Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #27
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: June 15, 1979
Sub-Genre: (Eco) Monster Movie
Country of Origin: United States
Filmed in: Canada
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Box Office: $54,000,000
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: John Frankenheimer
Producer: Robert L Rosen
Screenplay: David Seltzer
Based on Prophecy by David Seltzer
Special Effects: Tom Burman
Cinematography: Harry Stradling Jr.
Score: Leonard Rosenman
Editing: Tom Rolf
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Paramount Home Video
Stars: Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire, Armand Assante, Richard Dysart, Victoria Racimo, George Clutesi, Tom McFadden, Charles H Gray, Evans Evans, Burke Byrnes, Mia Bendixsen, Johnny Timko, Everett Creach and Kevin Peter Hall as the Katahdin
Suggested Audio Candy
Leonard Rosenman “Prophecy”
Sometimes a film is just too ahead of its time for its own good. Long before presidential nearly man Al Gore used the media of film as his vessel for raising green-issue awareness with An Inconvenient Truth, a little known eco-friendly creature feature made its debut in auditoriums worldwide. Based on David Seltzer’s novel by the same name and boasting an impressive cast which included Robert Foxworth, Richard Dysart, Armand Assante and Talia Shire of Rocky fame, esteemed filmmaker John Frankenheimer’s Prophecy actually pocketed a rather sizable theatrical return on its $12m investment.
Titillated by its striking poster design, cinema-goers flocked in their droves to find out what this curious feature was all about. However, while Frankenheimer’s film was generally received reasonably well, it didn’t necessarily provoke the response he had been hoping for. The public anticipated a monster movie and Prophecy provided just that but any environmental commentary was somewhat lost in translation. Consequently Prophecy found itself consigned to dusty video store shelves, where it remained, occasionally escaping its perpetual prison by way of infrequent rentals. Dance halls were heaving, The Sugarhill Gang and Afrika Bambaataa were busy innovating, and the majority of people were too blind drunk or stoned to care about environmental issues. Meanwhile our planet was rapidly mutating like the Katahdin that Prophecy introduces us to.
Given recent glum global forecasts and outbreaks of religious war, it seems like the ideal time for this long forgotten monster movie to be paid another glance.Having said that, just tracking a copy down is a monumental undertaking in itself. Goddamn, is this film hard to obtain. After a copious amount of blood, sweat and very nearly tears, with no luck whatsoever, I resorted to last-chance saloon eBay in a last-ditch attempt at locating it. Ordinarily, I prefer more conventional purchases than those obtained with the click of a mouse but needs must. My persistence teasingly presented me with a faint glimmer of hope in the form of Die Prophezeiung. This was indeed the holy grail I had seeked for so long. Transcendent, illuminating and with crack-like aphrodisiac properties, there was no mistaking that wondrous artwork. Mercifully the German version had English audio options.
Given that I last viewed Prophecy at the tender age of ten, any recollections were decidedly vague. While I was convinced that the experience had been a pleasing one, I was far too young to understand its relevance and took it as a fun monster movie, not as a global forewarning. This time would be different as I would now possess all the tools to approach this from a more environmentally aware vantage. My reaction this time? Prophecy is a damn fine monster movie. Ultimately the film’s largest asset is that you get to witness people being flung around with gay abandon by a massive mercury mutation. Granted, as a cautionary tale, its message speaks all the more clearly in our current climate. Mankind is gradually destroying the planet it inhabits, I get that. However, considering it may already be too little too late for our spoiled utopia, I decided that I may as well just enjoy the ride like I did when my hormones had barely kicked in and, in the process, I dropped in on an old friend and paid my respects.
After a strong opening scene, Prophecy settles into a rather sedate pace for the first half of proceedings and is more than happy for its audience to simply breathe in the fresh country air and marvel at its stunning and expansive locations. Dr. Robert Verne (Foxworth) has been tasked with investigating a logging operation in the Androscoggin River and takes his pregnant wife Maggie (Shire) along for the ride. Far from the nice relaxing break the couple have envisaged, they soon discover that all is not well in the wilderness. Aside from increasingly strained relations between the organization in question and embittered American-Indian natives, something truly hideous is lurking in the undergrowth and about to stake its own claim on the land.
It turns out that the company are responsible for dumping their waste in the surrounding waters, encouraging birth defects and progressive nerve damage in the wildlife. While these mercury deposits have wreaked havoc with any fish in the nearby vicinity, oversized salmon is the very least of their concerns. Far more pressing is the impending threat of the dreaded Katahdin, a freak of nature with foul breath, savage claws that can rip a man in two, and severe anger management issues. Moreover, it is done with playing hide and seek and primed to tear some fresh assholes on mother nature’s behalf.
After being admirably patient with his set-up, Frankenheimer lets his freak off the leash in no uncertain terms for the closing act as the mutated bear in question exacts its bloody revenge on those who dared tamper with God’s blueprint and any other poor bastard caught in the crossfire. The relentless wheels of industry paid absolutely no mind to mother nature so, once unleashed, she naturally returns the favor. The cast is promptly whittled down and it perfectly sets up a decidedly tense showdown between mankind and the vile monster its negligence created.
Frankenheimer openly admits that his alcoholism hindered production, resulting in an end product that he is not particularly proud of. This actually comes as a great surprise to me as, whilst some way from flawless, I regard Prophecy to be one of the more memorable monster movies of its era and far from the disaster it so easily could have been. Moreover, it proves just how ahead of its time it was that it is more relevant now than it has ever been. It is just a crying shame that the world didn’t sit up and take notice until so much later. One thing is for damned sure, after watching Katahdin embark on its rampage, my littering days are a thing of the past.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Regrettably, Frankenheimer second-guessed himself at the eleventh hour resulting in a couple of the bloodier kill scenes being trimmed prior to release. The result is a film which, whilst not totally bereft of splatter, doesn’t exactly overflow with the deep red either. There is, however, one particularly golden moment concerning a young boy zipped into his sleeping bag attempting to hop away from the pursuing Katahdin, and failing miserably, which will have you questioning whether to laugh or wince. More feathers than grue, it’s a priceless scene nonetheless.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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Saw it was surprised by how strong the elements without the bear were, which is rare in creature features.
Indeed, there’s a really strong message here that folk just weren’t ready for in ’79. I have a real soft spot for this movie.