He Watched It Sober.

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a/k/a Prophecy: The Monster Movie

     "Did you know this was going on?"

-- Ragin' Rob Verne     

     "I didn't want to."

-- Weasly Isley     




Gonzoid Cinema




What's a Cheese-Dick Ending?

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and You Can Find Out.


And that, sadly, is a what we

call a Cheese-Dick ending.


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Sights &
When Big
Budgets Go

King Kong (1976)


Godzilla (1998)

The Haunting (1999)

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)


It seems somewhere deep in the forests of upstate Maine, the Pitney Paper Mill has been secretly polluting the water, poisoning the local Indians, and wreaking havoc on the wildlife. As usual, the Natives' pleas for help are ignored until several Pitney loggers disappear, and then the search party charged with finding them all wind up dead -- mauled and mutilated under some very bizarre circumstances. And as the accusations and tensions rise between these two factions, enter a hot-shot EPA scientist, Rob Vern (Robert Foxworth), who, along with his wife, Maggie (Talia Shire), has been sent in by the government to arbitrate this dispute before things become even more volatile.

Sticking by his press release, Isley (Richard Dysart), the mill's spokesman, insists his employers run a clean operation and stonewalls Vern further by casting blame on the Indians, who are just trying to stir up more trouble to prevent Pitney Inc. from expanding their logging operations. But everything isn’t fine, far from it; and as the evidence stacks up -- the fish are abnormally huge, and the raccoons have turned rabidly vicious -- Vern concludes beyond a shadow of doubt that something insidious is going on at the mill and the Indians had nothing to do with it. And worst off all, as a direct result, there's a 16-foot tall mutated-creature from hell running amok in the forest -- and that's what has been killing off all the campers within a thirty-mile radius...

Take a little trip down memory lane with me, if you will, folks, back to when I was a younger brattling circa 1979. One summer afternoon, I remember going to the shoe store, and as the salesmen measured my foot, and my mom chastised me for wearing a pair of socks with holes in them, I heard the most terrifying thing ever over the store’s intercom, tuned into a local AM station:

There was a heavy, preternaturally labored breathing (or may it was it heartbeat.) Then a voiceover warned "Not to move -- or even breathe, or she’d find you!" followed by a scream, then an ear splitting roar, more screams, and then! Silence...

This was, of course, a radio-teaser (-- something sorely lacking in film promotion these days --) for a new horror flick called Prophecy -- and it was coming soon to a theater near me! Turned out the television ads were just as terrifying. I can recall a slow zoom on a twitching, deformed thing that wailed like a wounded baby; and a doomed camper jumping for his life, apparently stuck in a sleeping bag, being chased by some horrible, roaring menace. I seriously can't vouch for the accuracy of any of this, because I only saw very little while peeking between my fingers. Later, I saw an ad for said movie in the daily paper. Featuring the same deformed fetus, I was transfixed and could not get that wailing mutant baby thing out of my friggin' head.

Eventually, the film came and went, and thankfully, I never got a chance to see it ... Now jump ahead a few years, and while searching over the Video Kingdom's ever-shrinking selection of Betamax titles (-- stop laughing!), I saw the wailing mutant baby thing again on the cover of a rental box. Quickly snatching it up, memory synapses firing, I headed home, popped it in the VCR, uncoiled the wire for the non-wireless remote (-- seriously, stop laughing!), and punched play. Needless to say, I was filled with great expectations -- or at least morbidly curious. And as the opening sequence cued up, I steeled myself to be scared [expletive deleted]-less.

