The Prophecy (1995)

When it’s on: Tuesday, 27 October (9.00 pm)
Channel: Movie Mix
IMDb Link

There have been numerous attempts to portray the Devil on screen over the years. Two films in this week’s Halloween run of write-ups feature Old Nick, my favourite coming on Saturday, and personally I prefer my Satan to be a subtle and persuasive presence. You can keep shouty Al Pacino from The Devil’s Advocate. Give me Robert De Niro as a mysterious, sinister Louis Cypher in Alan Parker’s Angel Heart any day, or play him for dark laughs as Peter Cook did in the Faustian Bedazzled.

In The Prophecy, a young, pre-Aragorn Viggo Mortensen essays Lucifer as an almost businesslike fallen angel, turning up on the unlikely side of the humans because the Archangel Gabriel is trying to capture an unmitigatingly evil soul that will create a second Hell, which is one Hell too many. Beautiful and malevolent, there’s an undeniably sinister aura to his Satan. Everyone who comes across him knows who he is on sight because the Devil is an unmistakable character, and he comes out with outrageous lines like ‘I can lay you out and fill your mouth with your mother’s faeces, or we can talk‘ without missing a single beat. Lucifer appears in the film for the last ten minutes, but it’s a brilliant cameo from Mortensen who plays him completely straight and conveys everything that’s both attractive and terrible about the character.

Mortensen is just one member of a finely chosen cast of characters in this movie, a rather silly (but no less compelling) entry about the war between angels spilling over into events on Earth. Eric Stoltz, who always strikes me as one of those perenially ‘under the radar’ actors, plays Simon, a ‘good’ angel who passes on the soul of the cannibalistic General Hawthorne – a veteran of the Korean War who treated the conflict as a personal playground for his atrocities – to a little girl in order to shield it from forces that would use it for evil. Simon might be on the side of right, but he’s also practical and the seedier side to his interactions with the girl have real power. The villain is Gabriel (Christopher Walken), attempting to end his war with God by releasing Hawthorne’s soul into Heaven and allowing the essence of evil in to finish the favouring of humankind. This could be a concept treated with hopeless solemnity, but instead director Gregory Widen and actor Walken have fun with Gabriel and turn the plot into a pulpy thriller, never taking itself too seriously. Walken in particular has a whale of a time, dealing with the recently dead people he’s reanimated as servants to be toyed with, and using his powers with wild abandon. There’s a brilliant scene where he’s chatting with a bunch of schoolkids as he’s checking each one to see if they contain Hawthorne’s soul. He’s actually great company for the children, but with that element of being able to smite them with one wave of his finger if he so chooses.

If any characters come across as lesser presences, then it’s undeniably the human ones, played by Elias Koteas and Virginia Madsen, and it’s unfair on them because the angels get all the best lines and scenes. Koteas, like Stoltz one of those reliable performers who’s never received the plaudits his work deserves, plays a detective who earlier in his life was training to be a priest, only failing to be confirmed when his visions of the war in heaven overtake his faith. His career turn of joining the police is an inevitable development, turning down the priesthood for a job in the most earthly role possible, one where he gets to experience human horrors on a daily basis. When his character interacts with Simon and later the bad angel that tried to destroy him, he finds himself being sucked into the story and becomes opposed to Gabriel, an uneven battle but one in which he’s determined to play a part. Madsen is yet another ‘what if’ actor, here playing a schoolteacher who by association with the luckless young Mary and her encounter with Simon fights alongside Koteas.

The daft, overblown plot runs more like an action/crime thriller with horror overtones, which favours it as the whole thing plays like a knowing wink with the audience, the sort of gesture Gabriel himself would no doubt make. Widen cut his teeth as a screenwriter, coming up with the screenplay for Highlander, which proved his talent for producing high concept drama that has no idea of a ceiling – the story only really unravels with its sequel, which tries unsuccessfully to make more of the characters than the plot can support. A firefighter, he experienced personally a backdraft, which led to his writing work on Ron Howard’s film of the same name.

