Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Monday, May 2, 2011

Prophecy (1979)

dir. John Frankenheimer

Atoning for previous movie sins. If seventies cinema can be unified by one all-encompassing theme (and it can't), this would be it (but it wouldn't). A generation raised on the triumphant entertainments of golden era Hollywood, would soon come to believe that its cultural legacy was built on the backs of the exploited. Seeing as Native Americans were one of the most heinously wronged groups, movie-wise and otherwise-wise, it was only logical that the tables would eventually turn, movie-wise, and this group would get a voice. The most interesting attempts at redressing the cultural lampooning of canon-fodder "injuns" in the previous decades of Western film, came in the horror genre.

Horror film, preying as it does on our current fears and obsessions, has always acted a great barometer of the zeitgeist. Much of the brutality of seventies horror (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Crazies, Deathdream), for instance, can be seen as a direct response to the carnage pumped daily into American homes via footage of the Vietnam War on the nightly news. John Frankenheimer's late seventies Native American/enviro-horror pic Prophecy, on the other hand, existed in response to the director's heroic level of alcoholism...and, to a lesser extent, Native American and environmental issues. But, yeah, mostly the booze.

Though nowhere near as nutty as the splendiferous Native American horror pic The Manitou, Prophecy certainly earns points for its setting in my home-state of Maine and for naming its monster "Katahdin", the name also of Maine's tallest mountain and northern terminus of the Appalachian trail.

[This piece of Maine trivia brought to you by Moxie, the cough-syrup-tasting drink of choice of American hero ballplayers and frozen heads everywhere.]

You may recognize Frankenheimer as the director of such stone-cold classics as The Manchurian Candidate and Seconds. Prophecy is yet more proof, however, that his previous directing of bona fide masterpieces was due mostly to the material. In my opinion, he was an efficient, TV-trained, technician-for-hire, workhorse director who had the potential for greatness but was not against earning a paycheck. Of course, the man could also film a car chase like nobody's business.

So, anyway, back to Prophecy. Robert Foxworth and Talia Shire star as Dr. Robert and Maggie Verne, an idealistic couple that moves to Androscoggin, ME at the behest of the EPA so as to investigate the lumber industry. While there, they also get embroiled in a land-rights issue with the local Native American tribe. The couple also learns of a mythical creature spoken of by the native Americans called Katahdin. Also, the couple discovers large mutated fish and a buggin' racoon. Also, the couple eats one of the mutated fish. Also, Dr. Robert finds out that the lumber mill is dumping mercury in the lake and rivers and such. Also, Dr. Robert tells his wife that when fetuses are developing, they go through all the stages of human evolution (fish, chimp, manbearpig, etc...). Also, Dr. Robert tells his wife that consuming mercury while pregnant can cause the fetus to become stuck in one of these stages or become a combination of all these stages. Also, Maggie tries to find an easy way to tell her no-time-for-kids husband that she is pregnant and doesn't want an abortion even though she totally ate some mercury tainted fish.

Also, there's a random family camping in the area and, also, this happens:

Go ahead, watch it again. You did just see that.

Also, in the rest of the movie, everyone battles Katahdin.

Much like the logic behind the Mulattorus from Mr. Show's "Racist in the Year 3000" sketch, Katahdin is a conglomerate creature. Nature, with an assist from mercury, was all like, "we'll take a little from bears, add a dash of fish, some more from reptiles, and add just a pinch of sand-crab and various other assorted beings and voila, we got ourselves a monster."

Sadly, as entertaining as this movie was, I have to call bullshit on its mercury causes cheap-monster-suit looking super-beasts hypothesis. When, back in '93, an eighth-grade science classmate of mine made all of us laugh by breaking open a thermometer and drinking the mercury, he did not become Katahdinized. Of course, I can't say I blame Frankenheimer for not presenting a realistic depiction of mercury poisoning. Sensory impairment and a lack of coordination? Who wants to watch that when you can have this:
[I'm shocked, shocked to find out Frankenheimer was in the midst of an alcoholic tailspin when he made this movie.]

Prophecy is so of its time, commenting on every hot-button topic of the day (environmentalism, Native American rights, abortion), that it almost seems as if it was work-shopped by Madison Avenue. I mean that in the least disparaging way possible, by the way. You, my faithful reader, should know by now that what I love a lot is dated film and what I love about it is that I love it a lot. Yes, the unintentional humor is great and all, but datedness also helps provide a snapshot of a people at a particular point in time (like when filmmakers pause their futuristic, sci-fi/action, wanky pseudo-intellectual philosophy picture so that a bunch of folks in a cave can get they rave on). Yet, despite any notions of being a righteous-indignation-movie railing against the injustices of its time, Prophecy is also little more than a man-in-a-cheap-monster-costume film. And I love it for that also.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:


Alfred Welles said...

Interesting review. I'm not sure I want to see the film desperately, but I like how you place horror into a context.

Dave Enkosky said...

Yeah, this isn't really required viewing (most of the movies I review, for that matter, aren't required viewing) but it has its moments.