Well, it started out earnestly enough as we open in the woods, at night, with that aforementioned search party. An ominous gale blows through the forest around them, the only sound we hear aside from the panting bloodhounds. As the scenery slowly bends and shifts in the breeze, eerily distorting the limited pools of illumination from their searchlights, the three dogs pick up a scent and go charging into the darkness. The soundtrack goes berserk, and the man tethered to the dogs can barely hold on as he's dragged along behind them -- until they break into a clearing and the two lead dogs plunge over a cliff into a deep ravine! The other two searchers manage to snag the dog-handler before he's drug over the precipice, too, and together, they start to reel the dogs back in. Suddenly, the dogs whelp and the line snaps. Not wanting to leave anybody behind, the men gear up and repel down into the blackened well to retrieve the canines. But something goes wrong. They scream and gurgle, and their lines snap, too. Then the last man repels down to help, too fast, stumbles, and plummets the last few feet. When he hits bottom, he sees the mangled remains of the dog-handler, and has just enough time to scream before he's drowned out by an unearthly roar!

Cool, right? Yeah, but that's as good as it gets -- during the opening credit sequence! Prophecy does sustain the mood for a little while longer when the sun comes up and a serene sonata soundtracks us through as we view the carnage left by whatever attacked and killed the men. After that, well, the film pretty much drops trou' and urinates all over itself for the rest of its running time.

See, the insurgent Natives, led by John and Ramona Hawks (Armand Assante -- who really looks like he could use some Preparation H, and Victoria Racimo), believe that whatever it is lurking in the forest doing all the damage is the Khatadin, the vengeful spirit of the region, which has manifested itself as a demon to seek revenge on the polluters. And they're proved right, sort of, when Vern realizes the paper mill has been using mercury as part of its pulping process. Investigating further, Vern follows the lethal element's path of destruction through the food chain, from plant, to fish, to humans, causing scores of health problems; the most dastardly being if some contaminated food is consumed by a pregnant host, the chemical mutates the fetus, genetically, resulting in all the freakish wildlife they've encountered. To make matters worse, Maggie ate some of the contaminated fish, too; and as she listens in horror as her husband goes over the textbooks and bleak reports, she's unable to tell the overly self-righteous turd -- who adamantly refuses to bring a child into this chaotic world -- that she, herself, is pregnant! (Must have been some mercury in the condom or something.)

Ah, but the locals aren't the only ones high on the food chain consuming the contaminated fish. And it isn't hard to deduce that this Khatadin is, in all probability, a mutated bear -- confirmed in the next sequence when the monster attacks and buzz-saws through another family of campers. And as effective as the opening sequence was, it is equaled by the sheer ineptitude shown here when our horrible and roaring menace turns out to be a giant rubber gummy-bear whose been nuked in the microwave for about five minutes too many. The not-to-brief glimpses we get leave us dumbfounded -- Is this what I was so scared of all those years ago? -- and then all credibility is lost when that aforementioned camper, hopping for his life, takes a right cross, flies into a boulder, and detonates in an explosive cloud of down-filling. And as embarrassing as that attack sequence was, it is surpassed in a later skirmish. And then again. And then yet again at the climax!

When word comes of the camper's massacre, Vern wants to investigate their campsite deep in the forest. And while he, John and Ramona gawk at the bloody damage and high claw-marks on the trees, Maggie hears a familiar wail coming from a nearby stream. Trapped in a poacher's net, she finds two hideously deformed bear cubs. One is dead, but the other is still kicking and squealing. This is the proof that Vern needs, but a torrential storm grounds their helicopter, preventing them from taking the pitiful creature back into town. Needing shelter until the storm passes, Ramona takes them all to the camp of her grandfather, M'rai (George Clutesi). There, Vern manages to stabilize the cub, but fearing it will die too soon, he sends Hawks to bring back Isley, the Sheriff and anyone from the local newspaper. Confronted with the evidence, Isley does his best Mayor Vaughn impression and doesn't exactly confess, but he doesn't really deny the mill's culpability either. Of course, by breaking the cardinal rule of nature of coming in between a mother bear and her cub, we aren't all that surprised when the Khatadin crashes into the camp and thins the cast out a bit. And as we get more of a look at her, and giggle as she clumsily trundles along, we're dumbstruck as to why everyone helps her out by running smack into her! *sigh*

