Color, 1979, 102 mins. / Directed by John Frankenheimer / Starring Talia Shire, Robert Foxworth, Armand Assante, Richard Dysart, Victoria Racimo / Music by Leonard Rosenman / Written by David Seltzer

Format: DVD - Paramount (MSRP $29.98) / Letterboxed (2.35:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Released during the peak of the new horror revival which also saw such entries as The Omen, Dawn of the Dead, and Alien, John Frankenheimer's shaggy dog - err, bear - of a monster movie, Prophecy, became the object of immediate ridicule for its big budget squandered in the service of a pandering, sermonistic diatribe about the environment. Over twenty years later, Prophecy still suffers from a bum rep but has gained something of a cult following for its unintentional comic highlights, including the nasty fate of one helicopter pilot and an unbelievable vignette involving a sleeping bag. So, is it really that bad? Well, yes, it is, but for all its problems, Prophecy certainly isn't boring.

The wilds of Maine have become a breeding ground for hatred when the local Indian tribes clash with industrial papermill developers running roughshod over Mother Nature. For some reason Dr. Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth) and his wife, Maggie (Rocky's Talia Shire), head up to deal with the problem, which also involves the mysterious disappearances of several locals. The discovery of some mutated bear cubs tip off the doctor that a mutated grizzly bear, caused by the rampant mercury poisoning in the water, is responsible for all of the mayhem, so he packs up the cubs and heads back to home base. Naturally, mama bear (referred to as Kataden) is none too pleased and, quicker than you can say Gorgo, stomps through the woods hellbent on revenge.

Considering the relative competence of most of the actors (including a young Armand Assante as an intrepid Indian activist) and Frankenheimer's good track record with popcorn fare, Prophecy stood a chance of at least turning out as a good, dumb monster movie. Despite some lashings of gore and the obviously surreal make up effects (both of which are strong enough to make one really question the PG rating), the film is really undone by its awkward dialogue and the attempt to wedge some kind of moral into the proceedings. Horror movies should never, ever try to preach, but that hasn't stopped people from continuing to try. Frankenheimer has publicly stated he was brought on as a director for hire and was never too keen on the whole environmental angle, so apparently a bulk of the blame must be shifted to screenwriter David Seltzer, whose preaching in The Omen at least fit the subject matter and scared the bejeezus out of God-fearing viewers everywhere. However, as far as horror movies involving Indians and nature running amok go, at least Prophecy is far more entertaining and compulsively watchable than the sleep-inducing Nightwing from the same year.

Whatever its debits, Prophecy is at least a visually pleasing film thanks to its sprawling British Columbia scenery and professional widescreen lensing. The Panavision compositions have been brutalized for years by Paramount's blurry, badly cropped TV and video transfers, so it's gratifying (and not a little bit startling) that they chose to release it on DVD in its original aspect ratio. The transfer is about what you'd expect for a late '70s title - a little on the drab side, color and detail-wise, but it's a sharp rendering of the original elements and thankfully doesn't heap on any digital cleaning effects to wipe out the natural grain of several shots (including clumsy zoomed-in close ups). The early Dolby Stereo track verges on mono most of the time, with some mild separation in the music tracks and a few directional foley effects making up most of the front channel soundscape. As for extras, well, there are "scene selections" and "interactive menus," so those of you expecting the solemn theatrical trailer will be sorely disappointed. For a $30 price tag it's not much of a deal, but if you can find a used/discounted copy or pick up a rental, this makes for ideal schlocky party viewing.

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