Tag Archives: 70s

Prophecy (1979)

prophecyposterProphecy (1979)
Director: John Frankenheimer
Writer: David Seltzer
Cast: Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire, Armand Assante, Richard Dysart, Victoria Racimo

After the monumental success of Jaws in 1975, the Man vs. Nature genre exploded. It wasn’t a new genre by any means – King Kong in 1933 was essentially a nature run amok film and the 1950’s was a massive decade for the genre, with 1954’s Them! (a horde of giant ants attacking Los Angeles) being Warner Brothers biggest earner of that year. The 1960s and first half of the 70s saw less entries, but they were still a good, quick way for an exploitation producer to get butts in seats and make that lettuce. However, Jaws turned the genre from B-movie fodder to big time event picture, and the late 70s saw a glut of rip-offs rivaled only by the stampede of Star Wars rip-offs a short time after.

The knock-offs didn’t just concern themselves with water-based beasties (though plenty did.) There were arachnids (Kingdom of the Spiders, Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo), bears (Grizzly), farm animals (Food of the Gods), even worms (Squirm). In 1979, acclaimed director John Frankenheimer had some bills that needed payin’, and Prophecy was born.

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Meet Dr. Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth, Airport ’77). Turn-ons include social justice, fishing, and having a gorgeous multi-layered beard. Turn-offs are rat bites, poverty, and being a potential father. When we first meet the good doctor,  he is treating a small child in a Washington, DC tenement building. Seems the lad has been a snack for local vermin and not suffering from chicken pox like the scumbag landlord claims. Verne, visibly angered by this, vows to the kid’s mother that he will do something about it.

Before he can get to suing the slumlord (or beating him with a wrench, which is more likely given the level of rage he exhibits), a friend offers him a job working with the EPA. Seems the Pitney Mills paper company in Maine is in dispute with the local Native Americans over some logging land. All Verne has to do is investigate the goings-on, then submit a report. He’ll be making a difference! Seeing as he is a medical doctor and probably has no experience or qualifications to take on such a task, he accepts the gig and heads to the Androscoggin river with his wife Maggie (Talia Shire) in tow.

You mean to tell me I look the same upside down as right side up?
You mean to tell me I look the same upside down as right side up?

Maggie, a cellist, is secretly pregnant with Verne’s child. She’s understandably nervous to spill the beans to him, as he’s previously told her he doesn’t want to bring a child into a world already full of starving children (weak, Doc). Talia still has her Rocky II haircut here, which is a nice reminder during this movie how awesome that one is. I might have turned off Prophecy halfway through and watched that instead. Anyway…

The head honcho at the paper mill, the amazingly named Bethel Isley, greets Verne and Maggie and proceeds to drive them to the mill. Before they can arrive and get their complimentary Sticky Notes, they hit a roadblock in the form of John Hawks (Armand Assante) and his posse. Hawks is the no-bullshit leader of the “Original People,” the Native Americans who live in that area and don’t want any goddamn loggers messing with their land. Isley refers to them as “O.P.’s” throughout the film, which is a nice reminder of Naughty By Nature’s 1991 hit “O.P.P” which I might have stopped this flick to listen to on Youtube. Anyway…

The O.P.’s don’t want to let them pass, so Isley calls on his accompanying employees (one who carries a chainsaw because…logger) to hack down a couple trees on the side of the road so they can get past. This leads to Hawks brandishing an axe and there’s a small axe vs. chainsaw battle! Verne, stick in the mud that he is, jumps out and stops the fight before anything really awesome can happen. The O.P.’s retreat.

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We’re naughty by nature…not cuz we hate ‘cha…except for loggers. Definitely hate loggers.

Later Verne goes fishing and sees an abnormally huge salmon. He tells Maggie about it as they dine on the small wimpy fish he caught. After dinner, Verne attempts to make socially-conscious love to Maggie but is interrupted by a scratching at the door. He opens it to find a raccoon losing its mind. It runs in and attacks them both. Heroically, Verne is able to catapult the beast into the fireplace and save the day, but the mood is spoiled.

The next morning Verne and Maggie are coerced into meeting with Hawks and his lady Ramona (Victoria Racimo, the nurse from Ernest Goes to Camp), who take them to a pond the river is connected to. There they find a tadpole the size of a cat and meet Ramona’s Grandfather, who speaks of all the giant things that come from that area. He also mentions a monster he calls Katahdin.