Taking refuge in some underground caves, with the helicopter pilot injured during the attack, and all the other vehicles destroyed, their only option is to wait until sunrise and then try to walk out to safety. This is your plan? Come the dawn, after several hours of trudging, they run into a piece of luck at an abandoned logging camp. Commandeering one of their trucks, strapping the poor pilot to the roof!, the going still proves slow, too slow, as night falls again, making them easy prey for the Khatadin -- who spent the day tracking down and eating Isley. The beast easily overturns the truck and decapitates the poor pilot, bringing a spurt of genuine sympathy from the audience because he really had nothing to do with any of this mounting stupidity. And with the monster hot on their heels, what's left of our group retreats to the Verns' cabin. But that proves little shelter, leaving Vern to battle the bear, mano-a-mano, in a final showdown of rubber-suited mayhem that the written word just cannot do justice to.

And when the battle is won, and Vern and Maggie head back to civilization, we're left to wonder what is percolating in her womb; and as a friendly reminder, we pan off their plane, back down to the forests below, where another mutant hell-beasts pops into a view. You know, just in case we forgot.

The End

Man, I hate cheese-dick endings. What's a cheese-dick ending, you ask? Well, that's my own personal euphemism for cinematic conclusions that usually involve a question mark, or the revelation that the menace really isn’t dead, or something has surfaced to take the deceased monster/villain's place. (See illustration to the left in the sidebar.) And as a whole, they smell bad, don't hold up for very long, or survive any kind of weathering scrutiny.

Again, Prophecy works pretty well at the beginning, and has some genuinely scary moments when all we get is the sound of the monster prowling around and attacking in the dark. Unfortunately, as we see more and more of it as the film progresses it becomes laughable -- but also a little disappointing because, until then, the movie was doing so well. Therein lies the main problem I and a lot of other people have with Prophecy, when it falls into a familiar trap: if your monster isn't very convincing, especially when you have the kahonies to tab your film as The Monster Movie, hide it as much as possible or your film winds up silly, instead of menacing, and the production is doomed. (See JAWS.)

Wasted talent, that about sums it all up. In front of the camera, poor Talia Shire spends the whole movie as nothing more than a sounding board/punching bag for raging Robert Foxworth as he screeches from one indignant screed to another. Behind the camera, you’d probably expect a lot more from director John Frankenheimer and writer David Seltzer, the men who brought us The Manchurian Candidate and The Omen respectively. But as The Film Fiend so beautifully put it in his review:

Armed with a message, a stick, and a dead horse, Prophecy teaches you that big corporations and rich white people are inherently evil, a truth you're bound to learn sooner or later. In order to stuff this bitter message into the collective throat of the typical American movie-goer, the environmental danger comes in the guise of a hideously deformed mutant bear ... Which is fine, I suppose, though it does come across more than a little preachy at times. Yes, smoke-puffing paper plants are very bad things. Yes, mutant animals that randomly attack campers are definitely no good. Stop hitting me about the head and neck with your message and get with the graphic violence, okay? Thanks.

And the film is pretty graphic in some scenes, and I'm still a little baffled by it's PG rating. Regardless, when the audience soured on the film and critics sniggered, resulting in a dismal box-office, Prophecy's failure officially sounded the death-knell on the big-budget horror revival of the 1970's as well.

As I struggle for any good thing I could possibly say about Prophecy before I wrap this up, all I could come up with was this: though it isn't very scary, and is much, much too full of itself, message wise, one thing Prophecy definitely isn't is boring and well worth checking out -- just not for the reason it's creators had intended. Not even close.

Prophecy (1979) Paramount Pictures / P: Robert L. Rosen / D: John Frankenheimer / W: David Seltzer / C: Harry Stradling Jr. / E: Tom Rolf / M: Leonard Rosenman / S: Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire, Armand Asante, Victoria Racimo, George Clutesi, Richard Dysart
Originally Posted: 12/13/99 :: Rehashed: 05/05/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.

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