1984, Dir. Edwin S. Brown
Reviewed By David Sodergren
I have a confession to make — I really, really like The Prey.
If you’ve seen the film, undoubtedly on blurry VHS, you’re probably shaking your head right now and muttering about how I’ve finally lost it. And I wouldn’t blame you! The first two times I watched the film, I didn’t particularly like it either. It was slow and nonsensical, and there’s a staggering amount of nature close-ups, and it’s hard to see what’s going on, and the kills are mostly bloodless and inert, and…and…
Hear me out. I’ve rarely had such an about-turn on a movie than when I fired in the new Arrow Blu-ray release of The Prey and sat down to watch. Suddenly, everything made sense. Actually, that’s not quite true, it’s still a lot of nonsense, but the ability to see what was actually going on made one hell of a difference.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no Halloween, or Friday the 13th , or even – wait for it – Final Exam. But there’s something…something that kept me watching, the same way that low-budget regional slashers like Don’t Go In The Woods…Alone always do.
The film opens in grand style, with two campers sitting eating slop, barely speaking, just nodding at each other. We cut to something in the woods…and then the campers nodding and eating. The music, although credited to Don Peake, appears to mostly be sections from classical composer Bela Bartok’s oeuvre, which will be familiar to most fans of Kubrick’s The Shining. Then we get out first couple of kills, some mild gore, and the film begins properly with one minute of nature footage, because why the hell not?
We then meet our six campers, who are a bland but likeable bunch of idiots. So far so good – the cast is fine, the scenery and photography attractive, and there are plenty of killer POV shots. What more could you want?
Then it all goes to shit for ten minutes.
It’s a shame, but the campfire scene is among the worst sequences in horror history. Our intrepid heroes sit around, cooking fish and mumbling. We catch brief snatches of conversation – ‘You’re kidding me?’ ‘No, really, it was amazing.’ – but we never actually hear what they’re talking about. It’s boring, it’s maddening, it’s frustrating, and it ends with an appalling retelling of The Monkey’s Paw, and I can understand why most viewers will have switched off by now. But it gets better, I promise you.
How about two minutes of a park ranger tuning up his banjo, and then giving us a little performance?
I’m not kidding, I sincerely love this shit. It reminds me of the scene from Phantasm where Reggie and Jody perform Sitting Here at Midnight. It’s completely inessential padding that totally works, and I am here for it all the way. Later, the same actor gets to perform a bizarre comic piece about a wide-mouthed frog, while petting a deer. You don’t get that in Terror Train or Prom Night.
I know, I know, you might think I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not. Slasher movies are like the blues. It’s not what you’re playing, it’s how you play it. There are only so many ways to get a bunch of kids in the woods and knock them off. We’ve seen it countless times in films like Just Before Dawn, The Burning and The Final Terror. What’s great about The Prey is that it dances to its own wacky beat, and it’s these idiosyncrasies that make the film so rewarding. You ever see the killer in a slasher movie smother a girl with her own sleeping bag? I think not!
Did I mention she’s wearing a t-shirt with pharaohs over the breasts that says KEEP YOUR HANDS OF MY TUTS?
Still not interested? How about a cameo from a bored looking Jackie Coogan, former child star?
In the last fifteen minutes things really kick into gear, when our killer (played by Carel Struycken, Lurch from The Addams Family) starts bumping everyone off, before setting up an ending so nasty that it brings to mind the worst excesses of horror novelist Richard Laymon.
There’s terrific use of slo-mo, one genuine jump scare and some goofy but effective prosthetics. For a few minutes it almost feels like a real film, but don’t let that put you off.
Listen, I know you don’t believe me, and that’s okay. The Prey isn’t for everyone. By conventional film standards it’s slow and weird and poorly made.
What it does have is quirks and eccentricities and thick, thick atmosphere, and sometimes that’s enough for me. There’s just something about woodland slasher movies, particularly from the late 70s/early 80s that I just can’t get enough of.
The new Arrow Blu-ray is a revelation, a real labour of love. Two discs, with interviews, a commentary, two cuts of the film and 45(!) minutes of outtakes, along with an audio track of the crowd at a recent revival screening, so you can laugh along with everyone when Lori Lethin gets so frightened after peeing that she faints. And you won’t believe how good this film looks. Here’s a comparison between the widely available and heavily bootlegged VHS copy, and the new Blu.
Mindboggling! It’s honestly like watching the film for the first time.
It’s the sort of film that you never, ever thought would get a deluxe 2K restoration, and yet here it is.
It’s real. Pinch me, I must be dreaming!
David Sodergren lives in Scotland with his wife Heather and his best friend, Boris the Pug. Growing up, he was the kind of kid who collected rubber skeletons and lived for horror movies.
Not much has changed since then.
His first novel, The Forgotten Island, was published on October 1st 2018 to critical acclaim. Up next is Night Shoot, a brutal throwback to the early 80s slasher movie cycle has just recently been released.
He has several more books in various stages of development.
You can follow David on Twitter @paperbacksnpugs
To find out more about David please visit his official website www.paperbacksandpugs.wordpress.com
Find David on Instagram here
A group of desperate student filmmakers break into Crawford Manor for an unauthorised night shoot. They have no choice. Their lead actress has quit. They’re out of time. They’re out of money.
They’re out of luck.
For Crawford Manor has a past that won’t stay dead, and the crew are about to come face-to-face with the hideous secret that stalks the halls.
Will anyone survive…the NIGHT SHOOT?
A delirious homage to the slasher movies of the 1980s, Night Shoot delivers page after page of white-knuckle terror.