The Prey 1984 Review
Directed by: Edwin Brown
Starring: Debbie Thureson, Jackie Coogan, Jackson Bostwick
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
If imitation is truly a form of admiration, then Friday the 13th was entitled to carry an ego the size of a Brazilian rain forest during the early eighties. The success of Sean Cunningham’s opus led to an invasion of almost identically themed titles, which ranged from the good (Just Before Dawn) to the rancid (Don’t go in the Woods). Interestingly enough, The Prey was generally thought of as yet another bandwagon jumper, but recent cast-member reports have suggested that actually it was shot in 1978, two years earlier than Friday, but was shelved for a few years whilst finding a distributor. I find this hard to believe as it is CLEARLY borrowing from Halloween, which was released in October of that year. If I had to guess I would say early 1979, which still pre-dates Sean Cunnigham’s opus by enough time to give it the benefit of not being a rip-off. Just imagine, with a little better marketing and a quicker post-production this could have been the one with ten sequels and a remake under its belt. No, seriously!
After a muted release it rapidly disappeared under the landslide of negative media coverage that engulfed the genre during its heyday. Despite some impressive gore, Edwin Brown’s effort didn’t even manage to garner the cult status of an appearance on the UK’s notorious video nasty list, which added vitality to many of its undeserving cousins. Still awaiting a second shot at recognition on DVD, it looks as if Brown’s slasher has long since been forgotten and scrapped to the video graveyard.
The only available version of the feature is missing huge chunks of footage that had been filmed from the original script but failed to make it to the final cut. This includes a background story for the bogeyman’s motives and some gratuitous extensions to the gore scenes. The reason for their exclusion remains unclear and I would be interested to see a director’s cut, although that’s highly unlikely.
After a murderous and appealing opening, we meet a van full of kids that are heading into the forest for a relaxing vacation. They are welcomed by the Park Sheriff who becomes a key player in the plot and a memorable figure in the film’s poor reputation (more on that later). As they head deeper into the woodland, we are aware that they are not alone due to the constant point of view shots from the stalking maniac. After what seems like a lifetime, the killer finally gets to work on the youngsters and it’s up to the lethargic sheriff to come to their rescue.
The Prey is among the most widely panned of the early eighties slashers, which is probably the key reason why it hasn’t yet been offered a stab at secondary acknowledgement on DVD. The first factor that the film’s many critics set-upon is the use of a lot of wildlife stock footage, which digresses somewhat from the ‘horror’ structure of the plot. Although over emphasised, I actually felt that the shots worked well to build the backwoods surroundings of the storyline and I never found it as irritating as many viewers describe.
I said in my description that I would return to the Park Sheriff and rightly so, because he has become something of a cult figure in slasher cinema – unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. His self-confessed ‘phoned-in’ performance sets a tone that’s impossible to take seriously from the start, but he is most fondly remembered for three exceptional slices of unintentionally hilarious cinema. One bizarre piece of script writing sees him telling a rubbish joke to a faun in the midst of the forest, whilst another equally peculiar sequence has him playing a four-minute solo on an ukulele, which offers absolutely *nothing* to the storyline! The third of the trio allows him to share the spotlight with Jackie Coogan as they discuss the benefits of his miniature sandwiches. I was left wondering whether the screenwriter was hoping to get noticed for a later career in comedy.
The inadvertent humour doesn’t end there and the slow-mo chase scene during the climax is pure slapstick that is all the more amusing as it was actually supposed to look rather creepy. And while we’re talking of the climax, I cannot forget to mention final girl Nancy (Debbie Thureson)’s contribution. The Prey, just like many of its brethren, boasts performances around the level of a high-school musical, but Thureson’s portrayal of a woman awaiting her fate from the maniacal assassin sinks to new depths of amateurism. Even this early in the cycle, it’s obvious that directors were picking pretty faces over dramatic credibility.
Edwin Brown attempts to emulate Joe D’Amato’s method of feature pacing, which to be fair is about as beneficial as a playboy using Eddie Murphy’s methods of contraception. The film drags along at the speed of an eighty-year old winger and if it weren’t for the odd inter-cut shot of the heavy-breathing psycho you could be forgiven for forgetting that this is a horror film. The score is a jumbled mix of ear piercing keyboard jaunts that sound like it was rustled up on one of those Casio keyboards that you can buy for children aged 2+ and the photography is limp and lacks energy.
To be fair when the maniac does get focused on the slashing, the murders are lively enough to bring you out of your siesta and John Carl Buechler’s gore effects outshine the minuscule budget. It’s interesting for me that the things that most people criticise, I actually found to be rather credible. It’s almost as if the philosophy here was to build an environment through visual examples of wilderness desolation and a slow boiling climax. The problem we have is that we are not seeing the movie as it was intended to be seen, which means it is impossible to blame the director when a full cut may have delivered a clearer example of his vision. More than likely, this footage has long since been destroyed and deleted and will never resurface.
The Prey is not gonna be anyone’s idea of a classic and it’s not my idea of one either. To call it one of the worst of the cycle though is incredibly harsh and I think it’s worth a viewing.
You know, I used to go to school with a guy whose video cassette of The Usual Suspects ended before the last few minutes of the feature. When I asked him if he liked it, he said, “It’s ok, but who actually was Keyser Söze?” I realise that this might be an extreme example, but that’s why I’m never sure about films that are missing some footage. It’s somewhat unfair to judge them…
Final Girl √√