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The Mothman Cometh

By Bert Ehrmann
October 19, 2007

The Mothman PropheciesHalloween-time is upon us once again and that got me thinking, why aren't most horror movies all-that frightening anymore? Though almost any scary movie can have a few “jump scares” when the killer pops out at an surprising time or when character unexpectedly dies, not many of these movies leave any lasting impact on the viewer. These days, horror movies seem to be dominated by over-the-top gore and/or the so-called "torture" sub-genera like the Hostel movies or the Saw franchise. But even with all this extra gooey gore and screamin' torture I can't say that many movies over the last few years have left me all that scared walking out of the theater. In fact I have to go a ways back to find the last movie that I found really frightening, The Mothman Prophecies (2002).

In The Mothman Prophecies, reporter John Klein (Richard Gere) is driving from Washington DC to Richmond, Virginia when he inexplicably finds himself in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Hundreds of miles off course with no memory of how he got there in such record time, Klein finds that Point Pleasant is a hotbed of weird activity, be it upstanding citizens reporting large winged creatures lurking outside their homes, a rash of strange electric noise filled phone calls, ghostly lights and weird voices emanating from sink drains.

The Mothman PropheviesKlein, wanting to unravel the story, instead finds himself smack in the middle of it when he discovers that these sorts of Mothman sightings only happen when a large natural disaster is about to occur in the area. Is the Mothman in Point Pleasant to try and avert an upcoming catastrophe or is it there in order to facilitate doom?

Here are four reasons why you should love The Mothman Prophecies as much as I do.

The overall ambiance of the movie is creepy as hell. Be it shots of tree limbs set against a black winter sky or the reenactments of when people came into contact with the Mothman, it seems as if the entire movie is built around the idea that tension can be wound and wound and not let up until the last act of the film. This all works surprisingly well, especially since (spoiler alert) the title character never really makes an appearance in the film save for a few fleeting shots or blurry figures and a voice on the phone.

Still, when you do see the Mothman, or at least what you’re lead to believe is the Mothman, these images are so frightening/jolting that they’re some of the more memorable pieces of the film.

The Mothman PropheciesOh yeah, THAT VOICE! Though the Mothman's presence is felt throughout the movie at nearly every level, the Mothman is mostly presented as a "voice at the other end of the telephone line" that contacts Klein and other townsfolk of Point Pleasant. The voice sounds like a cross between a Cylon and a heavy metal backwards-recording track and knows just about everything about everyone. Not only is the Mothman seemingly all knowing, but it also seems to know what you're going to do before you do it.

Which begs the question – how do you stop something that knows what you're going to do before you do?

Four words: "Based on true events." In my experience, a movie that's "based on true events" really means "loosely based on things that may or may not have occurred." But still, just the thought that ANY of what happened in The Mothman Prophecies might have really happened sends the slightest of shivers up my spine.

The Mothman PropheciesThe true nature of the Mothman is never revealed. Other than a name (Indrid Cold) and a few shots of what may or may not be the Mothman in various (sometimes terrifying) guises, we never really discover the true nature of the Mothman. And that's the most interesting part of The Mothman Prophecies – good or evil we don't ever discover why the Mothman does what it does. Or, as one character in the movie puts it, "We're not allowed to know."

After seeing The Mothman Prophecies you'll never look at Chapstick the same way again. The Mothman Prophecies is available on DVD and via Amazon's Unbox download service.