Prophecy (film)

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This article is about the 1979 film. For the supernatural horror film made in 1995, see The Prophecy.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Produced by Robert L. Rosen
Written by David Seltzer
Starring Robert Foxworth
Talia Shire
Armand Assante
Music by Leonard Rosenman
Cinematography Harry Stradling Jr.
Edited by Tom Rolf
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • June 15, 1979 (1979-06-15)
Running time
102 minutes
Language English
Budget $12 million
Box office $54,000,000

Prophecy is a 1979 American science fiction horror film directed by John Frankenheimer and written by David Seltzer. It stars Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire and Armand Assante. Set in the Androscoggin River, the film follows an environmental agent and his wife filing a report on a paper mill in the river, not knowing that the paper mill's waste made a local bear mutated, having the bear turn rampant in the wilderness.

A novelization of the film, written by Seltzer as well, was also published, with the tagline "A Novel of Unrelenting Terror".


Tracking two lost lumberjacks through the night, a rescue team nearly follows a hound over a cliff. Two men rappel down to retrieve the fallen hound, but they are killed. The third, hearing screams down below, rappels down to investigate where he finds his teammates dead and is killed by an unseen creature.

Dr. Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth) is fed up with dealing with the squalor of city tenements, where he feels he isn't making a difference. He accepts a job from the Environmental Protection Agency to write a report on a logging operation near the Androscoggin River in Maine. The loggers are in a dispute with the local American Indian "Opies" (i.e., "O.P.s"), the original people. Dr. Verne's wife Maggie (Talia Shire) accompanies him on the trip. She is pregnant, but is apprehensive to tell her husband as he against having children. When flying in, they meet Travis Nelson (Burke Byrnes) and his two children Paul and Kathleen who are embarking on a trek into the wilderness. They also meet paper mill director Bethel Isely (Richard A. Dysart), who is to be their host. He tells them about his missing rescue team and lays the blame at Opies. The latter have their own explanation; Katahdin, a vengeful spirit of the forest that has been awakened by the activities of the loggers, which Isely describes as "larger than a dragon with the eyes of a cat". As Isely drives the couple to their cabin, their path is barred by a party of Opies who refuse to let Isely's people pass and a fight ensues between the leader of the Opies John Hawks (Armand Assante) and Kelso (Everett Creach), one of Isely's heavies. The heavy is armed with a chainsaw while Hawks has only a double-bit axe. The scuffle ends with Hawks laid on the ground with the chainsaw nearly at his throat, causing the Opies to relent and let the cars pass. Verne and Maggie are then shocked by the incident.

While fishing, Verne sees a huge salmon devour a duck. Later, they are attacked in their cabin by a deranged raccoon where he kills it and sends an awaiting tissue sample. The next day Hawks and his wife Ramona (Victoria Racimo) approach Dr. Verne about their side of the story. If Verne is concerned about the environment then he should include the people in his assessment. Something is causing the people to be ill such as still births, mental illness and birth defects. Hawks takes Verne and Maggie to the home of Hector M'Rai (George Clutesi), Ramona's grandfather. Hector claims to have seen Katahdin and describes him as "part of everything in God's creation". Verne sees plant roots growing on the surface that should be underground; Hawk nets a bullfrog-sized tadpole from the water to show Verne; Hector has cigarette burns on his hand but feels no pain. As the evidence mounts, the idyllic setting gradually takes on a sinister hue. Verne and Maggie tour the paper mill to look for incriminating evidence, but the chemicals used in the processing are demonstrated to never leave the plant. Isely tells them that the water is routinely tested for purity. As they leave, Verne however notices mercury deposits on Maggie's boots; a mutagen that causes birth defects and progressive nerve damage. It has long been used in logging as a fungicide due to its cheap value and it will not show up in Isely's water purity tests because it sinks to the bottom. Verne needs more evidence and determines to take blood tests from the Opies.

