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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Prophecy  (1979)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
3 Stars
(Release Date: November 26, 2019) – Released one week before Ridley Scott's wide release of "Alien" in June of 1979, director John Frankenheimer's ecological horror-thriller "Prophecy" proved decidedly less critically acclaimed but did earn modest sleeper returns at the box-office. In the forty years since, it has slipped somewhat into obscurity—a fate which will hopefully be reversed with the release of Scream Factory's superb 40th-anniversary Blu-ray release. The film is written by David Seltzer (who was none too pleased with the results, it should be noted), but despite these "would've/should've/could've" regrets, the passage of time has not only been kind to "Prophecy," but given it the space to be reconsidered as an underrated entry in its creature-feature subgenre.

Entrusted by the EPA to investigate a dispute between a logging operation in Maine and a local Native American tribe whose land is being overtaken, Dr. Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth) heads to the rustic Northeast with professional cellist wife Maggie (Talia Shire) in tow. Once there, they discover deeper, darker dealings and a potential water crisis, the result of mercury backwash deriving from the town's paper mill. As Maggie struggles to tell her husband about her recently discovered pregnancy (Robert has been clear in the past about his desire to remain child-free), the couple are soon thrust into a fight for survival against a frightful outcome of the area's pollution: a rampaging, oversized, mutated bear who has turned to terrorizing the community.

There are moments in John Frankenheimer's stylish, stunningly photographed "Prophecy" that are downright amazing, deserving of standing alongside "Alien" in terms of their mastery of horror, tension and overall cinematic mise en scene. The effects waver somewhere between silly and chillingly macabre, and this juxtaposition works perfectly to create a giant beast of disconcerting imagination. That "Prophecy" has not garnered the same acclaim over the years may be due to its unapologetically offbeat qualities. In a certain frame of mind, it could be seen as too deliberately paced by a half and unintentionally silly, a result of a giant, quirky, mutagen bear villain who refuses to let anything—even an expansive lake—stop it from reaching its prey (this climactic scenario, by the way, leads to one of the most indelibly nightmarish images in the picture). The script isn't always airtight and not every subplot pays off as well as it should, but there's no denying the creeping visual and tonal delights "Prophecy" offers. In short, this is a nifty, still timely eco-thriller deserving of greater appreciation for all it does so exceedingly well.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

Clawing its way to Blu-ray for the first time, "Prophecy" features an eye-opening 1080p transfer, one which begins with an atmospheric bang—the opening scene of flashlights breaking through a woodsy, pitch-black night looks simply gorgeous, full of inky blacks, pleasing clarity, and not a hint of apparent banding—and does not disappoint thereafter. There is a light smattering of age-related speckles of dirt here and there, but they are certainly minor. The image, by and large, puts on a vivid show belying its 40-year age. Daytime scenes hold true depth and detail, and this includes the many aerial shots of its beautiful Maine (actually British Columbia) setting. Nighttime scenes mostly avoid crush, highlighting the classiness of cinematographer Harry Stradling Jr.'s lensing. The DTS-HD Mono Master Audio is equally vibrant, creating dynamism and full-bodied activity across the soundfield (action scenes, naturally, are standouts). Leonard Rosenman's music score sounds terrific, while dialogue is always well-positioned within the mix.

Blu-ray Features
  • "All of Our Sins: An Interview with Actor Talia Shire" Featurette (18:59, HD)
  • "Bearing Up: An Interview with Actor Robert Foxworth" Featurette (10:02, HD)
  • "Bear and Grin It: An Interview with Writer David Seltzer" Featurette (13:14, HD)
  • "Hard to Bear: An Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Designer Tom Burman" Featurette (19:34, HD)
  • "Prophecy Prodigy: An Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Artist Alan Apone" Featurette (21:14, HD)
  • "The Man Behind the Mask: An Interview with Mime Artist Tom McLoughlin" Featurette (21:51, HD)
  • Radio Spots (2:28, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:06, HD)
  • Still Gallery (7:11, HD)
Bottom Line
Arriving for the first time on Blu-ray to commemorate its 40th anniversary, John Frankenheimer's "Prophecy" is a largely unsung horror gem deserving to be rediscovered, a creature feature whose more outlandish aspects are nicely balanced by a level of realism in its characters and environmentally conscientious milieu. There are some genuinely great scenes within, full of suspense and chilling visual inspiration. Even when creature effects threaten to appear a tad bit goofy, the willingness to unapologetically "go there" pays off in spades. With high production values, excellent video and audio specs, and a wealth of quality new interviews (including lead actors Talia Shire and Robert Foxworth), Scream Factory's Blu-ray release of "Prophecy" earns a hearty, at time revelatory, recommendation.

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© 2019 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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