I'm not sure which is worse – seeing a movie you loved as a child and realizing it's bad, or seeing a movie that scared you when you were a child and finding it not at all frightening. Probably the latter. The former just makes you disappointed, the latter makes you feel like a doofus ("I was scared of THIS?!").
Hey, I was young and foolish then. And I'm old and foolish now, so I've given Prophecy a second view and find that it's the dreaded Serious Horror Movie – poorly paced, with obvious scares, and saddled with a flimsy story and characters that can't support the weight that John Frankenheimer wants to bring to the film. (All flaws that would mark Frankenheimer's later foray into the genre, the misbegotten Island of Dr. Moreau.)
We open with oh-so-ominous music playing while several men with mining helmets, flashlights, and search dogs comb the woods for…something? Someone? It's not made clear, nor is it explained why they are searching at night. Don't such things usually happen during the day when you can, I don't know, actually SEE something? Anyway, one of the search dogs gets very frightened or enthusiastic about something (again, it's not made clear which) and runs right off a cliff! Wile E. Coyote would be proud! The searchers descend the cliff to rescue the dog and end up being massacred by some unseen thing.
What follows is one of the most bizarre things I've seen in a movie in quite some time – a lingering, loving pan over the gory remains of the search team and their dogs, accompanied by lovely classical music. This goes on for a couple minutes, and then we dissolve to cellist Maggie (Talia Shire, probably wondering how she went from the Godfather movies to this) as she plays with an orchestra.
You know, I'm beginning to think that whole auteur theory may be a bunch of malarkey.
Maggie is married to a public health doctor named Robert (Robert Foxworth, sporting a really unfortunate white man's afro). Robert is cranky because he works in the ghetto and sees things like babies that have been mauled by rats, and nothing he does makes a difference. He's always going on about how awful the world is and how he never, ever wants to bring a child into it. However, he seems to have left all the family planning up to his wife, and you guessed it - Maggie is pregnant and hasn't broken the big news to Robert yet.
Then an old chum of Robert's offers him a chance to go to Maine – seems there's a big dispute between the Evil Industrial Paper Mill and the In-Harmony-With Nature Noble Savages. (Yes, the conflict is that subtle.) The chum thinks Robert could help (with what, it's not made clear) and Robert, happy for a chance to escape the big city takes the assignment. Maggie tags along, thinking the trip will make it easier for her to tell Robert she's knocked up.
Robert and Maggie soon find out that the conflict is worse than they'd thought as they witness a standoff between Evil Paper Mill Employees and Noble Savages that turns into an axe vs. chainsaw duel that is far duller than it ought to be. Also, it turns out the Noble Savages are being blamed for the deaths of the search team at the beginning of the movie, the disappearances of the people the team was looking for, and anything bad that happens. The police soon blame Noble Savage John Hawks (the not-at-all-Indian but very sexy Armand Assante!) but the local chief says the killings are the work of Katahdin, a local deity that is part of all living things, and has come to protect his people.
Now, about this Katahdin. Yes, that's what the creature on the poster and DVD box is supposed to be. Creepy, isn’t it? Borrowing a bit from every living thing – that's pretty neato. I wish we could see that, but what we get instead is a gloopy, half inside-out bear that we never see entire because it would look even more fake than it does. Granted, Katahdin is very cranky (you would be too if you looked like a big puppet covered in Astroglide) and he smites a fair number of people, but the smitings are so telegraphed and poorly executed (take special note of the sleeping bag demise – it's nearly worth the price of a rental) that the whole thing becomes laughable.
The plot congeals as we learn that the Evil Paper Mill has been releasing mercury into the local environment, which accounts for the raccoon attacks (don’t ask), oversized minnows and tadpoles, the high rate of miscarriage and stillbirth among the local populace, and Katahdin the Astroglide Bear. It all ends with one of horror cinema's lamer "gotcha!" moments and the disheartening knowledge that you've wasted 90 minutes of your time.
Performances range from weak to acceptable. Foxworth is supposed to be a passionate and dedicated man of medicine but comes off as a passive-aggressive control freak. He also has a big "hikeeba" moment at the end when he's battling the bear that's giggle-inducing. Shire is very convincing as a woman in her first trimester because she seems to be really tired all the time. Assante has almost nothing to do except spout some Noble Savage philosophy but he looks good doing it so I don't mind.
I feel a bit bad about coming down harshly about this movie, but it's just so disappointing. That poster gives you a hint of what Katahdin could have been, and while he wouldn't have saved the movie, he wouldn't have been as silly as the monster we do get.