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E.C. McMullen Jr.
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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
Kelly: "I want to write a review of Prophecy."
Feo: "Mutant bear or fallen angel?"
Kelly: "Mutant bear."
PROPHECY was written by David Seltzer (THE OMEN, OMEN IV, THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE) and directed by John Frankenheimer (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU ). It has an expositionless opening, which I always like. The only sound is the wind; no background music. We see lights in the darkness that resolve into a group of men wearing miner's hats. They're in the forest at night and have two bloodhounds with them so it's obvious they're looking for somebody. Openings like this draw you in to a story because you want to know what's going on.
The over eager dogs almost lead the men right off a cliff. Whatever they're looking for appears to be down in a gully so two of the men rappel down the cliff face. The remaining searcher looks down into the darkness and hears the screams of his companions, then silence. Like a good horror movie victim he also runs into danger, and that's the end of him.
Cut to a big city symphony orchestra. On viola is Maggie Verne (Talia Shire: THE DUNWICH HORROR, THE LANDLADY). Conversation reveals she is pregnant but hasn't told her husband because she's afraid he'll want her to get an abortion. Her husband is one of those this-world-isn't-fit-to-bring-children-into kind of self-hating tree huggers.
We get a taste of why her husband, Dr. Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth: THE QUESTOR TAPES, OMEN II, SIX FEET UNDER [TV]), feels that way as he responds to a call for a doctor from a rotting ghetto tenement building. Inside a black infant is near death from rat bites. The mother (Lyvingston Holmes: MEMORIAL VALLEY MASSACRE, RAGING ANGELS) tells Robert that when she told her landlord the rats were biting her baby his response was, "Rats gotta live, too."
Robert sends the baby off in an ambulance and takes notes for a report regarding living conditions in the ghetto but he's sure no one will read it and it will accomplish nothing. Then a friend at the Environmental Protection Agency offers him a job up in Maine helping resolve a dispute between a paper mill and local Indian tribes. Anything to get out of the city.
Robert and Maggie arrive at a small airport in the middle of an endless New England forest (actually, a British Columbian forest, since that's where it was filmed). On another small plane a family has just arrived to go camping in the woods. I didn't catch their name but I'm pretty sure they were the Monsterfood family.
Waiting at the airport is Mr. Isley (Richard Dysart: THE TERMINAL MAN, THE THING ), the rep from the paper mill. Conversation with Isley reveals the men lost in the woods we saw at the beginning of the film were a search party looking for missing lumberjacks. It's Isley's opinion that the local Indians murdered the missing men.
Isley takes Robert and Maggie to a cabin but on the way they run into an O.P. (Original People, what the Indians call themselves) blockade. The Indians, lead by John Hawks (Armand Assante: JUDGE DREDD), try to prevent the paper mill vehicles from entering the forest. A quick duel between Hawks with an ax and a lumberjack with a chainsaw settles the issue and the vehicles proceed (When will the Indians learn? Superior technology always wins.). When Robert complains about the violence Isley says,
"These are violent people, Dr. Verne. They get drunk and they get violent."
After that bit of ugliness the Vernes settle in for what looks like a relaxing week in the woods. Robert has to do some environmental testing but there's still plenty of time for fishing. Robert is stunned when he sees a five-foot salmon leap from the water but not suspicious just yet.
Maggie cooks up their fish dinner and after their meal it looks like Robert is about to get some nookie in front of the fireplace when a scratching sound outside gets his attention. When Robert opens the door a crazed raccoon attacks first him and then Maggie. Okay, now Robert knows something is wrong.
Hawks and his wife Ramona (Victoria Racimo: DAY OF THE DOLPHIN, CHOKE CANYON) take Robert and Maggie to see their village and Ramona's grandfather. They talk about Indians staggering and falling down, but not from alcohol. Ramona is a mid-wife and she tells of babies born dead or horribly deformed. "Yes," says Hawks. "Some so horribly deformed they had to be put to death." Robert nods.
Hold the phone! Robert nods?!
The Indians casually admit to committing the crime of euthanizing infants - murdering children - and Robert just nods? What the hell? And what about the pregnant Maggie, who still hasn't told Robert about their baby? Now that she knows Robert thinks nothing of killing a baby if it doesn't look right, maybe she shouldn't tell him.
An inspection trip to the paper mill turns up nothing unusual and in spite of Robert's attitude problem, Mr. Isley stays polite and helpful. He insists no chemicals are released by the plant into the water supply, although he does admit that a sub-contractor actually cuts the trees and floats them down river to the plant and he can't be held responsible for what they do.
"Of course you're responsible!" Robert insists. But then Isley makes a very good point. He asks Robert, "How many pages are going to be in this report of yours? 100? And how many copies will you make? 1000? Where do you think those 100,000 pages will come from? We supply what you demand. That makes you responsible."
I know, you're thinking that's great but what about the mutant bear? Let me answer that question with a
Now, it is true that Mercury itself can damage your nervous system and cause insanity, and it is true that many Mercury compounds are mutagenic. This is very well known - in fact, it's too well known. There have been so many thoroughly studied cases of mercury poisoning that if mercury caused giant, mutant bears everyone would know it. Teenage boys would be breaking open thermometers and sneaking into the zoo late at night. They should have made up some scientific sounding but completely imaginary substance, like dilithium crystals or Nutra-Sweet.
The bear, which looks more like a burn victim than a mutant, does the amazing movie monster trick of showing up everywhere, all the time. It's not too terribly unbelievable and some of the final standard scenes of the monster chasing the main characters around the forest were pretty cool.
I was ready to give this movie three shriek girls. And then came the scene where Robert and the bear well, it was supposed to be heroic but I was laughing my ass off. Gotta take one away for that. That leaves two shriek girls for PROPHECY.