It’s a shame that Widen didn’t get to do more work in film – The Prophecy is lots of fun and definitely holds together. He uses an actor like Walken exactly as he should, taking advantage of the actor’s unearthly, pallid look to present Gabriel as a white-faced spectre with a shock of black hair. Walken shifts through the film with real grace. Even scenes where he enters a room and looks around are attractive because, with a glance, he can get across his character’s otherworldly quality, and I love the way he and the other angels perch on the edge of chairs and other objects like birdlike, weightless sprites, emphasising their unreal natures that seem impossible to humans, without the need of special effects to make the point. On the whole, it relies on good actors over storytelling with the heavy use of CGI or practical effects. This betrays The Prophecy’s relatively low budget (despite its strong cast, most of the actors were recruited without great cost, a stroke of fortunate timing), but the quality of the performances transcends most shortcomings.

The Prophecy: ***

P.S. Another shout out for Multitude of Movies, the magazine I’m proud to be part of and that has recently published its third and best issue to date. Running over 100 pages and featuring articles on such diverse topics as Sean Connery’s Bond movies, the non-horror work by Mario Bava and spaghetti western Black Jack, there’s something for everyone and as always I’m impressed with the scope of the features and the quality of the original writing and artwork. A lot of heart goes into this publication – you can purchase it from the website, which also features a growing series of original content reviews. I have contributed to this with a look at Alec Guinness in The Scapegoat, a title to which I owe Colin my thanks for introducing me to it.

A View to a Kill (1985)

When it’s on: Saturday, 25 August (3.00 pm)
Channel: ITV1
IMDb Link

The pre-credits sequence of A View to a Kill tells you everything you need to know about what was wrong with Bond during this period. Removing an item from a dead man frozen into some snowy waste, 007 is soon being pursued by Soviet soldiers across the icebergs. Despite seeing this sort of thing many times before, it’s thrilling enough, and then he loses his skis, getting about instead by snow surfing on some broken vehicle’s equipment, and the music pipes in with California Girls by The Beach Boys. Like it wasn’t entertaining enough already, guys?

The use of heavy-handed humour during an action scene – is there anyone who finds this sort thing actually funny? – reeks of a lack of confidence, a sentiment that runs through the entire film. It’s Roger Moore’s last, the venerable actor by this point the wrong side of 55 and commenting that it’s time to bow out when he’s older than his leading lady’s mother. She’s Tanya Roberts, one of those sure signs that what you’re watching belongs to the 1980s (along with femme fatale, Grace Jones). One of the more insipid, screechy heroines, Roberts has little to do but wait around for Bond to rescue her, otherwise making her performance in The Beastmaster from earlier in the decade look good. Jones has more business in A View to a Kill, and looks as though she’s quite enjoying herself, swapping blows and bedtime romps with Moore. A shame her character takes a ridiculous about-turn in loyalties at a crucial point in the narrative; heavens, please don’t let it be a result of Rog’s sexual prowess!

There’s a combination of great set pieces and poor ones; sometimes the good leaks into the poor, such as Bond’s escape from the burning City Hall of San Francisco merging into a police chase through the streets that involves a comedy cop, your man driving a fire engine and for reasons that make absolutely no sense finding himself hanging off the end of a wayward ladder. Also ridiculous is the pursuit across Paris, which slaps the face of any occasion that someone refers to Bond as a ‘secret’ agent. The climactic fight on the upper reaches of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is rather better and somehow pulls off the danger of scrapping hundreds of feet in the air when the whole scene was filmed as a combination of trick photography, model shots and recreating the Bridge at Pinewood. There’s a glorious inventiveness to how this stuff has been conceived and put together, and it makes me a little sad that such trickery has been largely overhauled with CGI. Oh well.

What saves A View to a Kill from despair is the casting of Christopher Walken as chief villain, Max Zorin. Nominally the head of a microchip contractor, it emerges Zorin is attempting to corner the market by destroying Silicon Valley, whilst his past is mired in Soviet attempts to genetically engineer perfect human beings. The result, Bond is told, was children with superior intelligence but clear signs of psychosis, a sinister development that Zorin largely lives up to. The scale of his megalomania is rather refreshing – in flooding Silicon Valley, he’ll kill millions of people, but who’s counting, right? There’s a casual disregard to everyone around him, even his own people; in one moment of nastiness that scales new heights within the franchise, he personally trains a machine gun on miners working for him. Moore found this scene utterly distasteful, suggesting it removed the fun tone of the movies, but it works rather well, giving enough impression that here’s a villain who’ll go to any lengths to achieve his ends.

A View to a Kill: **