Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Monster Movie

This big-budget ($12 million!) Hollywood disaster is idiotic and slow going, but, man, whenever the bear’s on screen, PROPHECY is Bad Movie Gold. Tom Burman (THE GOONIES) created the monster makeup, and the result is, hands down, one of the worst movie monsters ever.

Tree-hugging ghetto doctor Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth with a Mike Brady perm) and his pregnant, cello-playing wife Maggie (the perennially weepy Talia Shire) are sent by the Environmental Protection Agency to the forests of Maine to intervene a standoff between a paper mill run by Isley (Richard Dysart) and Native American conservationists led by hot-headed John Hawk (a miscast Armand Assante). Isley denies his mill is polluting the water, but it becomes hard for Verne to believe him after encounters with a salmon the size of a Buick and a spitfire raccoon that attacks Verne in one of PROPHECY’s most memorably loony scenes.

Meanwhile, hikers and campers are being systematically slaughtered. Isley accuses Hawk of the murders. The Indians blame a mysterious, murderous spirit-beast that wanders the woods. Verne figures the pollution, the mutated animals, and the killings must be connected, and, lo, he’s right. The perpetrator is one of cinema’s most laughable monsters—a giant, slimy, mutant killer bear that’s portrayed variously by a miniature, an animatronic figure, and a clumsy and/or drunk stuntman in a poorly designed suit.

It takes director John Frankenheimer about half the movie to figure out he’s making a horror film, wasting too many plodding minutes on a dreary ecological message showcasing Evil Rich White Guys vs. Spiritual, Earthy Native Americans. Not that the horror stuff is necessarily better, but it’s a lot more entertaining than Foxworth’s narcissistic rants about rats eating babies.

While GRIZZLY, an earlier killer-bear flick directed by William Girdler, is more consistently funny, the “best” parts of PROPHECY far outshine anything in GRIZZLY—a dog in a helicopter sling, the bear chomping down on the “wise” (he seems pretty senile to me) old Indian medicine man, an axe/chainsaw battle, Dysart continuing to assert that his mill is not polluting the environment despite obvious proof to the contrary, the bear managing to blow up a jeep while wrecking a camp, Foxworth’s final battle with the bear using a mere arrow as a weapon, and, especially, the notorious exploding sleeping bag scene, which is so ridiculous that I defy you to watch it only once without rewinding.

Filmed in British Columbia and on the Paramount backlot (which looks phony), PROPHECY fails both as horror and social commentary, but it’s mighty entertaining if you’re in the right frame of mind or with the right company. The cast is uniformly bad, Frankenheimer directs like a one-armed traffic cop, the script by David Seltzer (THE OMEN) is filled with implausibilities and clunker dialogue, and the monster is ridiculous, but deliciously so.

Leonard Rosenman’s score is pretty good though. Frankenheimer, one of the great adventure directors, was just coming off FRENCH CONNECTION II and BLACK SUNDAY, but never directed another box office hit. He later blamed his alcoholism, Rick Baker’s friends (!), and Paramount’s decision to cut the violence for a PG rating for PROPHECY’s failures.

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