Prophecy [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (17th August 2021).
The Film

Frustrated with the futility of working as a health officer in the ghettos, Rob (Damien: Omen II's Robert Foxworth) takes an assignment in Maine with the Environmental Protection Agency who hope to break a stalemate between a local Native American population and a paper company over a hundred thousand acres of forest. The paper mill tries to ingratiate themselves to Rob and his wife Maggie (Windows' Talia Shire) by furnishing them with a car and a house on the lake but the couple also witness a violent confrontation between safety officer Isley's ('s Richard Dysart) men and a Native American blockade lead by highly-educated John Hawks (Little Darlings' Armand Assante) and his girlfriend Ramona (Day of the Dolphin's Victoria Racimo). Despite village elder M'Rai (Nightwing's George Clutesi) claim that their land is the Garden of Eden, Rob realizes that something is very wrong when he observes duck-eating giant salmon, squirrel-sized tadpoles, and murderous raccoons; and he suspects it has something to do with the mill's chemical usage despite tests coming up negative. Something bigger is lurking in the woods and it has already claimed a number of lumberjacks and a search party sent out to find them: is it a hideous mutant or the god Katahdin, a dragon with cat's eyes that the local lore believes will arise to protect its people.

Scripted by The Omen's David Seltzer and helmed by action man John Frankenheimer, Prophecy is really no more polished in story, ecological concerns, its treatment of Native American mysticism, or exploitation elements than its lower budget "animals attack" contemporaries but it benefits from strong performances and an eclectic cast from Assante miscast but persevering to Dysart as the company man believably shaken when discovering the truth. Production values are also high with striking photography of Vancouver standing in for Maine, dynamic staging of the film's action sequences, some stunning Panavision compositions by Harry Stradling Jr. (Damnation Alley) particularly in the scene of the survivors of the massacre sheltering underground composed in depth with layers of actors between the background and foreground and effective scoring by Leonard Rosenman (The Car). The gore effects of Tom Burman (Cat People) are suitably grisly and the mutant bear cub puppets are truly disturbing. Mama bear, on the other hand, just looks like scarred by nuclear waste rather than embodying the chimeric qualities of both the Indian god and the possibilities aroused in the imagination in Foxworth's expository dialogue about mercury poisoning's potential to freeze or retard the development at the fetus at different stages of evolution. The use of a mime and a seven foot man in a suit is also a failure, making the running beast seem more balletic than hulking when seen in full body (a bit involving a sleeping bag meant to demonstrate the velocity of the monster's claw swipes is more comical than horrific). Although Frankenheimer does drama and action well, he demonstrates no more affinity for horror here than when he took over The Island of Dr. Moreau after Richard Stanley (Dust Devil) was forced out. It would also be nearly two decades before Seltzer did another horror screenplay with the derivative The Eighteenth Angel.

Video

Released theatrically by Paramount Pictures domestically and overseas by Paramount/Universal overseas distributor Cinema International Corporation, Prophecy was consigned to panned-and-scanned VHS and TV screenings until 2002 when Paramount put out a barebones widescreen DVD (along with PAL versions in France, Germany, and some Scandinavian territories) but not the United Kingdom since the 1987 VHS release had to be trimmed for apparent animal cruelty. It has been confirmed that Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen presentation is five seconds shorter than Shout! Factory's Scream Factory Blu-ray from 2019, trimming two shots of a rabid racoon. As with that aforementioned edition, Eureka's transfer appears to come from an older master with some speckling but generally good detail in the forest settings major sequences were shot on sound stages with controlled lighting and textures in close-ups of tense faces and the particulars of Burman's make-up effects (although the filmmakers do seem to have tried to shoot the bear in such a way that viewers do not get much opportunity to examine the details of the sculpting and movement). Night scenes take advantage of deep blacks with many flashlight beams and threatening background shadows, but one wonders how much clearer and deeper a 4K restoration would look.
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Audio

The early Dolby Stereo soundtrack is presented here in LPCM 2.0, offering spread and directionality to the score and some sound effects, but this is not one of the more vividly detailed early Dolby soundtracks despite being a studio effort. A 5.1 remix might have been more engaging but the original track gets the job done. Optional English HoH subtitles are included.
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Extras

While Shout! Factory's edition offered up some new interviews with cast and crew including Foxworth, Shire, Seltzer, Burman, make-up effects artist Allan Apone (Evilspeak), and mime artist Tom McLoughlin Eureka has not ported these over but have created new extras of their own. First up is an audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith who discusses the film in the context of the 1979 "summer of horror" (noting the film's coverage in Fangoria Magazine which had launched the same year), the extreme secrecy and security of the shoot the film went into production under the title "The Windsor Project" and Frankenheimer brought a former CIA agent to supervise set security the genre of "hard hat horror," production anecdotes, and an affection for the film's cast and the lesser-known supporting character actors. Most interestingly, he notes that Seltzer's other credits were overshadowed by The Omen but that his earlier work with National Geographic, conservationist Jacques-Yves Cousteau, and his award-winning fictionalized documentary The Hellstrom Chronicle evinced concerns and interest in the environment.

