Some teens, some woods and a crazy deformed manic killer. Sound familiar? Of course it does it’s a staple of horror movies going way back but you may be surprised to find out The Prey is actually a pretty old example.
Filmed in 1979-1980 making it a contemporary rather than an imitator of the likes of Friday the 13th The Prey didn’t get released till 1984 by which point it fitted in perfectly with the slew of 80’s slashers going around at the time.
The set-up is stunningly simple opening in 1948 on some evocative images of a ragging forest fire in the North Point section of the Keen Wild national forest in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. We hear screams and cries as the flames roar and then cut to the same place in 1980 now peaceful and serene and occupied by a middle age couple camping.
The pair enjoys the beauty and quiet of a campfire meal unaware that something is watching them from the forest, something for whom the fire still rages in his mind and his heart, something that is about to kill them both.
Several weeks later 6 teens head for the same section of woodland for some hiking and hooking up. Meeting ranger Mark O’Brien (played by Jackson Bostwick the original Captain Marvel in the 70’s TV show of Shazam!) they embark on the long trek to North Point all the while under the watchful eye of a crazed killer.
Setting up camp the crew quickly start smoking weed, making out, telling ghost stories and scaring each other clueless to the chaos and calamity that is about to befall them when the monstrous mountain man gets his hands on them. One by one they fall but can Ranger Mark make it to the teens in time to save them?
Directed by Edwin Brown and written by him and his wife Summer Brown The Prey was made to capitalise on the popularity of horror pictures for Essex Productions a film studio that specialized in porn at the time.
The pair were inspired by Halloween as well as The Hills Have Eyes however The Prey has its own style that could divide audience opinion. The pace of the narrative is slow and most of the build-up is filled with naturalistic dialogue of the 3 couples cut with various footage of woodland creatures both great and small.
The sense that the main characters are being observed by not just the murderer but nature itself both of which view them with a cold detachment brings the relationship between predator and prey to the fore of the film however the meandering moments do drag especially for those used to more fast paced action and bloodletting in their slashers.
That’s not to say it’s all bad as once the movie moves to its final act the momentum and menace increase careering into a great climax which finally reveals the deformed and demented psycho in all his gory glory, played by the wonderful Carel Struycken whose credits include The Addams Family, Twin Peaks and Men in Black.
As ever Arrow have delivered a brilliant Blu-ray packed with extras. The brand new 2K restoration of the filmmaker approved US Theatrical Cut from the original camera negative includes commentary with Summer Brown as well as interviews with the majority of the cast, Q&A’s, special featurettes, trailers and TV spots.
Most interesting of all is the inclusion of the International Cut and Composite Cut the first of which was made for the home video version and includes an expository flashback instead of most of the of the nature footage. Set in 1948 it displays the origins of the movies killer who was raised in a gypsy commune. Put in by the producers to squeeze in some nudity it was never approved by the filmmakers with Edwin Brown stating recently that he had no involvement in the writing or filming of the infamous footage which has since been titled the “gypsy flashback”.
A treat for fans of obscure slashers and completist 80’s collectors The Prey is an interesting example of the genre and attempts to be more than just a throwaway horror even if sadly it doesn’t succeed fully in its efforts.