Prophecy (1979) Directed by John Frankenheimer
The first thing that stands out about Prophecy is how seriously everything is taken. I guess it’s because special effects have changed and now the modern monster movie is a Syfy channel film that knows it looks ridiculous and thus digs its tongue so far into its cheek that it bleeds stupid. That’s not to say that Prophecy is the late 70’s version of a Syfy movie, as it has an environmental message to it, and the closest thing a Syfy channel original movie gets to the preservation of anything is an extra screaming “Nooooo!!!! Sharktopus!!!!”
As opposed to every review I’ve read on the movie, I didn’t think the skinless bear monster looked that bad. Sure, they did the thing they did in Grizzly, where before we actually saw it, they shot it from the perspective of the beast, making it change sizes constantly and drastically. And I know that it kind of herky jerks along on its short legs, but I don’t think Katahdin (as the movie calls him) looked terrible. It looked exactly like I expected it to. It’s certainly no Alligator (the best giant, mutated animal ever made), but I would rate Prophecy above Orca and Grizzly.
The best character though, regardless of the stability of his dialogue, is Richard Dysart, playing evil paper plant owner Bethel Isley. Horror fans know this guy best as Dr. Copper from The Thing, the guy who decided to defibrillate The Thing and got his hands bitten off. His role isn’t quite as intense here, but his opening scene, where he’s answering everything quickly and trying to act cool about the whole giant-skinless-bear and pissed-Native-Americans plot development, instantly made him my favorite character in the movie.
This movie hit me in a weird way. I felt really bad for the prosthetic, tortured mutant baby bear that spent most of its movie screaming out in pain. Maybe it’s because I’m a giant softie at heart or I realize that if I was a young woodland carnivore that was born with the skin consistency of burnt gelatin, I would yell my ass off too. I had a wincing reaction to the little buddy.
Also, check out how bad ass Aramand Assante is in this. I liked him in that Made-For-TV biopic Gotti, but I like him here more, since Gotti didn’t have hardly any shooting arrows at monsters (its major flaw). I expected to hate him, but he’s just so intense about everything that I couldn’t help but like him. I think that’s sort of a metaphor for the whole thing. Prophecy is cartoonishly intense, but it’s a kind of intensity that I respect, no matter how many kids in sleeping bags get claw-swipe-rocketed into rocks.
Also, since I’m an idiot, I initially got this film confused with the The Prophecy series, which star Christopher Walken. I think there’s six of those films, but I’ve never seen a single one, and it was about thirty minutes into Prophecy that I realized that Christopher Walken wasn’t going to stumble out a teepee saying “My Geeeoddd, do you theankk it’s some kiieeennd of beaarrrrrr?”
Three-And-A-Half Screaming Death Bears out of Five.
Motel Hell (1980) Directed by Kevin Connor
On the other end of the spectrum lies Motel Hell, a film that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. I’ve heard people say that Motel Hell is a satire, but that seems like retroactive bullshit. It’s a horror movie that’s really funny and often really ridiculous. In no way is it parodying the genre. Motel Hell, to me, is too gleefully malicious to be anything but a straight ahead attempt to create a horror film filled with a ton of jokes.
The surprisingly spry Rory Calhoun plays Farmer Vincent, a guy who both runs the best Motel Hello in town and makes the best smoked meat. Decades of horror films have told us that anytime someone eats meat, it was probably made from one of the supporting cast from earlier in the film, and the same stays true here. Farmer Vincent and his younger sister Ida, who steals the whole movie, kill people, bury them up to their necks in the garden, and use them for beef jerky.
Farmer Vincent, despite poorly keeping up with a motel and running the biggest cannibalism operation in the county, keeps surprisingly confident throughout the entire film when it comes to not letting people in on his secret, unlike someone such as Cook from Texas Chainsaw, who seemed on the edge of sanity throughout the whole movie. Vincent even has the gall to, after a family comes into his store and remarks that his food his tasty, slap a bumper sticker on the family’s car that promotes his business, without even asking. But maybe that’s how it was back in 1980. I wasn’t alive then, but I’ve heard enough about the Reagan years to believe that if someone liked my product, it’d be perfectly okay to deface their vehicle. Supply and demand.
No one questions anything in the Motel Hell universe. A girl loses her boyfriend in a motorcycle accident and is instantly adopted into Farmer Vincent’s home as his new daughter. A cop comes around, wonders how everything could be going this normally, and then tries to date the possible widow. He remarks that there might have to be some kind of investigation, but he never follows up with that because he wants to get laid so badly.
And how does he try to get laid? They say that women love a man in uniform, but not if the man takes her to the drive-in without actually going inside the drive-in. He goes to the top of a hill so he doesn’t have to pay, sounds his siren to scare off all the other couples, and then makes his date use binoculars in order to see the movie. Once again, maybe it was a 1980 thing, and the best way into a girl’s pants was to be a cheap buzzkill. Strange times.
One last note on the film. It ends with a chainsaw duel, something you’d see six years later in Texas Chainsaw 2, between the cop and Farmer Vincent, who dons a pig mask for the occasion, something you’d see decades later in Saw and Madison County. I’d like to think that, if this film was remade, you’d get way more of that pig mask. I kind of wanted to. I know it would defeat the purpose of his character if he turned into more of a slasher villain, since Farmer Vincent was all about setting up hastily made plywood distractions in the road in order to trap potential bacons, but I wish there was a bit more useless pig-mask-wearing stalking.
I enjoyed Motel Hell far more than I thought I would. My girlfriend’s mom had recommended it to me for a year, and I kept expecting the humor of it to come out of the film being awful. Instead, I was surprised to see that the humor came out of actual humor, which is usually the best kind of humor.
Four Pig Masks out of Five.
For more Double Feature, check out what I thought when I watched The Collection and Godzilla Raids Again.