Directed by: Colin Eggleston
Starring: PJ Soles, Kit Taylor, Grigor Taylor
Review by Luis Joaquín González
After watching so many modern slashers of late, I really felt the need to go back and check out an early-eighties piece. It’s interesting how the new-age entries can be so similar to the peak additions in one way, but there again, to the trained eye, they do, in effect, have striking differences. There’s something about the oldies that just sets them apart. The characters were so much easier to like and the fact that I grew up hunting them out across rivers deep and mountains high, means that they carry a certain amount of nostalgia. They’re also cheesy as hell…
This particular picture is an interesting example when it comes to discussing dates, because it was shot in 1983, completed in 84, but sat on a shelf until 1991. That makes it a golden-age slasher that was released during ‘the lost years’ and barely made a ripple upon genre fans. It’s from Colin Eggleston, a prolific horror auteur, who already has two titles listed on a SLASH above: the first of the five Stage Frights and also Cassandra from 1986. Eggleston has never hid the fact that he’s a huge fan of Carpenter’s Halloween and here he cast a recognised face from that picture, P.J Soles, as his heroine. Whilst Innocent Prey is certainly a slasher movie, it boasts something of a unique structure that allows it to stand apart…
Soles plays Cathy, a Dallas based woman who is married to a business man from New Zealand. Thinking that her husband may be betraying her trust, she follows him one night to a hotel, where she looks on through a window whilst he sleeps with and then murders a young prostitute. After helping the authorities to capture him, she is terrified to learn that he has escaped his asylum and is heading back to take revenge. Cathy flees the country to her friend in Australia, however she soon realises that she’s jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire…
I recall writing that Colin Eggleston’s Cassandra stood out as an intriguing slasher flick due to its creative photography and bundles of suspense. Innocent Prey offers more of the same slick direction in places and manages to make a lot more out of its premise than I assumed would be possible. Unlike Cassandra and Stage Fright before it, Prey is not a typical genre entry. We don’t get either a masked killer or a whodunit angle. Instead it offers a synopsis that’s a lot more authentic; and as much intriguing as it is diverse. Cathy’s husband is the lead antagonist and despite being given an identity of sort, he carries a similar maniacal aura to that of Michael Myers. He’s sadistically evil and imposes himself on the screen with impeccable menace. When his unfortunate wife escapes to Australia after his initial rampage, she meets another loon that’s equally as murderous, but different in his approach and MO. The fact that she hotfoots it from one nutjob and immediately bumps into another means that she could well be the most unfortunate final girl in the whole history of slasher films.
It’s indeed interesting that Innocent Prey switches location and antagonist halfway through the shoot and it does give the film an extra layer of uniqueness. To be frank, the second killer has less of an impact than Cathy’s husband and I wonder if it might have played better if the story had focussed solely on the initial villain and his plan of revenge. I can’t but help wonder if there may be a production based reason as to why the change was necessary? Would this explain the delayed release? It’d be interesting to know for sure, because it’s hard to ascertain why the film didn’t secure immediate distribution. Unlike Cassandra, Prey is superbly acted and Brian May’s intense operatic score compliments Eggleston’s expertise with shadow play immaculately. Soles is convincing as the unfortunate final girl, but despite the quality of her acting, I was left feeling that she wasn’t particularly approachable. Perhaps she should have followed in the footsteps of her school friend Laurie Strode, from her most famous film.
When all’s said and done though, Innocent Prey delivers enough to remain worth a look. It’s not quite a classic, but it generates some spooky moments and a riveting finale. There’s some suspense and violence when the killer strikes, an incredibly cheesy final scene and hell, they even cast Debi Sue Voorhees (topless.) Colin Eggleston may not be as celebrated as other genre names, but his films are fairly underrated and deserve to be seen. This one’s debatably his best.