Verne and Maggie tour the paper mill and grill Isley on the chemicals they use. The pulp magnate denies the use of any and dares Verne to test the river water near the mill. Verne, remembering he’s a doctor and not a water testing expert, sulks away until he notices some mercury on the bottom of Maggie’s boot. Using a few books back at the cabin, he realizes the mill has been using this mercury in their operations, which has infected the wildlife and fish in the area, leading to all the mutations the O.P.’s have experienced. Maggie, terrified that her fetus will be born with two heads due to eating the fish earlier, has a breakdown.

That night, a father camping with his son and daughter are attacked and killed by a guy in a giant mutant bear suit!!!

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Boo!

The following morn, Verne goes to the O.P.’s village to test their blood for mercury poisoning. Isley shows up with some cops and accuses Hawks of murdering the campers. Hawks, more rational than earlier, jumps through a cabin window and disappears into the forest. Verne, Maggie, and Ramona charter a helicopter to check out the attack site.  While investigating the area, they find Hawks as well as some deformed Muppet Baby in a poacher’s net. Verne, still dead set on making a difference, takes the disgusting animatronic toy with them on the chopper. The weather turns to shit and the gang is forced to land at Ramona’s Grandfather’s place. Verne takes the squealing, awful hand puppet into a tee-pee to do CPR or something. Maggie, horrified at the sight of the creature, confesses to Verne about the pregnancy which causes him to stare ahead intensely. If things weren’t awkward enough, Isley and the sheriff show up and get their asses chewed by Verne for the whole mercury-making-monsters snafau.

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This is what you get when the director spends the effects budget on Old Mil.

The Man in the Mutated Bear Suit (MIMBS) comes outta fuckin’ nowhere and starts clawing the cast. Verne, Maggie, Isley, Hawks, Ramona, the pilot and the sheriff (whew!) take refuge in some unexplained underground tunnels on the land. Antsy to split, and thinking MIMBS is gone, the sheriff pokes his head out and is instantly decapitated. Lesson learned, the rest of them decide to stay put until morning, where they hop in a truck and haul huge handfuls of ass to get to safety. Isley, feeling guilty, decides to run for a radio tower to call for help. When he gets there, MIMBS is waiting and guts him off-screen. The silly beast then tracks down the truck, knocks it over, chews off the pilot’s head, and chases the gang through the woods.

They reach the river and, assuming MIMBS can’t swim, dive in and head for a cabin on the other side. Unfortunately for them MIMBS has one hell of a breaststroke. Once ashore, Verne grabs a shotgun from the cabin and blasts the costumed stuntman while Hawks uses his bow and arrow (seriously?) This proves unfruitful as our would-be hero takes a claw to the face, which hilariously launches him through the air and kills him. Verne, in desperation, grabs an arrow and begins stabbing MIMBS over and over until it falls dead. Overcome with rage at his futility at making a difference, he leaps onto the carcass and continues to stab it…which was fun as it reminded me of Corey Feldman doing a similar thing to Jason in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, which I might have opted to watch on Netflix instead of finishing Prophecy until the next day. Anyway…

The movie ends with a shot of an airplane whisking Verne and Maggie back to safety. Then another Chuck E. Cheese monster head pops up, letting us know that there’s lots of scary shit still in those woods. Fin.

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The Good: For a movie of this genre, Prophecy has some outstanding photography. I particularly dug the split diopter shots Frankenheimer used in the tunnel scene. I’ve always loved the use of deep focus and it works beautifully in the sequence. The aerial shots of the landscape, rivers, and paper mill are gorgeous.

The acting is well-handled. Nobody stands out as cringe-worthy. Robert Foxworth’s character kinda sucks but its not a fault of his performance that he isn’t given a lot to do.

The scene in which the campers are killed…I would consider it the main reason to see the movie. Its actually a terribly handled scene that proves why Frankenheimer was never cut out to be a horror director. Its hilarious in its ridiculousness: the son, completely zipped up to his chin in a bright yellow sleeping bag, attempts to hop away from the monster but is swiftly sent flying into a tree in an explosion of feathers. Absolute gold.

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The Not-So-Good: There are two massive problems with Prophecy. The first being how dull and serious it is. The one thing that most nature run amok films are is fun. Its fun to see Joan Collins running from giant ants in Empire of the Ants. Watching Ray Milland stalked by amphibians in Frogs is a good time!These movies are the height of absurdity and are pure B-movie entertainment. Prophecy wants to be both a thoughtful meditation on the dangers of man to nature and a violent monster movie…but it fails at both. It covers cliched ground but operates like its offering something thoughtful and new. You can feel that it wants to be so much more than a horror film, but the reality is there’s not much there to say other than “Don’t use shady chemicals because its wrong for man and beast.” I mean, that’s a great place to start from, but Frankenheimer should have also remembered that no one is watching Jaws of Satan or Day of the Animals for a heartfelt message about being good to the Earth. Give us the horror stuff proper and maybe we’ll also swallow your moral.

