Prophecy was a monster movie designed to tap into the new fad for Animals Amok films that was the latest big thing following the success of Steven Spielbergs Jaws (1975). It had a good many elements that should have made it a classic John Frankenheimer as director, screenwriter David Seltzer who was a hot name coming just after the massive hit of The Omen (1976). Instead, Prophecy proved to be a complete flop.
David Seltzer is a screenwriter see below for his other genre works who frequently obsesses over the socially apocalyptic in particular, the Biblical End Times prophecies that play out in works like The Omen and The Omen (2006), The Eighteenth Angel (1998) and Revelations (tv mini-series, 2005), or of nature amok as we see here and in his first film, the mockumentary The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971). Prophecy taps into a pile of burgeoning 1970s environmental concerns. In fact, David Seltzer has taken the basics of Prophecy from a real-life apocalypse the environmental disaster in the Japanese city of Minimata, which came to light in 1958 where it was discovered that mercury waste being dumped into a nearby river from a chemical plant had caused severe mutations and neurological degenerations among the locals. The effects of this consisted of loss of muscular control, vision and hearing, followed eventually by insanity and paralysis. Prophecy, with typical monster movie alarmism, promptly has this put to creating giant sized and rampaging wildlife, whereas in real life mercury poisoning would tend to render the victims helpless and unable to control their bodies. Certainly, Seltzers quoting of these scenes gives the film a level of real-world credibility that many other monster films lack.
In the 1950s, when films like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954) added social commentary in the form of strident warnings about the A-bomb to tight, compact monster movies, they had a crazy integrity that came from the seat of the unconscious and would speak with fierce intensity. Despite a budget ten, often a hundred times, greater than these films ever had, Prophecy, in trying to get outraged about environmental issues, is no more than a monster movie that has just picked up a placard and joined the latest trendy protest march. Others of this era did this type of thing with amazing results, like Larry Cohen in Its Alive (1974), but here the results are incredibly heavy-handed. You can almost see Prophecy ticking liberal causes off on its fingers at times as the film opens, within a matter of two scenes it manages to introduce themes of Ghetto Landlords, Indian Land Rights, Black Poverty, Unwanted Pregnancy, Health Conditions of the Poor and Industrial Pollution. This is not a monster movie with a social conscience it is a turkey with over-inflated pretensions to message making.
Much of which might have been tolerable if Prophecy were any good as a monster movie. However, the results emerge poorly on screen. The weak, grainy photography makes the film look no different from the low-budget Jaws rip-offs of William Girdler there is little difference in look between Prophecy and Girdlers cheap Grizzly (1976), for instance. The creature effects are frequently laughable a giant flying salmon, the mutant bear with a face like a pussycat. Especially hilarious is the image of the mutated baby bear with a miniature IV tube stuck in its arm, which for some reason left me in uncontrollable titters. Much of the film teeters on the brink of this unintentional absurdity and fails to emerge on the winning side the scene with the kid being killed in the exploding sleeping bag is positively hilarious. John Frankenheimer tries hard to generate tension during the scenes with the mutant bear pursuing the cast near the end, but much of the story is predictable and boring. The opening chase sequence verges on the incoherent. If one did not know that John Frankenheimer was also the director of stylish, paranoid nightmares like The Manchurian Candidate and Seconds it would be impossible to guess this is just amateur night at the drive-in.
John Frankenheimers other films of genre interest are the classic Cold War brainwashing black comedy The Manchurian Candidate (1962); Seven Days in May (1964), a political thriller about an armed coup to overthrow The President; the rejuvenation syndicate film Seconds (1966); and the H.G. Wells adaptation The Island of Dr Moreau (1996).
Screenwriter David Seltzer has written other mainstream films such as Punchline (1988) and Bird on a Wire (1990). Seltzers most famous work was The Omen (1976), which created the genre for End Times films concerning the Biblical appearance of the Anti-Christ. Seltzer also ventured to genre material with his scripts for the ghost story Dragonfly (2002) and ventured back to Biblical End Times themes for The Eighteenth Angel (1998), the six-episode mini-series Revelations (2005) and the remake of The Omen (2006).
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