You know, I just don’t think you’d get a film like The Prophecy made nowadays. In fact I’m not even sure how it got made twenty years ago. Its a slick, expensive looking* horror movie involving battling angels, where most of the conflicts between the characters are done with theological arguments rather than a bunch of visual effects (ie Legion). Of course back in 1995 when this was released they had something better than any visual effect: they had Christopher Walken as the angel Gabriel.
Christopher Walken as an angel.
Walken a weird combination of other worldly and incredibly cool so he’s perfect for a lot of out-there roles. He brings some of his best characteristics to the fore with Gabriel. He can at one moment be joking with a “bald monkey” and the next threatening to crush their skull, funny but incredibly intimidating at the same time. Maybe its those cold eyes, crazy upwardly mobile hair or that unique voice but it takes a special talent to make you laugh and be frightened all at once. He also brings a tremendous physicality in the role, the way he perches on chairs like a hooded crow or appears next to someone without them noticing. He’s constantly trying to surprise you with weird little moments like this. The Prophecy is always so much more fun when he’s about, not that it doesn’t have good points elsewhere.
The story, I think, is about Gabriel trying to start a new war with some other angels against God so they can have a new heaven on Earth. Then they can then rule the humans who they hate because God loves them more or something. There are other good angels trying to stop him, plus some humans, and the Devil because everyone else is getting involved so why can’t he? There’s also something about the blackest human soul being able to start all this heaven-on-Earth business but really none of this makes the slightest bit of sense, and none of it matters. It is written and directed by Gregory Widen who wrote the original story for Highlander and this shares that idea of immortals fighting amongst humans, and is as equally silly and original.
The main hero (unless you’re on Walken’s side, in which case the main villain) is Elias Koteas who plays a former trainee priest turned policeman. This kind of character only exists in Hollywood movies. “I failed to take up the priesthood so there was only one course left for me – I became a cop!” you can imagine no one in real life saying at all, ever. But it works within the context of the film because at least we have a police protagonist who can both get into a theological debate with the devil and translate ancient Hebrew. Which is helpful because the mystery of the film is pretty badly scripted. Koteas is trying to figure out all this evil soul business and its some old army officer who would sacrifice Chinese people in the Korean war,. He finds loads of press clippings and a tape marked “evidence” in the officer’s house. Why would he keep all that? Wouldn’t it be kept by the courts? He wouldn’t be able to just take it home so he could watch it at his leisure, thinking about the good old days when he used to flay men’s faces off and keep them in a box, would he?
None of this really matters though as though the story is both convoluted and simplistic at the same time, The Prophecy has so many other good qualities. It is lovely to look at with pretty lighting, glorious sunsets and lots of above-looking-down shots that remind us we are being watched from above. It has that pretty 90’s aesthetic that was in a lot of studio movies at the time, although the thing it most reminded me of was the Wilson Phillips “Hold On” video with lots of pretty helicopter shots of the American landscape.
Another obvious influence has to be Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire with its angels dressed in black and looking cool. But its as if director Widen watched that film and thought “yes, yes all very good and existential, but what would this be like if it was a horror film and instead of falling in love with a woman, the angel wanted rip the soul out of a seven year old girl?” Well this is the answer and it defiantly is a horror film. Despite all the questioning of God’s motives and what not, there’s also a good amount of gore and horrific imagery. Most of this is put upon the poor angels who have eyes missing, are crushed by cars and have their hearts torn out in the grisliest way possible. There are also a couple of undead people helping too as, er, angels can’t drive apparently.
This is a bit of a problem, at least to start with. Walken has a comedy undead sidekick in the form of Adam Goldberg. Goldberg’s comedy chops cannot be doubted, as anyone who’s seen 2 days in Paris will attest to, but he really doesn’t fit in here. I presume the filmmakers were thinking that the story was too serious and needed a comedy character to lighten up the proceedings but he’s just too silly a figure to work, dropping wisecracks here and there and moaning about being undead and wanting to be dead. He’s the Jar Jar Binks of apocalyptic angel movies. Thank god someone puts a bullet through his head half way through. Besides it is Walken who gets all the best laughs, maybe the jokes weren’t in the script but its how he plays them that makes them funny.
With Goldberg out of the picture, Walken briefly gets a new side kick in the form of Amanda Plummer and its at this point you realise how much of a connection there is between this and Pulp Fiction – at least three actors – Walken, Plummer and Eric Stoltz, looking exactly the same as he did in Quentin Tarantino’s classic, plus of course the film is produced by the Weinsteins, which is probably why it shares a lot of the cast. It also has a young Viggo Mortesen as the Devil and he’s spot on, trying to tempt the priest whilst blood drips from his chin, he looks like the epitome of evil.
So a lot of fun, and a good chunk of actors who were very cool and deservedly busy during those years. But weirdly, I watched this on Netflix and at the end it recommended I watch Prophecy 3. What was the matter with the second one? Oh just skip that piece of shit, Netflix was suggesting (despite it having it in its library). I’m still going to watch it, these kind of films just aren’t made anymore, I might as well savour them.
*Though not actually expensive, $8 million even in 1995 isn’t that much and Miramax knew how to squeeze every last drop out of their budgets.