That night, the Nelson family, who have set up a camp in the woods are suddenly assaulted by Katahdin; a large bear with one of its sides containing horribly mutated skin. The horrified Paul tries to flee, but the beast swats him into a rock and kills him. The next day as Verne and Maggie are taking blood samples, Isely and Sheriff Bartholomew Pilgrim (Charles H. Gray) arrive to arrest Hawks and his men whom they mistakenly believe to be the ones who killed the Nelson family. Hawks however, escapes. Verne, Maggie and Ramona take a helicopter to the campsite to investigate the killings. Verne and Ramona find huge scratch marks on the trees while Maggie finds two mutated bear cubs trapped in a salmon poacher's net, one of them still alive and prompting Verne to save it so it can serve as empirical evidence of the contamination. However, the weather has turned and the pilot Huntoon (Tom McFadden) refuses to take off in the high wind. They set up an emergency room inside one of Hector's tepees and helps the cub survive. A distressed Maggie explains to Verne about her pregnancy and that she has eaten contaminated fish. Isely and Sheriff Pilgrim arrive and see the mutant cub where Isely is contrite, knowing that Hawks and his men didn't commit any crime. Once Hector arrives, Katahdin arrives and attacks the camp in search of her cubs. As everyone else seeks shelter in tunnels beneath Hector's home, Pilgrim is killed by Katahdin when poking his head out.

The next day, the survivors make their way out of the forest. Due to Huntoon's mauled attack, the helicopter is not an option. Isely heads up to Mount Emery to try to reach a radio tower and call for help, but upon arrival is killed by Katahdin. The others find the Opie village abandoned, but they take a truck and drive out along the forest road. At night, Katahdin then attacks the truck and kills Huntoon. In pursuit, the others swim across a river to a log cabin. While swimming, the cub bites Maggie before Verne drowns it. After Katahdin kills Hector, the creature swims underwater where, upon arriving on land, it attacks the cabin. Maggie is knocked unconscious by debris and Ramona is crushed. Verne shoots the creature twice with a rifle with little effect. After Hawks shoots arrows at the bear, he is then killed by the creature's swatting. Once Verne is hoisted up by Katahdin, he stabs it with arrows before collapsing into the lake. Verne then leaps onto the dying Katahdin and continues stabbing it until it dies below the water. The next day, Verne and a surviving Maggie fly over the forest, unbeknownst that another mutant creature (the cubs' father) is still active inside the forest.



Filmed in British Columbia, Canada in 1978, this film marked the beginning of "Hollywood North", the major start to the development of a massive film production business in Vancouver and other areas within the province. Since then, hundreds of "American" movies have been filmed in the Canadian province.

Some violence/gore and other scenes were deleted not because of the censors but on a decision made by John Frankenheimer. This included a longer close-up of a man's headless corpse and a shot of Katahdin graphically disemboweling Isley (both deemed "gratuitous"), a flashback to the night where Rob and Maggie have sex (deleted for time), and extensions of several scenes, including a longer tour of the paper mill and Rob fishing, which showed him falling asleep and later waking up in the sun.

The original concept for Katahdin was considerably more terrifying than what would eventually show up on screen. However, when director John Frankenheimer saw the concept, he suggested that it should be altered to look more "bear-like". Interestingly, the original concept was actually quite close to the poster art.

Frankenheimer considered Prophecy a film with far more potential than what he eventually delivered, ostensibly due to his alcoholism.


David Seltzer's novelization of the film contains numerous differences from the film, as well as considerable background information on all of the characters. Notable examples include:

