The Mothman Prophecies (2002) – WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie?

The new episode of the WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie video series looks at the story behind The Mothman Prophecies

The episode of WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie covering The Mothman Prophecies was Written and Narrated by Andrew Hatfield, Edited by Mike Conway, Produced by Lance Vlcek and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

“Mary Klein cannot be found by looking. You will see her in time.”

“Based on a true story” is a favorite of writers and Hollywood executives alike. It can be taken verbatim or tweaked and can live in many genres. When myth crosses over into real events, it can be difficult to discern what the focus of a property should be upon. The writer of The Mothman Prophecies was called and consulted about the book he wrote over 20 years after it was published, and he seems to really enjoy it. His account, at least in his eyes, is a very real and frightening story that happened to a people and its town in 1966-67 but what happens when Hollywood steps in and wants to make the non-fiction, fiction?

Look for the red eyes of the Mothman as we find out what REALLY happened to The Mothman Prophecies.

Screenwriter Richard Hatem had received his big break in 1995 when he was able to write the sequel to Under Siege, but he was always obsessed with science fiction. In 1997, he found The Mothman Prophecies, written by John Keel, and couldn’t put it down. He ended up calling the author to discuss film rights and a screenplay and 5 years later we would get the film adaptation of The Mothman Prophecies (watch it HERE). Keel wouldn’t be involved in any Hollywood productions but would also write a really cool retrospective on The Twilight Zone. The movie has a stacked cast with Richard Gere, Debra Messing, Laura Linney, and Will Patton. Patton has appeared in horror adjacent titles like The Puppet Masters, Copycat, and another maybe true story maybe not with The Fourth Kind but really put his stamp on horror by appearing in David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy beginning with Halloween from 2018.

Laura Linney is a three-time Oscar nominee who has appeared in tons of prestige movies and TV shows including fan favorite Ozark. She has only appeared in a couple genre efforts, but they are good ones with Congo and Exorcism of Emily Rose. Debra Messing made her name with sitcom Will and Grace, but this is her only entry into horror. Richard Gere is a modern-day movie icon who feels like he could have fit in well with old Hollywood. Much like his co-stars, he doesn’t have a lot of experience in horror with only today’s movie as his sole entry. The cast does a great job with their roles, and I would have loved to see Messing and Gere show up in other horror movies. Besides the writer, the other main behind the camera talent is director Mark Pellington. Pellington has had a very prolific career but in terms of feature films, he only has this and the excellent thriller Arlington Road under his belt. The movie had a mixed reception with critics but did make 55 million on its 32-million-dollar budget. It has since been tagged as an unsettling and underrated horror film of the early 2000s.

The movie opens with Richard Gere who plays John Klein, a reporter who is on the verge of buying a new house with his wife Mary, played by Debra Messing. After they try and consummate the closet, they take a drive and unfortunately get into a car accident after Mary swerves to avoid something that only she sees. They survive the accident but find an extremely rare brain tumor inside Mary. She passes away and two years later John finds himself on an evening drive where he ends up way off course and in the middle of Point Pleasant West Virginia where he is attacked by a scared homeowner who claims John has shown up each of the last 3 nights. A police officer defuses the situation and John is very curious as to what is going on.

(FACTOMETER: 25%) The movie is an attempt to fictionalize and build off of what was presented as a non-fiction account. John Keel never had a wife die on him due to a rare tumor nor did he get into a car accident with her prior to the diagnosis. He didn’t randomly end up in Point Pleasant West Virginia either. He was a reporter that was sent there to get the scoop on what was happening in the town. In 1966, grave diggers were startled by what they described as a giant moth with red eyes. It seemed to move incredibly fast and later, two couples seemed to see the same thing. Eventually there would be over 200 sightings of the supposed Mothman of West Virginia and Keel began to look into it. The made up back story was done to give the characters more stake in it and keep Klein there to try and find out what happened to his wife.

Klein stays in town to see if he will show up at the same house and also begins to uncover firsthand accounts of what the town was seeing. We get POV shots of the creature by a number of people and it seems the entire town is on edge from the occurrences. Phone calls with static, markings, and people talking strangely to the towns people all get reported by citizens. Two couples that were out on a lover’s lane trip were flagged down by the moth man and Klein tells his coworker to keep his boss in check while he stays to investigate. He runs into Gordon who tells him about an issue and a headache that gave him a vision of something terrible coming. He has also drawn a picture of the Mothman and something about Denver and 99 dying. They go to the doctor to get him checked on as Klein thinks he may have the same rare tumor his wife did. At a diner they find out his premonition was right. A plane went down and 99 people died.

