Prey, The (1983)

Author: Josh G.
Submitted by: Josh G.   Date : 2008-07-02 11:47

Directed by: Edwin Brown
Written by: Edwin Brown and Summer Brown
Starring: Debbie Thureson, Steve Bond, Lori Lethin and Jackson Bostwick

Reviewed by: Josh G.

It’s not human, and it’s got an axe!

Well, this tagline for the 1984 backwoods slasher The Prey is partly right. The killer uses an axe to kill off two victims, but although he may look like a monster, he is most certainly human. Shot in 1980, this brutal obscurity made itself known using the very phrase you see up above, as well as a blue cover art featuring an axe embedded in a gown. It was released on a Thorn EMI tape (also known as HBO) in a rated version for the United States. However, there is an uncut version still creeping about, more commonly in Australia. Uncut or not, this low budget chiller is still not a cut above the rest. I can tell you now, it’s not a great movie. Sometimes, a film of its kind doesn’t have to be. All it needs is a little blood, some backstory, and a forest to set it all in.

In 1948, a horrible fire rips through The North Point woods at Keen Wild. Trees and houses burn to the ground, leaving an echo of screams to flood throughout the air. In the present, 1980, middle-aged couple Frank and Mary Sylvester (Ted Hayden and Connie Hunter) are enjoying the wildlife when an unknown creature chops Frank and Mary to pieces with an axe. Days later, six teenagers, Gail (Gayle Gannes), Greg (Philip Wenckus), Joel (Steve Bond), Nancy (Debbie Thureson), Bobbie (Lori Lethin) and Skip (Robert Wald) travel into the very same forest. The males plan for a trip full of sex in the night, while the females are just hoping to relax. A park ranger, Mark O’Brien (Jackson Bostwick) acknowledges their existence. But there’s no need to keep an eye on them. After all, what could possibly go wrong at North Point? The only other living things around are the ants, worms, buzzards...and a blood craving mountain man!

The Prey generally takes place in an August or September of 1980. The prologue, however, is drowning in a major plot hole. Mark O’Brien has lunch with fellow worker, Lester Tile (Walk of Fame star Jackie Coogan, in his final role before death that year). Lester tells Mark the story of North Point, and about how fifteen or twenty years before, it had a fire. A family of gypsies were burnt so badly that no one could tell them apart. The son was messed up the worst. By this point, most audiences will guess, and be correct, that the son is the angry backwoods slayer. Most viewers will also catch the fact that Lester says “fifteen or twenty years ago”, because he was there. An odd choice of years for recollection, considering the opening fire sequence was set in 1948, making the actual number of years thirty-two. What a huge mistake. Something this big brings up the question on whether or not the creators rewatched the movie before distribution.

Some may say that The Prey has so much in common with the hundreds of other woodsy terrors of the splatter genre. Few will tell you that The Prey has roots to the horrifying 1980 thriller Human Experiments. Both Jackie Coogan and Gayle Gannes have small parts to play. Speaking of Gayle Gannes, she is part of the reason why The Prey somewhat works. Gail is the character of the film that is meant to be the diva, or, the one everybody wants to see knocked off. Gayle actually gives Gail a likable personality through her acting, which, although average, is much better and more developed than her teenaged peers. She’s not the nature freak that everybody else is. Gail is a fun beauty queen, worried every second about how she looks. She brings along her technology toys into the woods, adding a funny, quirky dimension, which is essentially what the whole movie is. She’s also the most distinguishable and memorable of all the people. Nancy and Bobbie are easy to tell apart, but the guys blend together for the first half. At least the cast is believable as friends, staying away from the typical slasher labels.

“I could have been raped or killed out there!”
“By what, Gailie? A horny chipmunk? There’s nothing out there that can hurt you.”

That shows what Skip knows. Always be prepared for a murderer when you go out in the woods. Don’t Go in the Woods anyone? How’s about The Final Terror? Perhaps they were just stunned by the cinematography. The scenery is beautiful, authentic and fresh outdoors Utah. The director must have loved it too, because every chance the camera gets to film nature in its natural habitat, we are blessed with a few seconds of shots showcasing the green grounds, a centipede, or even a snake. After a while, you start to want to exchange your blessing for something else. A ten minute campfire scene goes on for about six minutes too long. We can clearly see the main characters having conversations with one another, but we never find out what they’re saying, because after ten seconds of listening to one couple, we skip to another. Even worse, we receive overly long clips of random forest creatures moving about. While this is a nice change that adds to the feel of the woods atmosphere, it’s too many, becoming apparent run time fillers. Kudos to the clip of the worm being taken away by the crowd of ants. Very effective.

The cheese just keeps popping up, and the music is the next to be dealt with. A plinky, loud drum and strings montage of crazy scoring accompanies the opening credits, as well as the final chase scene. But as silly and ridiculous as the tune is, it’s urgent, intense, and serves up the horror setting. It’s perfect, at least for this movie. The eerie ‘violin’ creaks and the ‘piano’ run are just as greatly used. Fake scares (though containing very few) are not hyped up, such as when Bobbie is using the bathroom in the woods, and her boyfriend scares her into a faint. It comes off more funny than jumpy. The Prey is more about violence than suspense anyways. Frank Sylvester is decapitated with an axe, and the main boys are ripped apart. One gets his head twisted around and another’s throat is completely ripped out. My favorite is the unique elimination of suffocation using a sleeping bag. I suppose The Prey isn’t totally unoriginal.

Have you heard the story of The Wide-Mouthed Frog? If not, then you’ll probably want to skip the embarrassing scene where Mark O’Brien tells a deer the old but slightly chuckle-worthy joke. Mark is an unlikely male protagonist. He’s not very manly, his voice sounds kind of silly, and he’s the ultimate loner. Playing his banjo alone would be almost heartbreaking, if we actually cared about him. The fact that Bobbie thinks he’s a hunk is hysterical. But now I’m just being mean. The most horrifying moment of The Prey is actually not a kill. It’s when the leftovers of a body are being picked and nibbled on by buzzards! Yuck! The final ten minutes are excellent, revealing the inevitable killer and displaying his intelligence. One of the women falls into a nasty trap set up by the burnt gypsy boy that, although made in 1984, still shocks to this day. We receive an unhappy ending, something that most slashers of its time, aside from The Dorm That Dripped Blood, among very few others, rarely followed through with. Nicely done. For a bloody evening with moments to smile, killers to laugh at, and time to leave the room to make popcorn, The Prey will do you justice, even if it’s mediocre. Remember Gail, you are always on my mind. Who loves ya? I do! Rent it!

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