  • Isely explained that the Opies comprised several tribes: the Ashinabegs, the Passamaquoddy, the Wampanoags and the Yuroks. This may explain Hector M'Rai's incongruous tepee home. A wigwam may have been more in keeping with the area.
  • Rob and Maggie met when Maggie's orchestra played for a charity benefit at a children's hospital.
  • John Hawks is half-white, and lived as a white man for several years, in fact, after the Pitneys (the founders of the lumber company) paid for him to have an education. He returned to assist his people in their struggle against the lumber company after several years abroad.
  • Bethel Isley is from Atlanta, Georgia, and has two children in addition to the wife who he mentions in the film.
  • Huntoon the helicopter pilot is also married and has a child. His wife and son constantly worry about him crashing.
  • Ramona ("Romona" in the book) is given the last name of Peters and is an old girlfriend of John Hawks', rather than his wife or even his sister (as some reviews for the film have suggested).
  • There is a prologue, set during the spring, in which a normal bear is killed by Katahdin while it is stalking a deer.
  • The film's opening scene, involving the rescue party being killed, occurs in the third chapter of the book, with Rob and Maggie's introduction scenes being the first scenes after the prologue. The party members also die differently from in the movie: rather than rappelling down to retrieve the fallen bloodhound, they are all yanked off the cliff at once by the unseen monster at the opposite end of the leash.
  • Instead of being introduced at the orchestra and discussing being pregnant with her friend, Maggie is introduced going to see gynocologist Peter Hamlisch, a character who does not appear in the film.
  • The tenant woman is very hostile towards Rob, rather than grateful, and instead of running into Victor Shusette outside the slum as in the movie, Rob rides with the sick infant to the hospital, where it ultimately succumbs to its fever and dies. Shusette then arrives and they have their conversation about Rob needing to find a new line of work there in the hospital hallway.
  • Shusette does not suggest Rob take Maggie with him to Maine. Rather, he and Maggie make this decision by themselves at their apartment prior to Rob leaving. Maggie comes because she hopes the calm country setting will make it easier for her to tell her husband about her pregnancy.
  • The Nelson family out camping also includes Jeannine Nelson, wife of Travis and mother of Paul and Kathleen. It is also revealed that Travis is employed as a history teacher.
  • It has not yet begun raining when Rob, Maggie and Ramona arrive at the Nelson family's campsite to examine it. The rain only begins during their trip to M'Rai's camp.
  • Katahdin is described to have large membrane-wings between the front/rear limbs, akin to a flying squirrel.
  • Sheriff Pilgrim dies differently. Instead of surviving Katahdin's attack long enough to make it into the underground tunnels with the others, and perishing later, he is killed during the initial attack when Katahdin steps on his head. (Also, Rob and the others collect the guns of Pilgrim and his deputy after the attack, and use them against the monster later, to no effect.)
  • Katahdin's attack on the carrier vehicle is longer and more drawn out. She pursues the truck for some length before finally tipping it over. Hawks falls behind not because he tries to assist Huntoon, the pilot, but because he becomes trapped in the cab of the truck, but manages to get away while Huntoon is being killed.
  • M'Rai dies differently, and his reason for remaining behind to confront Katahdin is actually given. He is crushed instead of picked up and thrown, and the reason he remains behind is because he believes he can reason with what he believes to be his people's protector.
  • The revelation of another monster bear is revealed through the eyes of an alcoholic forest ranger, suffering the effects of mercury poisoning just as M'Rai had been (this character was introduced earlier in the novel shortly after the incident with the raccoon).
  • There is an epilogue in which the pregnant Maggie, injured in Katahdin's attack on the cabin, is flown to the hospital in Portland, and Victor Shusette stops by to visit her and Rob.


The film was given a theatrical release in the United States by Paramount Pictures in June 1979. It grossed an estimated $21,000,000 at the box office.[1]

The film was given a VHS release by Paramount Home Video in the 1980s.

The film was released by Paramount Home Video on DVD in 2002.


Critical reception for the film has been mixed to negative. Currently, the film has a 23% approval rating on film review website Rotten Tomatoes.[2]

Jack Sommersby on panned the film, writing that "Prophecy is a somewhat-atmospheric but painfully dull horror movie that takes itself way too seriously and is too ponderously drawn-out to work up much in the way of suspense".[3] Richard Scheib gave the film a negative review, criticizing the film's monster costume, photography and lack of suspense stating, "much of the film teeters on the brink of this unintentional absurdity and fails to emerge on the winning side. John Frankenheimer tries hard to generate tension during the scenes with the mutant bear pursuing the cast near the end, but much of the story is predictable and boring".[4]

Cinema de gave the film a positive review stating, "You don’t get a lot of killing and the terror and suspense sequences really aren’t that great, but it makes up for that in the sheer flamboyance of some of its touches, such as the amazing exploding sleeping bag. It’s a bit of a bummer that after all the build-up, the thing turns out to be a boring old mutant bear, like ANY other mutant bear, but this is only because expectations have been raised".[5]

Patrick Naugle from DVD Verdict gave the film a positive review, summarizing, "In an age of self-referential and cynical Scream horror movies and Silence of the Lambs knock offs, Prophecy has a certain something that just can't be denied. Prophecy even contains a MESSAGE (re: don't mess with Mother Nature or you'll be sorry), which is more than I can say for most horror movies produced today. Is it scary? No. Vastly amusing? You bet your bottom dollar".[6]


  1. ^ "Prophecy". Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  2. ^ "Prophecy - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 10 October 2014. 
  3. ^ Sommersby, Jack. "Movie Review - Prophecy (1979) - eFilmCritic". Jack Sommersby. Retrieved 10 October 2014. 
  4. ^ Scheib, Richard. "Prophecy (1979). Monster Movie. Director - John Frankenheimer. Stars: Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire, Armand Assante. Moria - The Science-Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review.". Richard Scheib. Retrieved 10 October 2014. 
  5. ^ "Prophecy". Cinema de Merde. CdM Scott. Retrieved 10 October 2014. 
  6. ^ Naugle, Patrick. "DVD Verdict Review - Prophecy". DVD Paterick Naugle. Retrieved 10 October 2014. 

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