This 1979 horror thriller starts out letting us know there is something…emphasis on ‘thing’…wrong in the deep forests of Maine as a search team and their dogs are slaughtered in the dead of night by something large and vicious. We don’t see it, but we hear it’s fearsome roar and see the results of it’s carnage. We then meet doctor and activist Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth) who is hired by the EPA to write a report on a logging company which is in a land dispute with a local Native American tribe. He arrives with his wife Maggie (Talia Shire) and right away hears stories of disappearances that the logging chief (Richard Dysart) is all too eager to blame on the tribe and their leader Hawks (Armand Assante). The Native Americans, however, believe the loggers have aroused a legendary creature called Katahdin by disturbing it’s homeland and it is responsible for the missing men. But Dr. Verne discovers a far more horrifying explanation as mercury poisoning caused by the logging company has affected a local lake and thus the wildlife and tribe members. And one of the side effects is a massive mutant grizzly bear with a taste for human flesh who targets Verne, his wife and others in a fight for life deep in the wilderness and with no one to come to their aid.
Prophecy is surprisingly cheesy for a big budget film ($12 million, which was a large budget at the time) with name actors in it’s cast. Director John Frankenheimer moves things along at a methodical pace and spends a good time focusing on the messages of progress’ harm to the environment and the ill treatment of Native Americans. Themes that still have resonance. And while these are valid messages, this is advertised as a monster movie and we want to see some carnage. It’s close to an hour before we meet up with our monster as it savages a camping family. And well over an hour before our leads finally discover what the are up against and it discovers them. But it’s also hard to take the important messages in David Seltzer’s script seriously when the film’s last act is keyed on a blatant act of stupidity to set it in motion. Our bear is a momma bear and Verne and Co. discover two of it’s cubs…one dead, one still alive…and decide to take them with them as evidence. It never occurs to them that maybe giving her babies back would cease it’s pursuit and slaughter of their group, but it doesn’t, even after mom reclaims the dead one and temporarily leaves. Hard to believe no one thought returning the young would be a better option then being pursued by an angry mutant mom. The FX portraying the critter are in the form of the late Kevin Peter Hall (the Predator) in a mutant bear costume, shot at angles to make it look twice the size with some larger prosthetic props for close-ups, and it looks cheesy and though it is shown mostly in quick glimpses and in low light, the cheesiness comes through. Their is some gore, mostly in the last act, despite being rated PG, and it’s looks fine and is effective enough.
The cast are all reputable actors and really give it their all to present the material in a serious manner to go along with Frankenheimer’s dead serious tone, but once our creature shows up it goes from well intended eco-thriller to shlocky monster movie in a hurry. And that’s a good thing, as to be honest, the movie is kinda dull till our rubber beastie starts offing the red shirts and bad guys of the cast, even if the cheesiness sullies all the intended seriousness the film set up in it’s first two thirds. This film might have worked on a more serious horror level like Alien, which was released less then a month earlier, had it’s monster been presented more effectively or had been better designed. Still there is some entertainment value from this disappointing thriller when it’s hunt and chase final act gets moving, but one expects a lot more thrills from a director renown for making thrillers.
Worth a look for the 70s nostalgia and if you want to see how a SYFY level nature gone amok film was made back at that time, but if you go in looking for something on the level of Alien you’ll be sorely disappointed. I remember when seeing this in a theater back in 1979 the audience bursting out in laughter at the intended ‘shocking’ last scene…and it kinda sums up the whole movie when I think about it.
PERSONAL NOTE: This film does have some personal sentimental value for me as I saw it with my neighbor and his hot, young MILF mom and she was my first crush…she wore Daisy Dukes before Daisy Duke made them famous and is personally responsible for my denim shorts fetish. LOL!
2 and 1/2 gooey mutant momma bears!
and my favorite scene…