The second audio commentary by film writers Lee Gambin & Emma Westwood is sort of a companion piece to the track Gambin did with Amanda Reyes for the Eureka Blu-ray of Nightwing (a double feature with Shadow of the Hawk) along with his commentary on the Severin Films Blu-ray of Day of the Animals and the 2018 Scorpion Releasing Blu-ray of Grizzly and the track Westwood did with Alexandra Heller Nicholas for the Second Sight Blu-ray of Lake Mungo. Gambin focuses on the eco-horror aspect, noting that the concurrent trend of "revisionist westerns" and the shared theme of man versus nature with the balance tipped in favor of the latter also noting similarities between M'Rai's perception of the mutated large fish and tadpoles as gifts from God and the area in which they occur as a sort of Eden with the H.P. Lovecraft story "The Color Out of Space" (Smith notes that the grislier effects of consuming the fish and water on the locals was emphasized in Seltzer's novelization of the film but not the screenplay) and how the film differs from other eco-horror and "animals attack" films of the time in that the first victims of the beast are grown men portrayed as strong and rugged (while the first victims of other films to be "consumed" by nature are usually women, teenagers, children, or passive animals), and the role of commerce in the endangerment be it the environmental pollution of the film or the "keep the beaches open for tourist season" reasoning of films like Jaws. Westwood, on the other hand, discusses the intermingling concerns of the era with women's rights noting here that Maggie wants to autonomy to keep her baby while her husband is concerned about over-population the "Red Power" movement and the roles of women in it as an extension of "secret women's business" (pointing out the contrast between Maggie and Ramona's greater agency as a woman and a midwife), the urban ghetto where Rob first comes across as a "white savior" despite his sincere concerns, and the growing awareness of the environment first through concerns about the growing and manufacture of food.
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In "Truth in Fiction" (12:58), screenwriter Seltzer discusses his early National Geographic and Cousteau work, his first stab at fiction with the documentary The Hellstrom Chronicle, his uncredited adaptation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Roald Dahl failed to deliver a script, and reading the Bible for the first time when he was asked to come up with something in the vein of the hugely successful The Exorcist. He also notes that Frankenheimer approached him with the idea to do a horror film based on the success of The Omen and how Frankenheimer stayed true to what was on the page but the tone was different (likening it to the "piece of junk" that resulted from remaking The Omen from the same script), and muses that Prophecy could still be remade as he intended. In "Katahdin Speaks" (19:44), mime artist McLoughlin recalls training in Paris with Marcel Marceau, busking as a street performer in Los Angeles upon returning home, and getting involved in film as a mime. Of Prophecy, he recalls his misgivings about the initial creature designs but wanting to work with Frankenheimer, going up to British Columbia with two other performers hired to execute different movements of the bear but that nothing was shot until they returned to Los Angeles to shoot on a soundstage instead, and the film's disastrous screening. He also discusses his own directing career and how much he owes not only to watching Frankenheimer work but also trying to do the opposite in terms of being more open to collaboration and others' ideas. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (1:06), a TV spot (0:28), radio spots (2:26), and a trio of still galleries.

Packaging

The first 2,000 copies come with a limited edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling as well as a 27-page collector's booklet with the essay "If You Go Down to the Woods Today..." by Craig Ian Mann and the archival "Stories from the Set: A Young Trainee Gets Her Big Break on Prophecy" interview with Venita Ozols-Graham by John Campopiano. Mann discusses the film's eco-horror and more understated body horror aspect, social issues, and also draws parallels with Nightwing. Ozols-Graham recalls her tenure in the Assistant Directors Training program, starting on the The Bionic Woman but wanting to get into features, and how taking a risk in turning down the The Muppet Movie lead to getting a DGA trainee position on Prophecy when the production was returning from Canada to shoot on sound stages instead, her impressions of Frankenheimer making a monster movie, on-set incidents, the threat of the Hillside Strangler potentially lurking about the same area where exteriors were being shot, a two week detour working on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and her memories of late stuntman Kevin Peter Hall who donned the bear suit for some scenes and who she also felt brought personality to Predator and Harry and the Hendersons.
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Overall

Scripted by The Omen's David Seltzer and helmed by action man John Frankenheimer, Prophecy is really no more polished in story, ecological concerns, its treatment of Native American mysticism, or exploitation elements than its lower budget "animals attack" contemporaries but it benefits from strong performances and an eclectic cast.

 


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