Before there was the film with Christopher Walken, there was the 1979 classic about the mutant bear in the woods. Mom took us to see this PG rated movie at the theater that summer because we were one big horror-loving family. So I’ve always had fond memories of Prophecy and how terrified I was by the mutant bear. This was the decade of some of the best made-for-tv horror films, and Prophecy may just have been considered one of them if it had been aired directly on TV instead of in the theaters. Of course, it worked for me in theaters because I was only 10. Only watching it now do I see that this was definitely not on par with the brilliant Jaws 2, which scared the puke out of me (literally) the summer before.
Prophecy is so a product of its time. It stars Rocky’s be-otch Talia Shire. It is loaded with blatant and excessive commentary about race, inequality, religion, and nature conservation, from Native Americans being ousted from their land and African-Americans living in the ghetto to poor fish just trying to survive in the wilderness and innocent trees being cut down to make room for industry. And it has a major theme that was so popular in the 70s—nature strikes back. Hell, they used to have a whole week devoted to these kinds of films on ABC’s “four-thirty movie.” While other kids were busy watching after school specials with important lessons about staying away from strangers, I was watching humans getting devoured by giant rats, angry frogs, and killer birds.
The opening of Prophecy is awesome, because all you see is flashlight beams in a pitch black forest. Take note filmmakers. This is how a forest at night would really look. But the first few minutes are actually SAD! Hunters are out with bloodhounds, one of which freaks out in terror over something we can’t see and then jumps right off a cliff!!! The hunters clearly love their dogs, because they climb down the mountain to go find him. And that’s when the screaming begins—and doesn’t start up again for like another hour.
Cut to the city, where there’s a Native American equality rally going on in the park and Robert Foxworth, old blue-eyes from Falcon’s Crest, is a doctor helping the poorest of the poor black folks in the ghetto (it’s actually referred to as the ghetto). Blue-Eyes’s lady, Mrs. Rocky, is pregnant, but afraid to tell him. And so he packs her up and takes her into the woods where he’s doing an environmental report for the U.S. government…so it will have an official excuse to kick the Indians off the land. Don’t you just love horror movies with a social message?
When the couple lands, the bad guy (aka: the white man), tells them the Indians are crazy murderous drunks who believe in legends of a creature but who are actually the ones responsible for tons of disappearances of good white folk in the forest. So—they head into the forest with a team of white guys. The road is blocked by the Indians, led by Armand Assante. He whips out an axe, a white dude whips out a chainsaw. Needless to say, the white man gets his way.
This is where all the mutant forest creature fun begins. A raccoon attacks Blue-Eyes and Mrs. Rocky in their cabin. Blue-Eyes sees a giant fish eat a bird in the lake. The couple discovers a giant sperm—I mean, tadpole. The couple befriends the Indians, who believe the place is the Garden of Eden and that’s why everything grows big.
Doesn’t take long for our brilliant doctor Blue-Eyes to figure out the nearby Paper Mill is spilling shit into the water that is easily leaking into the ecosystem, causing any animal that eats or drinks anything from the forest to have mutant babies. Dunh dunh dunh! Right jab to Mrs. Rocky’s baby bump!
There are some really ‘interesting’ and unintentionally funny moments in the film. Blue-Eyes claims the reason the Indians act drunk is because they’re being poisoned by the toxic waste (alcoholism running rampant in reservations seems like a sensitive subject to be making fictional excuses for). They find a mutant bear cub and Mrs. Rocky, knowing she’s going to have a deformed baby because she ate fish for dinner, becomes incredibly attached to it, mothering it—and eventually cuddling up with it and Blue-Eyes like one big happy family after she tells him she’s pregnant.
Seriously though, the mutant bears and cubs are really nasty (although the big bear sometimes looks like a cute yet gory Teddy bear….). The scene that freaked me out as a kid, in which campers get attacked, is actually kind of funny. The one kid is zipped up in his warm down sleeping bag so only his face is sticking out. So when mutant bear attacks, the kid tries to HOP away (John Ritter did this for laughs in an episode of Three’s Company), but quickly gets swatted and explodes into a burst of feathers.
And when the survivors swim across a lake to escape the mutant bear, they climb up on a dock on the other side and watch the beast sink into the water as it tries to chase them. And then they watch…and watch…and watch…as bubbles move closer…and closer…and closer…to the dock. And all I can think is, “Get the fuck off the dock!!!” They suddenly scream in shocked horror when the bear jumps up from the water near the dock….
But nothing really tops the downfall of the mutant bear. The survivors finally get off the dock and run into a cabin…and the mutant bear rips the roof right off it. Blue-Eyes defends them with a bow and arrow and when that doesn’t work he just uses the hand and arrow tactic. Even when the bear is dead in the water (literally), Blue-Eyes lets out this tribal howl and fricking leaps off the dock, his legs all spread eagle, and attacks the corpse with an arrow. Holy crap I burst out laughing when I saw this (while thinking, you wouldn’t catch me jumping into that water after that thing! I just saw Jaws 2 last summer!).
And if you’re waiting for a tag at the end involving Mrs. Rocky in the delivery room giving birth to an “It’s Alive” baby, forget it. Instead, we get mellow music as a plane carrying the couple flies over the forest—and suddenly Daddy Mutant Bear pops his head into the shot! EEK! Scary bear!!!