Saturday, November 02, 2013

Dancing on the Head of a Pin

Christopher Walken in The Prophecy (1995)

About a third of the way through The Prophecy (1995, directed by Gregory Widen), I stopped the movie and went and did something else. It's not that it doesn't have a hook. It does. It's more a case of needing some perspective on how poorly it's directed. If I were teaching a class at a film school, this is a film that I might show to demonstrate how not to elide changes in time and location, or, better still, as an example of the limits of auteurism. This is a film written by its director, and as such he's positioned as a classic auteur. But, man, the screenplay and the direction are totally not the reason to see this film. This is a rare film where the on-camera talent manages to completely enliven dead material. I came back to the film eventually. I mean, I've seen it before. I originally saw it when it was in theaters. My brother is fond of this film, so I've watched it with him, too. But it's not a great film, or even a particularly good one. I returned primarily because I had Viggo Mortensen to look forward to. And Christopher Walken, of course.

Erick Stoltz in The Prophecy (1995)

The story in The Prophecy is the very definition of a "high concept," something that writer/director Gregory Widen specialized in. He also wrote Highlander, for instance. This film postulates a second war in heaven, in which angels under the command of the archangel, Gabriel, jealous of the fact that God has chosen to give human beings a soul and a higher state of grace, wants to usurp the order of things. The war has raged for millennia in a state of constant stalemate. There is, however, a prophecy that tells of a dark soul who will tip the balance, a human warrior whose ruthlessness and tactical genius are much coveted by Gabriel. He comes to Earth to find this soul. Opposing him is Simon, an angel faithful to God and his plan for humans and angels. He tracks the soul to Hawthorne, an American colonel who has just passed away in the Arizona desert. After dallying in the big city to put Thomas, a failed priest turned police detective, on the trail as back-up plan, he hides Hawthorne's soul in a native American girl named Mary. Unfortunately, a run-in with one of Gabriel's lieutenants has left Simon wounded, and Gabriel catches up to him eventually. Thomas and the girl's teacher, Katherine, try their best to defend the girl, and take her onto the reservation so the Navajo holy man can drive the evil soul from her. There, they prepare for a siege, and the devil takes a hand...

Christopher Walken in The Prophecy (1995)

This film has an uncommonly good cast for a low-budget horror film. Three of its principals--Walken, Eric Stoltz, and Amanda Plummer--were just coming off the triumph of Pulp Fiction, while Eilas Koteas and Viggo Mortensen were soon to find their stars on the rise. Virginia Madsen, too, though she would never get the big break to catapult her to stardom. She's a better actress than the genre often deserves, but she was making a name for herself in horror movies in the early nineties with this film and Candyman. That's a LOT of talented people in front of the camera, and this film reaps huge benefits from it. Walken, in particular, channels his many acting quirks into his version of Gabriel and lets them flower into a menacing otherworldliness. He's a screen presence with whom the audience is never entirely comfortable, especially as he sits with a group of children and teaches them to blow his trumpet (that sounds dirty, too, and perhaps not entirely wrong as a metaphor). Stoltz does some of the same kinds of things as Simon, only dialed back and seasoned with moral rectitude. It's a pity he exits the film so early, but he gets out of the way so other actors can come to the fore. Koteas's character is the very essence of the cliched protagonist, combining the Priest-Who-Is-Losing-His-Faith(tm) with the movie cop. It's to his credit that he manages to sell this. The movie arguably belongs to Mortensen, though, playing one of the more entertaining versions of Lucifer in film. When he's on screen, he owns it.

Viggo Mortensen in The Prophecy (1995)

The rest of the film? It's a hodgepodge of dippy ideas and religious gobbledegook and appropriations of Native American culture. Standard fare for horror movies, really, but more imaginative than usual.  There's a hint of the influence of Clive Barker on this film, with at least two sequences that are indicative of the more visionary horror that he espoused (it should be noted that Widen would go on to write several Hellraiser sequels). It has sympathy for the devil. It's a step away from the slasher films of the previous decade, at the very least, and it's representative of the genre groping its way out of the wilderness in the early nineties, when there was no dominant mode of horror filmmaking.

The Prophecy (1995)

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 26

First Time Viewings: 21

Around the web:

Dr. AC posts his final Challenge results over at Horror 101.

Bob at The Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind gets some Cheap Thills at Toronto After Dark.

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