Prophecy a Middling 70s Eco-Horror Movie That’s Obscure For a Reason

By the end of the 1970s, the eco-horror subgenre was slowing down as the counterculture movement gave way to a conservative resurgence that defined the 80s. Most fans of 70s horror recognize title like Orca, Piranha, or Grizzly. Lovers of ‘cheese cinema’ have likely seen Frogs, Tentacles, or Day of the Animals. But the 1979 release Prophecy slid into obscurity in spite of big studio backing and talent behind and in front of the camera. Maybe its story of paper mill waste and a mutated bear felt rehashed. Or maybe a man dressed in a mutant bear suit didn’t feel scary to audiences. Regardless Prophecy still scraped up some money at the box as critics derided it and audiences quickly forgot about it.


Frustrated chasing down corrupt landlords running slums in Washington, Dr. Robert Verne takes a job with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). His new position sends him to a remote logging site in the Maine wilderness to report on standoff between the land’s indigenous protestors and paper mill operators. Joined by his wife, Dr. Verne discovers that something in the woods has attacked and killed several loggers. The Indigenous peoples believe it’s Katahdin, a vengeful spirit of the forest seeking retribution for harms done to the land. But Dr. Verne soon learns that waste spilled by the paper mill has mutated the area’s wildlife with deadly consequences.

Prophecy Lazily Recycles Tired Eco-Horror Tropes

Director John Frankenheimer had a pretty impressive filmography before helming Prophecy. After all, Frankenheimer was the same filmmaker behind The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman of Alcatraz, and Seconds. Though not as critically acclaimed, writer David Seltzer was responsible for The Omen screenplay. On the other side of the camera, Robert Foxworth (Damien: The Omen II), Talia Shire (The Godfather, Rocky), and Armand Assante (Judge Dredd) were all talented performers with varying degrees of success. Clearly, it’s Seltzer who’s most responsible for Prophecy’s limitations as an eco-horror movie. His screenplay feels like a lazy re-hashing of what should be formulaic stuff by 1979.

Simply put, Seltzer’s screenplay feels lazy … even in 1979.

Nothing about Prophecy deviates from anything you’d find in any (and every) other eco-horror movie released in the 1970s. Evil (or willfully clueless) corporation polluting the environment. Check. An angry agent of nature (abnormally large or mutated) striking back. Check. A scientist or police officer (or park ranger) who sees the warning signs and warns everyone to no avail. Check. Lazy but well-intentioned appropriation of Indigenous culture. Check. And it’s worth pointing out that neither Assante nor Victoria Racimo – the two Indigenous characters with speaking roles – were actually Indigenous. There’s also the usual dose of dubious science babble to explain the movie’s monster. Simply put, Seltzer’s screenplay feels lazy … even in 1979.

Prophecy Wastes a Good First Act With Lack of Scares, Middling Effects

Occasionally, Prophecy shows flashes of Frankenheimer’s talent, which keeps it from feeling like an outright ‘bad’ movie. That opening scene actually introduces some mystery while feeling a bit suspenseful. And the following scene showing the aftermath of the first offscreen attack teases more style than you’d expect from this sort of movie. In fact, Prophecy’s first act feels like a quality divergence from the usual eco-horror fare. Yet two things other than the derivative story quickly derail things. Without much of a story, Frankenheimer struggles to pace things over the final two-thirds of the movie. Too little happens for too long even with the inclusion of a camping family that has no purpose but to up the body count.

Without much of a story, Frankenheimer struggles to pace things over the final two-thirds of the movie.

Furthermore, Frankenheimer exposes too much of his mutated bear. The Katahdin, played by Kevin Peter Hall (Predator), doesn’t look terrible for a 1979 movie – it’s an improvement over the bear sequences in Grizzly. Nonetheless, the effects aren’t convincing enough to be genuinely scary. In particular, the daytime shots of the Katahdin feel ill-advised. According to behind-the-scenes stories, Paramount forced significant edits onto Frankenheimer to move from an R-rating to a PG. And it shows. Yes, PG horror works but Prophecy would clearly have benefited from a tougher edge to its scares and bear attacks. This looks like a movie that was harshly edited.

Prophecy Isn’t Terrible, But It’s Obscure For a Reason

Is Prophecy quite as bad as its reputation suggests? No, not necessarily. Of course, it’s not a good movie either. Something of oddity – like its mutated bear – Frankenheimer’s eco-horror entry is often better than it has any right to be given what was already a recycled story by 1979. And the practical effects, including the mutant bear costume, were middling for the era and haven’t aged well. But it’s still an upgrade over Grizzly. What really hurts Prophecy are lackluster pacing, long stretches of pseudo-science expository dialogue, and likely studio interference. Somewhere in this monster movie is a decent cast and a handful of good scares. Nevertheless, Prophecy remains an obscure piece of 70s horror for a reason.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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