Fright Fest 2017 Review #11 – Prophecy (1979)

The sight of this bare bear baring its teeth may be too grizzly for some to bear.

Subgenre:  Monster / Killer Animal

Summary:  A mutated bear terrorizes a couple in the Maine woods.

Review:  As an avid monster movie fan, Prophecy had been on my radar for some time, but I’d never gotten around to watching it.  If nothing else, there’s an interesting beast at its center: a horrifically deformed bear mutated by industrial pollution.  Unfortunately, that’s almost all the movie has going for it.

We open in filthy, bustling Washington, D.C., on our protagonist couple: cynical doctor Rob and his cellist wife Maggie.  Rob gets an offer to do an environmental inspection in northern Maine, with the area’s industrial future at stake.  Meanwhile, Maggie is newly pregnant but afraid to tell her husband, whose faith-shattering job has left him averse to the idea of having children.  Soon after their arrival in Maine the two of them come across some local American Indians who are protesting the local logging operation.  Unbeknownst to them all, a freakish predator lurks in the woods with bloodlust in its heart.

Prophecy earns some points early on for its strong cast and beautiful cinematography.  The two protagonists are more complex than most characters in these kinds of movies, though the supporting cast all fit snugly into cliché types.  There’s admirable restraint in how long the movie waits to reveal the monster, although by the end of the first act the tension building feels more like stalling for time.  As for the abomination itself, the effects work ranges from goofy to gruesome; the sound design of the mutant’s inhuman screams deserves a special mention.  The movie’s middle section, which reveals the monster’s origins, is its most substantial, and moves along at a solid clip.  Things grind to a halt for the third act, which devolves into an endless chase scene followed by an only-decent final showdown – not to mention a lame coda that seems to forget the movie’s most intriguing plotline.

But for all its lesser flaws, Prophecy’s fundamental issue is that it can never quite decide what it wants to be.  Is it a straight-faced ecological cautionary tale, or a purposefully over-the-top creature feature?  The answer changes from scene to scene, and in some ill-advised moments, the movie attempts to fulfill both genres’ requirements at once.  But instead of offering up a novel hybrid, Prophecy ends up failing twofold: it’s too slow and serious-minded to work as a monster movie, yet too hokey to work as an anti-pollution allegory.  Its best moments are when it embraces its ridiculous premise, such as an attack on a family’s campground that perfectly straddles the line between silly and scary.

The Verdict:  It has its merits, but Prophecy is ultimately too schizophrenic to truly satisfy anyone.  I give it four-and-a-half murderous Maine mutants out of ten.

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