“She lives…Don’t Move…Don’t Breathe…There’s Nowhere To Run…She Will Find You…”
So ran the commercial tagline for Prophecy, John Frankenheimer’s 1979 enviro-horror flick. I gotta tell you, this (at the time) eight-year-old mouse often had the shit scared out of him when this low, somber narration would come outta the TV, coupled with the horrific single-frame baby-monster pan-out that the commercial used. Funny how that kind of stuff stays with you. Anyways, the film also tagged itself as simply “The Monster Movie”, and on a lot of levels, I feel like it delivered.
We’re treated to one of the best openings I can recall in the genre; darkened woods, lit only by the erratic flashlight beams of a crew of what look like some kind of mountaineering team, led by their baying hounds. This entourage crashes through the brush, the dogs on a scent so strong that it even propels one of them to rush headlong off of a cliff to pursue its quarry (the dog’s harness-type leash saves it from the fall, but…). The team hears something in the darkness below, and quickly rappel down the rocky distance…and they’re right; there is something down there, but they take the knowledge of whatever the hell it is with them to their graves, in a manner that sounds quick, damp, and crunchy. From there, we cut to a grimy inner-city slum, where idealistic doctor Robert Verne is frustrated with the living conditions of the poor and the way that so many people seem forgotten and abused by society. He’s asked by the EPA to fly up to Maine, where there is suspicion of illegal pollution by a large paper conglomerate, coupled with tensions with the local Native American population. After a bit of convincing, he agrees (it’ll get him out of the city for a while, and he might can do some good), and he and his wife Maggie make the flight to the northern wilderness. It’s not long before tensions between the tribe and the millworkers becomes pretty goddamn apparent (chain saws at ten paces, anyone?), and the evidence the good doctor turns up points toward some serious environmental problems (rabid raccoons, tadpoles the size of salmon, salmon the size of dolphins, people showing early signs of mercury poisoning, just to name a few).
Before he can really lower the boom on this illegal operation, however, he finds that they all have a much bigger, more pressing problem…
The film was technically quite impressive; considering that it wasn’t a huge-budget film, I feel that Frankenheimer really squeezed everything out of it that he could. The scripting is tight, and the pacing moves you along quite well. The wilderness shots were lush and beautiful, juxtaposed with the horrific scenes of violence as the rampage of the creature turned the wide-open woods into a claustrophobic hell of obscuring leaves and unforgiving branches. Robert Foxworth was completely believable in his portrayal of the high-minded Dr. Verne, as was Talia Shire as his quiet wife with a secret. Round these out with Armand Assante as a surprisingly convincing Indian and Richard Dysart as the double-talking paper mill spokesman, and you have a pretty talented ensemble for a little horror flick.
Maybe it’s that childhood memory I mentioned before, but I’ve always liked this movie. Admittedly, it gets a little shaky on repeated viewings if you try to compare it to more modern fare, but for the time, I think it was pretty damned scary. Frankenheimer didn’t have CGI to fall back on, so he had to rely on practical effects and good, old-fashioned camera work to realize the monster and it’s wake of carnage; and it worked. Although there are a couple of scenes that look straight outta a Toho production, overall the shots with the beast worked; for the most part, you didn’t see it, and when you did, it was just a glimpse; just enough to put the image in your head and let you do the rest. You saw the things it did (there’s a scene with a father and his kids that’ll put you off camping for a while), but only in the last reel did you really get a good look at it. For the hounds: there are a couple of bloody scenes, but nothing I’d call “gory”; this one instead relies a lot on sound and suggestion, but does so quite well.
What can I say? I enjoy this one every time I watch it. If you told me that you found yourself wanting to find a good seventies monster flick, this would be the top of my list of what I’d suggest to you.
As ever, that’s my two cents.