The other massive issue is the mutant bear. Its awful.  Really awful. Its a man-in-suit, which isn’t a bad thing when its a well-designed suit or the movie is silly enough that we expect and want the monster effects to be cheese. This is not one of those suits. This is Halloween City home haunters corn maze shit. Whats worse is the movie carries itself in such a straight, serious manner that I expected a whopper of a monster to go with the tone, not this Spencer’s clearance rack thing we got.

Dr. Robert Verne is a pretty unlikable character. His social justice warrior schtick, his reasons for not wanting kids, and the pompous, prissy way he questions Isley at the mill just rubbed me the wrong way. Kinda hoped he would have gotten killed instead of Hawks. That beard, though…

There’s no prophecy in the movie. There’s a couple legends, a fable or two, but not one mention of any prophecies. Cheated.

So, who’s in for Prophecy II?

Final Thoughts: As Man vs. Nature movies go, Prophecy is pretty forgettable aside from the sleeping bag kill. Its worth a look if you like the genre or need to see everything John Frankenheimer directed, but average viewers will be bored.

Droppin’ Knowledge: The man in the suit was none other than Kevin Peter Hall, who would go on to being the man in much better suits in Predator and Harry and the Hendersons.

Trailer

Blacula (1972)

blacula_poster_02Blacula (1972)
Director: William Crain
Writer: Joan Torres and Raymond Koenig
Cast: William Marshall, Vonetta McGee, Thalmus Rasulala, Denise Nicholas, Gordon Pinsent, Charles Macaulay, Elisha Cook Jr., The Hues Corporation

When I was a kid, the Fox affiliate out of Chicago would run back-to-back episodes of Small Wonder every Sunday afternoon. Not having a lot of TV stations in those days, I would usually sit through whatever shows aired before it (Star Trek and Mission: Impossible were the norm). Sometimes they’d run a movie – The Black Stallion, Krull, and My Bloody Valentine were staples. One afternoon, as I anxiously awaited the adventures of the Lawsons and their robot daughter, the station aired a promo for something called Blacula. The only thing that stuck out in my 9-year-old mind was that it had the King of Cartoons from Pee Wee’s Playhouse in it and he was a vampire. I immediately looked it up in my trusty Video Movie Guide and searched for it in the local video store, but they didn’t carry it. As the years went on, it faded from my mind…until one magical night, my friend Sean (https://seanofthebeer.wordpress.com) gifted me an old VHS tape of…Blacula! I was finally going to see this Blaxploitation gem! At that point I was well versed in the genre, yet I still hadn’t laid my eyes upon this sure-to-be-ridiculous nugget. It was with trembling hands that I inserted the tape into the VCR…

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The movie opens in Transylvania, 1780. African Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) and his much younger bride Luva (Vonetta McGee) are enjoying a couple of cocktails with their buddy, Count Dracula. Seems the good Count has some influence over the slave trade, and Mamuwalde wants him to abolish it. What interest the King of the Vampires would have in slavery is anybody’s guess, but apparently he’s up to his fangs in it. A touchy subject, the conversation quickly goes south and Drac ends up knocking Mamuwalde unconscious and biting him, cursing him to be a vampire forever. If that wasn’t drastic enough, he also locks him in a coffin, so he will spend eternity craving blood that he can’t get to. As for Luva, she is left to die and rot in the dungeon next to her husband’s coffin. Before the Count leaves, he gives Mamuwalde his new name…Blacula…and the opening credits roll.

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Cut to Transylvania, 1972. Bobby and his lover Billy, a pair of stereotypically flamboyant interior decorators, are in the process of acquiring a bunch of old furniture from Dracula’s castle. The owner tells them how it used to be the property of the undead, but the two laugh it off as camp and forge ahead with the ill-advised purchase . Back in California, they excitedly look over their choice finds, which include the coffin containing Mamuwalde. Attempting to break the lock on the coffin, Billy cuts his arm. While Bobby tends to his wound, the coffin lid rises…and awakening from a slumber of 200 years…OMG it’s motherfuckin’ BLACULA!! Except for some silly mutton chops, a fuzzy unibrow and a small afro that comes to a widow’s peak, he looks like the same old Mamuwalde from the opening scene.

