Although the story of the The Mothman Prophecies is set briefly in Washington, D.C., and mostly in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, the film was shot primarily in Western Pennsylvania. So we consider this a “Pittsburgh movie.” The Mothman Prophecies was released in 2002 and is based on a book by the same name written by parapsychologist John Keel. The movie stars Richard Gere as a Washington Post journalist named John Klein and Debra Messing as his wife Mary. Laura Linney plays Connie Mills, a Point Pleasant police officer. She gets more screen time than Messing in this horror/mystery/supernatural/sci-fi/thriller.
While driving home from purchasing a new house, Mary swerves to avoid hitting something on a dimly lit road, resulting in a traumatic car accident. John escapes unscathed, but Mary is injured and hospitalized. Coincidentally, she dies from an undiscovered brain tumor not many days later. While removing her possessions from the hospital, John comes across a notebook Mary has been keeping. In it are sketches of a winged creature that the hospital orderly describes as an angel, but it soon becomes apparent that we aren’t dealing with an angel, but something much stranger.
Two years later, John heads to Richmond, Virginia, to cover a story, but his car breaks down inexplicably in Point Pleasant, miles away from Richmond. He knocks on the door of Gordon Smallwood (Will Patton) to ask for help. Smallwood holds John at gunpoint while his wife calls the police. Smallwood tells John that this is the third night in a row that he has come to his property in the middle of the night. John disputes that claim. However, this is not the only odd doings going on in Point Pleasant. Many residents report seeing a giant moth-like entity and receiving strange phone calls from a person named Indrid Cold, who predicts disasters before they occur. This further creeps out John and Officer Connie and piques his curiosity.
As John investigates more deeply, he is led to Alexander Leek (Alan Bates), an author and expert on the Mothman. Leek tells John about a mythological figure like the Mothman, who throughout history, has shown up before tragedy strikes to warn people. When the Mothman reads John’s mind over the phone and the creature’s prediction of a plane crash and a deadly earthquake come true, John begins to believe in the Mothman. Things intensify when the Mothman predicts a tragedy on the Ohio River. Point Pleasant is located on the Ohio River. The tension is ramped up even more when on Christmas Eve the traffic lights malfunction near the Silver Bridge, congesting traffic on the span, and John realizes that the Mothman’s prediction is about to come true.
Sadly, the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant actually did collapse on December 15, 1967, killing 46 people. John Keel, who wrote the book, was a journalist and claims to have received phone calls much like Gere did in the film. He also claims to have interviewed many resident in Point Pleasant who saw the Mothman before the bridge collapsed.
Unlike other horror/paranormal films, this one has a plot that makes sense. Most in that genre feature a fearsome monster whose sole purpose is to slaughter and eat people, which always makes me wonder: Did they run out of food on his planet? What has he been eating before now? Are people really that tasty?
However, because The Mothman Prophecies is based on a true event and because some still believe the Mothman did appear in Point Pleasant, this movie also scores big points in intrigue and mystique.
Aside from a few scenes early in the movie shot in Washington, D.C., everything else was shot in and around Pittsburgh. Kittanning doubled as Point Pleasant and the town’s Citizens Bridge was the stand-in for the Silver Bridge. Downtown Pittsburgh, including shots of Mellon Park, The Duquesne Club, and Trinity Cathedral, substitute for Chicago, and the offices of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette were portrayed as The Washington Post.
The cause of the Silver Bridge collapse was determined four years later to be a weakened eyebar. The movie never claims that the Mothman made the bridge collapse; he only warned of a tragedy. Eerily, on November 16, 1966, there was a small article by the United Press International that appeared in The Pittsburgh Press reporting that residents in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, had seen “a birdlike creature 6 to 7 feet tall with red eyes and a 10-foot wingspan.” A little over a year later, the bridge collapsed.
I’ve watched this movie twice now, and I still wonder about the Mothman.
By: Tom Pollard