(FACTOMETER: 40%) The movie does take place in the very same Point Pleasant that the real events took place in but its set-in modern times, probably the early 2000s when it was filmed, instead of taking place in 66 and 67 when it actually happened. Many of the stories from residents in the movie were from actual accounts of the nearly 200 people that claimed to see the Mothman while Klein got there. The movie gives you the feeling that the entire town felt a supernatural presence, with even Laura Linney’s officer talking about a dream of sorts she has. Almost all of this is not to repeat verbatim what the locals claimed was happening, but rather to set up a general ambiance and tone. Finally, there wasn’t any kind of plane crash prediction that came true…but more on that later.

Gordon tells Klein that he actually met the Mothman, who calls itself Indrid Cold, and it told him another prophecy of death. Klein starts seeing things and almost has officer Connie convinced when Gordon calls claiming to have Cold with him in the room. They start talking to each other and Cold is able to prove some sort of omniscience with facts that no one would possibly know. The voice is incredibly creepy, skating a line between human and something else. Klein is very creeped out and Connie makes it to Gordons house where he claims he hasn’t called John at all. They don’t find any proof in a recording, but they do find that its not coming from a human, unless it’s being altered. Klein goes to see a professor who has had a troubled event himself and they discuss paranormal events that can have simple explanations or never be explained at all. Klein starts seeing visions of his deceased wife as he goes further and further into a rabbit hole before receiving a call from Gordon, who sounds very distorted on the phone. John finds him dead of exposure, but the police say he had to have died far before any call could have taken place.

(FACTOMETER: 25%) Well, while some of the characters in the movie share names with some of the people in Keel’s account of what happened, their roles are different and far less important. You may have also noticed that I haven’t gone into a lot of detail on the day to day happenings with Keel and that’s because it focuses very heavily on UFO and extra-terrestrials, rather than the titular Mothman. Many of his accounts were first person with no witnesses and so it must be taken with a grain of salt. Keel doesn’t feel that he was going crazy but many of the town people and his friends felt that Keel was becoming quite paranoid and holding onto what was happening. It should also be noted that Keel was called often by a spectral voice and it did try to tell him things that were to happen, even though most all of it never occurred.

Klein continues to get visited by visions of Mary and also goes back to see the professor in Chicago. This professor was also told of prophecies and one that he actually tried to act on. He ended up spending time in a psychiatric hospital for 4 years but has since turned away from the phenomena. He keeps getting messages about a great tragedy on the Ohio river and assumes the chemical plant will fail somehow, killing more people. Connie doesn’t believe anymore, and Klein fails in his attempt to stop a tour of the plant. Nothing happens during the governor’s visit and John is confused and devastated with no closure about Mary. Officer Connie calls and invites him over to spend the holidays with her and her family and eventually he agrees. He drives back to Point Pleasant and when he gets to the bridge that separates West Virginia and Ohio, the bridge begins to collapse. He feels it before anyone else and tries to warn everyone as its happening. 36 people end up dying but he is credited with saving possibly many more than that and Connie realizes that she is number 37 from her dream or would have been if John hadn’t saved her. Two texts appear before the credits saying that the reason the bridge collapsed was never determined and that the moth man was never seen in Point Pleasant ever again.

(FACTOMETER: 25%) There’s quite a lot to unpack here but lets start with those statements at the end of the movie. The Mothman sightings did slow down but he has absolutely been sighted there. There is even a museum of the guy. The second was that there was no explanation found for the bridge collapsing but that is categorically false. There was an inspection made after the events but before even Keel’s book was published that determined it was a faulty build. Also there were more than 36 people that lost their lives that day. The bridge collapsing IS true however. Keel claimed to get prophecies and one of the big ones he believed was that the eastern seaboard would lose it’s power after an event at the white house. He prepared for this with water and food to hold him but instead of that event, it was the bridge collapsing. People have also tied many other events to prophecies by the Mothman including Chernobyl and the Japanese Nuclear disaster in the early 2010s.

Ultimately the movie decided to tell its own story, focusing much more on grief and the human psyche than UFO’s from Keels account. As it stands today, it’s a pretty fun horror drama from the early 2000’s and is a wholly unique experience. Watch the movie and read the supposedly non fiction account and decide for yourself but next time you pass through Point Pleasant, be sure to keep a look out for a flying creature with huge red eyes.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To check out the other shows we have on the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel, head over to the channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.