Without taking a moment to acclimate himself to standing up for the first time in two centuries, Blacula attacks the couple and drinks their blood. He then gives a hearty laugh and retreats to his coffin. Not a bad day’s work for a new night stalker.

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Let the cartoon…er…bloodsucking BEGIN!

A few days later, Bobby’s friends Tina (Mina?), Michelle, and Dr. Gordon Thomas gather to pay their respects at the funeral home. Gordon is a police pathologist, and becomes suspicious when he realizes there’s no blood in Bobby’s body, despite not having been embalmed yet. At the same moment, we find out Blacula is just hanging out at the funeral home, peeking out at folks from behind a curtain like a goddamn weirdo. Spotting Tina and realizing she looks exactly like his late wife (because it’s the same actress) he follows her out into the night. He tries to explain to her that he’s a vampire and she’s obviously a reincarnation of Luva. For some reason this scares her, and she hauls ass to her apartment, accidentally leaving behind her purse for Blacula to use at his convenience for further stalking. Then he gets hit by a cab.

The cab driver jumps out and sasses the hell out of him for standing in the street. He takes umbrage to this and kills her. Don’t fuck with the Blacula!

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The following evening, Tina, Michelle and Gordon gather at a nightclub to celebrate Michelle’s birthday. Blacula, using some sort of vampire GPS, arrives on the scene with the intention of apologizing and returning her purse (and to maybe smoke that ass). Gordon is annoyed by this, as is their friend Skillet (!), but Tina is quickly enveloped in Blacula’s 200-year-old scent and becomes smitten. Unfortunately, some pain-in-the-ass cocktail waitress takes their picture, which enrages Blacula (he doesn’t want everyone to know he is a fiendish ghoul). He excuses himself and follows the waitress to her house…which is conveniently located right next to the nightclub. While she develops the pics in her darkroom/kitchen, the unholy prince sneaks in and drains her of her plasma. Don’t fuck with the Blacula!

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Weeeeell..one quick peek won’t hurt…

Gordon, still puzzled by Bobby’s death, begins investigating the murders of the cab driver and the waitress. He then takes a scientific leap of faith and concludes that these are being perpetrated by a vampire (don’t worry, he researched it. There were a couple books at the local library on the subject). He tells his friend Sam, who runs the morgue, to keep an eye on the cab driver’s body. Sam fucks up that simple instruction and meets his doom when she wakes up, thirsting for sweet blood. Don’t fuck with the Blacula’s minions!

Gordon convinces Michelle to help him dig up the grave of Billy to prove his theory. No sooner do they get the lid open when Billy springs up, with a mouth full of plastic fangs! Gordon quickly dispatches him with a stake to the heart, which causes Michelle to have a nervous breakdown for a few minutes. After consoling her, Gordon heads over to Lt. Jack Peters office and tells him that he can relax – he has solved the case! It must be the new dude in town with the cape and widow’s peak! Jack is relieved, but…how do they stop this ancient evil?!?!?!?!?!

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Baby, they hadn’t even invented latex the last time I did this.

While Gordon and Jack rack their brains to come up with a plan of action, Blacula is racking up a little something of his own with Tina at her place. I guess you can fuck with the Blacula!

Gordon and Jack decide to check out the warehouse where Bobby and Billy were killed (and where Blacula chills in his off-hours). Once they arrive, they are swarmed by a horde of blue-faced vampires! The fellas use some old gas lamps like molotov cocktails and destroy them, but Blacula lap dissolves into a joke-shop bat and awkwardly floats away. He swings by Tina’s place and tells her they need to get the fuck out of town…so naturally they go to the big water plant to hide out until it all blows over.

Why so blue, Mr. Simmons?
Why so blue, Mr. Simmons?

Gordon and Jack, along with a bunch of faceless cops, track Blacula to the plant. He kills most of the officers, but before he can dispatch the meddlsome Gordon, Tina is accidentally shot. Blacula puts on his thinking cowl and decides he must turn her to save her, so he bites her neck, making her a fellow creature of the night. He places her in his coffin until he can find more permanent digs. Jack and Gordon come upon the coffin, expecting to find Blacula, but end up staking Tina instead. This proves to be the last indignity for Prince Mamuwalde, and he decides to end it all by going out into the sunlight, where he sorta melts. Gordon and Jack then enjoy a couple of ice cold Coors (they don’t show this, but I presume that’s how they celebrated).

Well played, sign.
Well played, sign.

