31 for 31: 'The Mothman Prophecies'

For the whole month of October, our own Kevin Stairiker will be watching a horror movie a day and cataloging his findings in a new feature called “31 for 31.”

It only takes a few people to get a good bit of folklore out into the ether. From November 1966 to December 1967, residents of Point Pleasant, West Virginia reported seeing a winged humanoid creature with glowing red eyes. Thus the Mothman legend was born, simple as that.

The movie portrayal of the Mothman story is flawed in ways that result in a good supernatural thriller with gaping, Mothman-sized plotholes. For all the Gereheads out there, Richard Gere does a serviceable job playing John Klein, based on the real man, John Keel, who wrote the book of the same name in 1975. Whereas Keel was an unmarried conspiracy theorist with a hobby for large appetite for moths, Klein is a Washington Post reporter whose wife died in a mysterious car accident and has somehow ended up hundreds of miles from his destination. That alone makes the movie unrecognizable from the book. Why the filmmakers didn’t just use the Mothman character for an unrelated movie, I’m not quite sure.

Things go about as you’d expect. Gere blankly stares at dark shadows in a variety of interesting locales. A windy mountain road! A winter-y forest! Outside of his house! I confess that to be not too familiar with the oeuvre of the Gere-d one, but it’s clear upon watching “The Mothman Prophecies” that he is not meant for horror-based roles. He’s far too good at smoldering in the direction of people he agrees or disagrees with. Even in the film’s best scene, where a frantic Gere is attempting to fool the supposed Mothman on the telephone in his hotel room, nothing changes on his face. It’s fascinating, really.

The first ninety minutes follow that basic formula. The filmmakers do a good job of obscuring the Mothman and keeping it at a distance. I spent most of the movie bracing for early-2000s CGI to rear its ugly, lepidopteran head, which thankfully never came to pass. The real problem I have with this movie is the final half hour. Gere figures out that the dastardly Man Who is Also a Moth will be taking out the nearby Silver Bridge, which of course is filled with rush hour traffic. Even Richard Gere can’t stop nature, so the bridge begins to collapse. Meanwhile, Gere’s police officer friend (played by a great Laura Linney) is knocked out behind the wheel of her cop car, sliding into the water. Gere somehow spots her car in a mass of other cop cars, jumps into late-December water in a full jacket and scarf, and saves her. All the while, 36 people die in the accident. The film closes with a line about how the bridge accident was never solved and the Mothman was never seen again.

Hold up.

The case of the Silver Bridge is another part of the story that really did happen…except the problem with the collapse was solved in 1971, four years before the book even came out. It was an old bridge and the eye-bar in the suspension chain failed. A movie pet peeve of mine is when movies that are already far in the weeds of “Based on a True Story” and then close the film out with some text and roll the credits. At that point, why lie? You don’t get creativity points for depicting a real historical event and then saying immediately afterwards that it was never solved for the sake of your already threadbare story. The bridge sequence is a wildly out of place action-adventure explosion fest stapled onto the end of a pretty good supernatural mystery. But boy oh boy, did Richard Gere smolder.


By the numbers:

Total deaths: 39
Actual number of people who died in the Silver Bridge tragedy: 46
Stars from Roger Ebert: 2
Moments I anticipated a “Remember the Titans”-style speech on the Mothman from Will Patton: 3
Actual moths in the movie: 0

Total movie death count: 204
Watched via: Google Play
Worth the watch: No
Arbitrary rating: 2/5 Mothboiz


31 for 31 viewing list

  1. Jeepers Creepers (2001)
  2. Cube (1997)
  3. White Zombie (1932)
  4. Demons (Dèmoni) (1985)
  5. Phantasm II (1988)
  6. Kuroneko (1968)
  7. Creepshow (1982) / Creepshow 2 (1987)
  8. 30 Days of Night (2007)
  9. Last Man on Earth (1964)
  10. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
  11. Cat People (1942)
  12. The Brood (1979)
  13. The Fog (1980)
  14. Them! (1954)
  15. It Follows (2015)
  16. Mad Ron’s Prevues from Hell (1987)
  17. The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
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Kevin Stairiker is a features writer for Fly. He is a graduate of Temple University and enjoys writing in third person. When he isn't writing, he's probably playing guitar for a litany of bands, reading comics or providing well-needed muscle at The Double Deuce.

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