy on its premise.

Yet despite its undercooked nature (or overcooked, depending on how you look at it), Prophecy has sparks of life to it. It’s not a good movie in the strictest sense, but there’s something compelling about it that makes it seem like a cut above A.I.P. quickies of the day. All of the actors appear to be giving it their full attention, even if the performances aren’t totally up to snuff, including those from Talia Shire, Robert Foxworth, Armand Assante, and Richard Dysart. There’s even a suspense sequence involving an underground tunnel and a subsequent bear attack that’s fairly effective. The most memorable moments include an unintentionally hilarious assault on a family of campers, as well as the inclusion of a pair of horrifyingly deformed mutant bear cubs.

In other words, while most dismiss Prophecy as a failure—an attempt to get audiences into the theater with the promise of a traditional monster movie only to be disappointed by an hour or more of sociopolitical issues—there’s more to it than its reputation would lead one to believe. By no means perfect, it’s an entertaining train wreck in spite of itself, warts and all.

Scream Factory brings Prophecy to Blu-ray for the first time with an older but healthy transfer of the film. Grain levels aren’t entirely even, particularly with the use of occasional stock footage, but everything appears organic. The color palette doesn’t pop quite as much as it could, but hues are represented well enough, including the many swatches found in the wooded areas of New England. Black levels are fairly deep with the only crush inherent in the source, while everything appears much brighter and in better focus than the previous DVD release. It’s also quite a stable presentation with leftover speckling as it’s only real visual flaw.

The audio includes the original stereo presentation of the film in English 2.0 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a potent stereo track, though the quality of the dialogue is a bit mixed at times due to a smattering of obvious overdubbing, though it’s always discernable. The score has a lot of push to it, though a tad too much as it can drown out particularly busy moments. Some mild distortion, nothing more than light crackle, can be heard during the paper mill scenes, and there’s a very brief dropout at the 01:00:20 mark. Otherwise, all is satisfactory.

The following bonus materials are also included:

  • All of Our Sins: Talia Shire on Prophecy (HD – 18:59)
  • Bearing Up: Robert Foxworth on Prophecy (HD – 10:02)
  • Bear and Grin It: Screenwriter David Seltzer on Prophecy (HD – 13:14)
  • Hard to Bear: Special Make-Up Effects Designer Tom Burman on Prophecy (HD – 19:34)
  • Prophecy Prodigy: Make-Up Artist Alan Apone on Prophecy (HD – 21:14)
  • The Man Behind the Mask: Mime Artist Tom McLoughlin on Prophecy (HD – 21:51)
  • Radio Spots (HD – 5 in all – 2:28)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:06)
  • Still Gallery (HD – 75 in all – 18:59)

Aside from the trailer, all of the extras on this release are new. The interviews are obviously the cream of the crop, speaking to a variety of people who worked on the film who share their memories of it. Talia Shire in particular feels a connection with the film because it addresses so many real world issues, while Tom McLoughlin—who was one of three people to portray the monster—gives a humorous look at what it was like to be an inexperienced actor on the set of a John Frankenheimer film. As such, all of the interviews are well-worth diving into. In addition, there are a set of five radio spots and an animated still gallery featuring 75 stills of on-set photos, behind-the-scenes photos, posters, lobby cards, and newspaper clippings.

Prophecy managed to make its money back upon release, but it certainly didn’t light up the box office. In the years since, it has gained a reputation for being a guilty pleasure, famously by Stephen King in his book Danse Macabre. Even after the film’s conclusion, it does stick with you a bit more than a garden variety nature gone amok story. Scream Factory finally rescuing it from DVD obscurity and giving it the treatment that it deserves is long overdue and well worth investing in for fans and newcomers alike.

– Tim Salmons

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