The Good:  You might look at the genre and silly title and assume it’s just gonna be a bunch of soul music, funny trash talk with pimps and caddies, and a tenuous plot involving a vampire, but thats not the case at all. Blacula tries its best to be a legitimate horror film, keeping the traditional mythos and tropes in tact. It stays pretty true to the spirit of the Universal version of the Dracula story, with eternal love being Blacula’s motivation (and not just evil for evil’s sake).

While its bargain budget definitely shows (in the case of the make-up and the bat transformation, painfully so), the professionalism of William Marshall’s performance really keeps the movie afloat. Matter of fact, I’d say the film drags the most when he isn’t on screen. He was a Shakespearean trained stage actor, and its evident in his grand gestures and line delivery. I read somewhere that when Marshall read the script, he thought it was a piece of shit, which makes his performance all the more admirable. Regardless of what he thought of the project, he treated the part with respect, and that’s the mark of a true talent.

Thalmus Rasulala also gives a pretty solid performance in the hero role. He has that sort of smooth Billy Dee Williams-Fred Williamson charm that works really well. Plus he sports a fuckin mustache that would make Burt Reynolds crawl into a bawl and weep.

I really liked Charles Macaulay’s brief turn as Dracula. He plays it like Vincent Price, but a little…I don’t know…sleazier? He also cries blood after he bites Mamuwalde, which is cool. Oh! And when he gives Mamuwalde his new name, he throws up the metal horns. Well, look at you, Blacula! Ahead of your time!

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Elisha Cook, Jr, who plays the ill-fated Sam, has a hook for his right hand. Not explained…not utilized…its just there.

Skillet. Let’s talk about Skillet. He looks a little like Michael Strahan. He enjoys hitting on waitresses…Tina…Michelle…basically anything female. He repeatedly refers to Blacula as “one strange dude,” when he’s not trying to buy his cape off him. He is only in two scenes, but he should have been Gordon’s sidekick. I hope he shows up in the sequel. The guy just loves hanging out in nightclubs.

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The Not-So-Good: My biggest gripe with the movie is the missed opportunity regarding Blacula’s resurrection. As far as we know, Mamuwalde is a great, respected man. He makes the trek from Africa to Transylvania to end the atrocity of slavery, and what does he get for it? His entire life taken away from him and a cursed existence as a bloodsucker. I would have loved to see how he adjusts to this new world of 1972. The clothes, music, cars, basically everything. But he doesn’t. He wakes up and its like he’s been rockin’ in LA his whole life. How  much fun would it have been to see him walk into a McDonald’s or a movie theatre? I don’t mean turning the movie into a comedy akin to Love At First Bite, but I think a scene or two dedicated to his confusion with a new world would have been tremendous fun. And what about his emotional angst and despair at losing the last 200 years of his life? That’s some heavy shit that could have been explored. Maybe that’s asking too much from a flick called Blacula, but the opportunity was there and I’m sure William Marshall would have been game.

When Gordon and Jack show up at the warehouse, they are attacked by a half dozen vamps. When did Blacula have the time to do this? We’re with him for a lot of the movie and only saw him kill Bobby & Billy and the two women(and one of those newly-turned women attacked Sam…what happened to him?) Besides that, why was he building an army in the first place? His whole reason for being was to hook up with Tina, not prepare for a war. He winds up needing them, but how would he have expected Gordon to come after him…he’s only been an upwardly mobile vampire for a few days!

The two fuckin lap dissolves when Blacula turns into a cheap plastic bat…those were terrible. We were getting better transformations in the 1940’s on less money. They could’ve come up with something better.

Blacula’s demise. He just gives up! I know he feels he can’t go on without his reincarnated wife, but come on! You, sir, are the King of the Vampires! You’ve only just begun to explore your powers! Before you throw it all away over a broken heart, try enjoying some nightlife. You live in Hollywood and its the 70s! Party, have fun, get some of that disco ass! Or if you’re adamant about dying, go out in a blaze and kill Gordon and Jack before you toss it all away. I’m disappointed in you, bud.

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Final Thoughts: Blacula kicks ass. It hits all the notes I expected from it. Obviously its not for everybody, but if you love vampire movies, blaxploitation movies, or just the low-budget programmers that American-International routinely put out, you will have a great time with this. I don’t wanna go so far as to call it a classic of the genre, but its something a serious horror geek should see, if not own. I mean, the Count Dracula Society declared it the Most Horrifying Film of the Decade…in 1972…

Droppin’ Knowledge: Thalmus Rasulala’s real name was Jack Crowder. Guess he wanted to change it to something a little easier to pronounce.

Trailer: