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Too Much to Bear: Prophecy on Blu-ray

  Similar to the twenty-twenties, the nineteen-seventies were obsessed with ecology, and that exhibited itself in pop culture with the phenomenon of the revenge of nature movie. This had arguably begun with Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds in 1963, but that was such an odd effort that it took a while to catch on. However, by the seventies plenty of creatives had seen it on television broadcasts and something about its uncanny unease, where there is no apparent motive for the birds turning on people until you realise it's nature's way of reasserting itself over the damage humanity wreaks, appealed.

Especially when the seventies was truly the decade where horror films became global talking points and not merely suitable for diverting teens at the drive-ins or grindhouses: there was a genuine opportunity to use them to make commentary on society and, as the post-hippy hangover turned to focus on the paranormal and cosmic, the genre was being taken seriously. Yes, The Exorcist made an absolute fortune, but its pretenders, low budget and big budget, were doing very nicely at the box office too, thankyou very much, and you had a choice of what two typical flavours you would like to see: Satanic or environmental.

However, by the point Prophecy stumbled out of the trees roaring, the culture was moving on. It may seem hard to believe that after the championing of keeping the ecology as healthy as possible the world proceeded to say, "Yeah, been there, done that!", but that is what happened as the eighties dawned, and anything that was not making a tidy profit was relegated to the back burner. Prophecy, sad to say, was simply the last gasp of the previous decade's burst of activity that had brought us Frogs, where woodland creatures attacked, Day of the Animals, where every creature attacked, and of course Jaws, which demonised sharks ever after.

If anything, Prophecy was a combination of Frogs and Jaws, and though there had been killer bear movies before, such as Grizzly or Claws, this effort went one better by featuring a mutant killer bear driven insane by mankind's pollution! Or rather a bloke in a suit - often Predator's towering Kevin Peter Hall, among others - looking like something out of Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, and not coincidentally because the messed up, skinned-looking monster would have been a perfect candidate to tussle with Godzilla had he been given the opportunity to grow a hundred feet or so. Given the quasi-mystical aspects to David Seltzer's screenplay, you wouldn't put it past them.

Seltzer had been responsible for the writing of spoof insect documentary The Hellstrom Chronicle in 1973 which sternly informed the audience that insects and arachnids were primed to rise up and take over the planet, rather different from fifty years later when we are told not to swat flies or step on ants because the world's insect population is in peril. But back then, audiences were onboard to be terrified by such a concept, though that was nothing compared to Seltzer's 1976 screenplay The Omen, which rivalled The Exorcist three years earlier in its methods of tapping into post-religious angst in the viewers and had supposedly sane parents wondering if their little darlings could be the one and only Antichrist.

Therefore putting Seltzer on the job of penning an eco-horror, as director John Frankenheimer fancied helming a monster movie, should have been a shoo-in for another zeitgeist-grabbing blockbuster. But then you may recall Seltzer also wrote The Other Side of the Mountain, a shameless dollop of romantic treacle that demonstrated he was not always going to hit the target set out for him, artistically, anyway, and that explains why Prophecy is so damned earnest. Funnily enough, another 1979 flop was Nightwing, which also drew in Native American themes to bolster its care for the planet message, though here we had the Italian American Armand Assante pretending to be indigenous, which would have been a strict no-no decades later. Victoria Racimo, who played his partner, was Filipino-Irish, and gets a bafflingly gratuitous wet T-shirt scene near the end, distracting us from the battle.

Assante is a protestor against local lumber mills which are polluting the land and water with mercury (this, at least was an accurate accusation), and newcomers Robert Foxworth as a right-on doctor and his cello-playing wife Talia Shire represent our outsiders' way in to the story as they try to mediate between the authorities (led by Richard Dysart, acting everyone else off the screen) and the Natives, as all the while the bear is picking off campers and Assante is accused of its killings. Yes, that's where the kid in the sleeping bag is whomped against a rock and explodes in a cloud of eiderdown, the film's main talking point/hilarity magnet on its release - not the ecology. As the plot settles into a cycle of Foxworth and friends rambling through the forests (supposedly Maine, actually Canada) and being intermittently attacked because they have mutant mama bear's offspring to try to keep alive, despite pre-release cuts this remained a very gory movie, resulting in a weirdly bad taste plea to save the planet. It may have been old news back then, but Prophecy has found its feet since, for obvious reasons.

[Eureka release Prophecy on Blu-ray with these special features:

Limited Edition O-Card Slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling [First Print Run of 2000 copies only] | 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a High Definition transfer | Optional English SDH Subtitles | New feature length audio commentary by Richard Harland Smith | New feature length audio commentary by film writers Lee Gambin & Emma Westwood | New interview with screenwriter David Seltzer | New interview with mime artist Tom McLoughlin | Original Theatrical Trailer | PLUS: A LIMITED EDITION Collector's Booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann; and an archival interview [First Print Run of 2000 copies only].]

Author: Graeme Clark.


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