Last month, Prophecy (1979) finally made its way to Blu-ray thanks to the good people at SHOUT/Scream Factory in honor of the film’s 40th Anniversary. Despite my already owning a copy on DVD, I anxiously ordered a copy – mostly for the “extras.” I’ve talked about my love for this film before and, despite it being chided by critics (it currently sits at 27% on Rotten Tomatoes) I think it’s a solid monster movie with a great cast and an old school effects. During one of my vintage horror paperback hunts, I managed to find a copy of the film’s novelization. Since both the book and the screenplay were written by David Seltzer (author of “The Omen”) I didn’t expect there to be much deviation between the two stories. Considering how many times I’ve seen the movie, however, I was eager to learn any further insights the book may bring. But before I get things rolling, I do have to warn anyone who hasn’t seen the movie or book (or read my previous “Book vs Movie” post on The FOG) this blog is loaded with SPOILERS.
The Monster – Surprisingly, there was one glaring difference between the book and movie…the monster itself! Although the book initially describes the creature as dwelling in an old bear cave, Seltzer never intended it to be a bear. Instead, it was supposed to be an amalgamation of all the animals in the forest. Earlier sketches depicted a much more bird-like appearance and the studio attempted to get VFX artists Rick Baker and Stan Winston on board but ultimately settled on The Burman’s Studio. According to David Seltzer (who was no fan of director John Frankenheimer, to begin with) it was the monster design that ultimately caused him to part ways with the film. Two mutant bear costumes were created; a six-foot-one worn by mime artist, Tom McLoughlin and a 10.5 foot one worn by a 7-foot tall ballet dancer named Kevin Peter Hall (who also played “Harry” from Harry and the Hendersons). Crew members affectionately referred to the monster as “Barbara” or “Pizza Bear.”
Ramona and John Hawks – In the movie, the two Native American activists are depicted as a married couple. In the book, they’ve only recently reconnected as acquaintances after years of separation. Hawks (as mentioned briefly in the film) was schooled in mainstream America and disconnected from his Tribe. He arrives in Maine around the same time as the Vernes do, having failed to make any headway in Washington DC.
Man in the watchtower – In the book, there’s a scene where Robert and Maggie go exploring and come upon a watchtower. The two climb up and discover a Ranger whom they assume is inebriated based on his odd behavior. He’s also wounded, explaining he was viciously attacked by his own cat (foreshadowing the raccoon scene in both the book and film). During his ramblings, the man also mentions seeing the monster but the couple quickly dismisses him. This entire scene is exclusive to the book.
The helicopter pilot was a jerk! In the movie, the ill-fated helicopter pilot is depicted as an easy-going, pleasant guy. In the book, however, he’s far less likable. His racist jabs at Native Americans and African Americans are what ultimately sends Maggie outside of the helicopter and out into the storm.
The monster is all woman – Although it’s always been known Katahdin is female and the assumed mother of the malformed cubs, its gender is more distinguishable in the book. On more than one occasion, the monster is described as having noticeably large breasts. The book also does a better job illustrating how the “live” youngster is responsible for attracting the mother to the ill-fated group.
The redemption of Bethel Isley – The book reveals that Isley was genuinely affected by the revelation of his company contaminating the forest. While making his way to the ranger station, he resolves to assist Dr. Verne’s case anyway that he can – even willing to steal incriminating documents from the company if necessary.
The death of Bethel Isley – Unfortunately, Isley was never able to assist Dr. Verne in either the book or film versions. In the book, he never even reaches the Watchtower before the monster beheads him. In the film, he just reaches his destination when the creature disembowels him. NOTE: the disembowelment scene was deleted from the movie due to excessive gore. Sadly, the new Blu-ray release does not include this nor another gory scene cut to bring the film’s R-rating down to a PG.
Case Closed – It’s revealed in the book that during their battle with Katahdin, the Native Americans had already lost their battle with the Supreme Court. Regardless of their crimes against nature, the logging company would retain its control over the forest.
More Monsters – Just like the final frame of the movie, the book also ends with the revelation of more mutated monsters roaming the forest and more than just one. According to the book, a ranger notices “a gray mound of earth tinged with brownish coloration. It was like one he had seen before. Only this one was larger. More powerful in every way. And there were other ones with it. Five of them. They scampered from beneath it and followed the mighty creature as it lumbered toward the lake.”
Maggie’s Baby – The biggest question viewers are left with at the end of the movie is the fate of Maggie’s child. Although it’s assumed she lost the child, this was never made clear. And was it affected by the Methylmercury she ingested with the fish? The book gives a definitive answer. After the final attack scene at the cabin, Maggie is injured and later wakes up in the hospital. The trauma caused her to lose the child which her husband confirmed was “damaged.” He also assures his wife that despite his convictions about not having children, they will have a baby.
In conclusion, I did enjoy the new Blu-ray release for Prophecy. I would have preferred one that included the deleted scenes, of course, but the bonus interviews made it worth it to me. Considering the CGI nonsense that dominates the world of monsters today, I feel this movie deserves a lot more credit than it’s received. And if you can’t get past the monster then track down a copy of the book, instead. This story is just as relevant today as it was forty years ago. The notion that if man doesn’t stop tampering with the environment, it could quite literally bite him in the ass!
6 thoughts on ““Prophecy” (1979) – Book vs the Movie!”
I saw the Prophecy the first time it was shown in a Seattle theater. That version included scenes revealing the loss of Maggie’s baby. Also the very last scene didn’t have another monster pop up in front of the camera. The camera pans across the forest and there is a hit of something big moving through the trees. I’ve always wondered what happened to that original ending.
Thanks for the comments, Don. I wish I’d been able to see this on the big screen – especially with that footage.
This is one of my favorite horror movies along with Ridley Scott’s Alien, John Carpenters The Thing, and David Cronenberg’s The Fly and truly deserves more love and appreciation because it’s effects, storyline, etc. are amazing and the suspense is always gripping at your sleeve keeping you out of your seat! Screw Rottentomatoes! They don’t ever know a good movie when they see one.
Jacob, you have exquisite taste in movies and I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you for taking the time to share this comment; thereby helping to restore my faith in humanity.
A movie does not need gory or overly gory scenes in it for it to be good. And people who feel for the characters do not need nor want to see such scenes. It is very sad to hear David Seltzer walked off the film. I don’t consider his book as a novelization of the movie since it did not use the movie’s creature. But I do believe it could be source material for a sequel of the movie which then would tie into the creature in the trailers.
In the movie, I do not consider the mutated bears to be Katahdin. The descriptions given by the elderly Native American and Isley(Paper Mill Owner) are not at all what the bears look like, so we never see Katahdin. The movie needs to be re-released with a new description questioning whether the killings are done by Katahdin, the legend people have spoken of. Then have the unseen Katahdin kill what springs up at the end or begin the sequel with the ending to the first movie and then show the monster later in the film.