Prophecy (film)

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 or Ossipee 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 mutate, causing the bear to run amok in the wilderness.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Frankenheimer
Produced byRobert L. Rosen
Written byDavid Seltzer
StarringRobert Foxworth
Talia Shire
Armand Assante
Music byLeonard Rosenman
CinematographyHarry Stradling Jr.
Edited byTom Rolf
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • June 15, 1979 (1979-06-15)
Running time
102 minutes
Budget$12 million
Box office$22.7 million

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


While searching for lost lumberjacks, three members of a search-and-rescue team are killed by an unseen force.

Dr. Robert Verne accepts a job from the Environmental Protection Agency to write a report about a dispute between a logging operation and a Native American tribe near the Androscoggin River or Ossipee river in Maine. Dr. Verne's wife Maggie accompanies him on the trip. She is pregnant, but is apprehensive to tell her husband as he is against having children.

In the town, the local paper mill director, Bethel Isely blames the Native Americans, dubbed Opies (short for "original people") for the missing lumberjacks and rescue team. The Opies instead blame 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". The Vernes are disturbed when they witness a confrontation between the Opies and Isley's bodyguard, Kelso, which nearly results in the death of an Opie, John Hawks.

The Vernes see several signs of environmental damage: a salmon large enough to devour a duck; a deranged, vicious raccoon; plant roots growing on the surface; and a bullfrog-sized tadpole. Hawks and his friend Ramona ask Verne to include Opie perspectives in his report. They believe the paper mill operations are somehow causing grave danger to the environment and people alike. Hector M'Rai, Ramona's grandfather, claims to have seen Katahdin and describes him as "part of everything in God's creation". Verne and Maggie tour the paper mill to look for incriminating evidence. Although Isely insists the mill has excellent safety protocols, Verne notices that Maggie's boots have mercury deposits—a mutagen that causes birth defects, it is used in logging as a fungicide and does not show up in 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 killed by Katahdin, a large bear with one of its sides containing horribly mutated skin. Isely and Sheriff Bartholomew Pilgrim believe Hawks and the Opies are responsible and try to arrest them. However, Hawks 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, one dead and one alive, trapped in a salmon poacher's net. Forced to spend the night in the woods due to inclement weather, they nurse the cub back to health inside one of Hector's tepees. A distressed Maggie explains to Verne about her pregnancy and that she has eaten contaminated fish. Isely and Sheriff Pilgrim arrive and, upon seeing the mutant cub, accept that Hawks and his men are innocent of any crime. Katahdin arrives and attacks the camp in search of her cub. Pilgrim is killed, but the others escape through tunnels beneath Hector's home.

The next day, Isely tries to reach a nearby radio tower to call for help, but is killed by Katahdin. Later that night, she attacks the truck in which the others are driving away. They swim across a river to a log cabin. Verne drowns the cub when it attacks Maggie. Katahdin kills Hector and Hawks, and knocks Ramona and Maggie unconscious. Verne stabs Katahdin repeatedly, forcing her into the lake where she drowns. The next day, Verne and Maggie escape, unaware that another mutant creature (the cubs' father) is still active within 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". 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.


The film was given a theatrical release in the United States by Paramount Pictures in June 1979. It grossed $22.7 million at the box office.[1]

The film was given a VHS release by Paramount Home Video in 1982.

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

The film was released on Blu-Ray on November 26, 2019.[2]


Critical reception for the film has been negative. Currently, the film has a 27% approval rating on film review website Rotten Tomatoes from 15 reviews.[3]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "epically trivial" and "a feeble attempt to recycle the sort of formula movie one expects from American International Pictures."[4] Variety called it "a frightening monster movie that people could laugh at for generations to come, complete with your basic big scary thing, cardboard characters and a story so stupid it's irresistible."[5] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the monsters were "not particularly effective" on the screen and that the film "never approaches the chill factor of 'Alien,' for example."[6] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "essentially an indoctrination course in liberal guilt, shabbily disguised as a monster melodrama. Indeed, it's such a motley monster picture that it may be lucky to attract fleeting snickers as a kind of poor man's 'Alien.'"[7] Tim Pulleine of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that "once the narrative gets properly under way, the ecological sub-text virtually drops out of sight. As, even more confusingly, does the sub-plot about the heroine's pregnancy, leaving only a surfeit of creature-on-the-rampage hokum."[8]

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".[9]

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".[10]

Cinema de gave a mixed 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".[11]

Patrick Naugle from DVD Verdict does not consider the film to be scary but likes its message, 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".[12]


  1. "Prophecy". Retrieved 2018-07-01.
  2. "Prophecy Blu-ray". Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  3. "Prophecy - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  4. Canby, Vincent (June 15, 1979). "Screen: Frankenheimer's 'Prophecy'". The New York Times: C17.
  5. "Prophecy". Variety: 15. June 13, 1979.
  6. Champlin, Charles (June 15, 1979). "Muted Mutant in 'Prophecy'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  7. Arnold, Gary (June 16, 1979). "The Shameful Prophecy". The Washington Post: B5.
  8. Pulleine, Tim (November 1979). "Prophecy". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 46 (550): 233.
  9. Sommersby, Jack. "Movie Review - Prophecy (1979)". eFilmCritic. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  10. 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". Moria Reviews. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  11. "Prophecy". Cinema de Merde. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  12. Naugle, Patrick. "DVD Verdict Review - Prophecy". DVD Verdict. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
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