Prophecy (1979)

Prophecy (1979)

Out there is a mindless, merciless creature of destruction. She will find you.

An EPA investigator and his girlfriend discover that a Native American reserve in Maine has been poisoned over the years by an unscrupulous paper mill owner allowing mercury to escape into the river system. As the mercury has filtered up through the food chain, it has created a mutant grizzly bear that kills everything in its path.

 

Another late 70s film to tap into the killer animal sub-genre with a serious ecological message at its heart, Prophecy comes from the writer of The Omen and the director of The Manchurian Candidate but there’s not a hint of any of the greatness involved here. Maybe it’s because big time directors such as John Frankenheimer just don’t ‘get’ horror films. Maybe they feel that they’re below them once they’ve achieved success. Maybe they feel because they’ve got a good resume under their belts, they’d work well in the genre. Or maybe, just maybe, a film about a mutated killer grizzly bear isn’t the sort of film for an acclaimed director such as Frankenheimer to consider helming. Besides, the killer bear flick had already been back in 1976 with Grizzly. Surely there wasn’t a demand for more killer bear horror films?

Prophecy is the kind of film that would find a home on Sy Fy nowadays. But thankfully, it was made back in 1979 and so it’s gritty low budget trappings are all on display. There are no CGI shortcuts, no teen leading roles and no sugar-coated schmaltzy ending. In fact, the film is anything but sugar-coated. Prophecy is heavy-handed when it comes to sending its main messages – not only are environmental disasters top of the bill but the film ticks off things such as Native American land rights issues, unwanted pregnancies and more. I’m sure they’ll be a protest message in there somewhere which suits an agenda close to your own heart! In the midst of all of this banner-waving righteousness, there is a monster movie somewhere and it’s something the first half of the film tends to forget, which would have alienated the majority of its potential horror audience. Every so often there’ll be a random death or some mention of an incident but you’d be hard-pressed to connect everything together if you hadn’t already read the synopsis and realised that it was a giant mutated killer bear on the loose. Foreshadowing what is to come isn’t the same as building up some tension and throw in a few thrills along the way.

Prophecy takes it’s time to get going (and I mean takes its time!) but once the bear finally starts tearing people apart, the film goes into awesome cheesy B-movie territory. This is where the film plays to its limited strengths and starts to deliver on its original premise. The pace picks up significantly as a group of the characters all converge in the woods through various means and the bear starts hunting them down and killing them off. It’s not very gory (it only received a PG rating in America upon its initial release) but I read that a lot of the blood was cut before release, which is a shame. Playing to genre tropes in a film like this is a necessity, not a luxury.

I’ve read a lot of criticism about the mutant bear and yes, the effects for it are atrocious. But you know what? I actually didn’t mind it in this instance. I’m guessing there is a giant prop bear in there somewhere and also a guy-in-a-suit for whenever the situation dictates a certain special effect. The bear looks like someone left a wax costume in front of a radiator for a few hours – a gloopy mess of melted distortion which has been turned inside out by mercury poisoning. The bear looks stupid but frightening in equal measure, more so due to its height. It’s also in a constant bad mood, roaring and crying out loud as it looks for fresh meat. And fresh meat it does find. Thankfully, the talky first half sets up plenty of potential snacks for the bear as it makes more frequent appearances on screen – even kids aren’t spared, in the film’s most memorable death scene involving a sleeping bag.

Talia Shire, riding a crest of a wave with appearances in both Rocky and The Godfather, stars and is ok at doing what she does best – generate sympathy for her character. In fact, she spends the majority of the running time crying or looking like she’s about to cry. Robert Foxworth is also decent enough as the male lead though the two together are hardly riveting screen presences. It’s up to the supporting players to add some more dynamism to the film. Richard Dysart provides the requisite evil corporate type in charge of the paper mill whilst Armand Assante, miscast as a Native American, still manages to generate some life into the script. In the end though, human characters in this type are film are monster chow and so the ability to bring a character to life in limited dialogue is a tough ask. The cast do more than an adequate job in this regard, albeit they did have plenty of time in the talky first half. Arguably the film’s most intense scene involves an early square-off between the Native landowners and the lumberjacks with the killer bear nowhere in sight.

 

Prophecy is a goofy 70s killer monster movie which has its fun moments, but you’ll have to slog through plenty of dross in order to get to them. The results are cheesy and probably not as good as you’d hope they would be. Still, the sight of a giant mutated killer bear charging through the woods has never been more realistic.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1999)

A hibernating species of giant carnivorous birds is awakened on a Japanese island shortly after the military encounters an unidentified floating atoll moving beneath the water offshore. It is soon discovered the atoll is in fact a giant turtle named Gamera, created by ancient civilisation as a protector of Earth. Now that the Earth is in grave danger, Gamera has appeared.

 

Daiei’s Gamera series was the poor relation to Toho’s Godzilla series back in the 50s and 60s. With far less of a budget to design amazing monster costumes and build convincing miniature cities to destroy, and without quality filmmakers like director Ishirō Honda and composer Akira Ifukube behind the scenes adding quality to the film (Ifukube’s Godzilla soundtracks are exceptional), the Gamera films were initially produced to rival the success of the Godzilla films. However, the Gamera films soon descended into campy parodies of themselves, solely aimed at children (Gamera always teamed up with a little kid to defeat the evil monster) and with cartoonish monsters and awful special effects. The films weren’t as popular as the Godzilla films and with diminishing quality and returns as the sequels were churned out, Gamera died a death when Daiei went bankrupt in 1971. That was until 1995.

Godzilla had seen a successful revival in the late 80s and early 90s with modern special effects breathing new life into the tired old man-in-a-suit monster formula – a reboot of Gamera was inevitable, especially when Toho announced that they had secured the rights to distribute it. What surprised everyone, including me, was that Gamera, Guardian of the Universe became so successful and is such a good kaiju film, that it completely blew apart its closest Godzilla rivals and set the benchmark for all future kaiju films. That was some mean feat for a monster who had been the butt of many jokes over the years, courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Gamera, Guardian of the Universe is a fantastic kaiju film for the then-modern era of the 90s. Gone were the dusty, cardboard sets of the 60s, zipper-monsters and dorky soundtracks and in came modern CGI, superb mixes of detailed miniatures and composted live-action shots, a riveting soundtrack to rival the great Godzilla scores. Rebooting the series as if the originals never existed, the film is a lot darker and serious than the goofy child-friendly escapades of the past. However, the silly plot is simply the usual nonsense that inhabit these kaiju films – lots of mystic mumbo-jumbo, characters with a telepathic connection to the monster and the humans failing desperately to stop the monsters with whatever puny toy tanks they can find. There’s a better pacing than most kaiju films, as usually they keep the best of the monster action until the finale, but there’s enough going on here throughout to keep audiences happy. The best thing is that the monster encounters get bigger and better as the film progresses, giving us tantalising glimpses of the main event. It’s an effective way of building up tension that few other kaiju films have done successfully.

Gamera looked pathetic in his original series of films. I mean Godzilla looked pretty tough, even if the suits became shabby and worn as the 70s rolled on, but Gamera always looked ridiculous. Not anymore. This new version of Gamera is a beefed-up bad ass, hitting the gym and toning up for the big fights. The costume looks fantastic – this is a giant turtle with a jetpack-like ability to fly we’re talking about here – and has lots of movement and durability. The aforementioned flying sequences are handled well and best of all, he has a new fireball weapon that he launches from his mouth. It’s a devastating attack and one which is brought to life with some fantastic CGI. The amazing thing about the giant monster sequences is that, on the whole, they look real and the interactions between humans and monsters is excellent.

Gamera never really had one standout opponent like Godzilla did with King Ghidorah or Mothra, so the filmmakers opted to revive Gamera’s least cheesy opponent, Gyaos. Looking like a giant flying bat, Gyaos’ revamped look makes him look terrifying, particularly in his final form, and he’s been given a cutting beam type of weapon. The two monsters have a couple of scraps across the film’s running time and they’re all well-shot and edited. The finale inside Tokyo is particularly breath taking – director Shûsuke Kaneko even throws in a superb shot of a perched Gyaos silhouetted against the setting sun to remind us that this isn’t just about monsters fighting but about adding artistic touches and crafting a picture that looks good too. Who said a giant monster movie didn’t need to worry about cinematography? It’s the little touches like this that brought the kaiju genre kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

 

Gamera, Guardian of the Universe confidently blasted away the cobwebs and dust of Gamera’s appalling past to breathe some much-needed new life into the kaiju genre. Think of the job Christopher Nolan did in rebooting Batman with Batman Begins and you get some sense of the sheer improvement in tone and quality here! This was a reboot done almost perfectly, with a sleek modern look which set the benchmark for all future kaiju films. Even Godzilla would be proud.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