The Prey Review
Not to be confused with several other releases bearing the same title – or indeed anything approaching a good movie, The Prey (1983) is an early addition to the seemingly endless list of backwoods/summer camp slashers. It would be easy to class this obscure entry as another blatant rip-off of Friday 13th (1980), or The Burning (1981) – which it partially resembles. Yet that’s not strictly true, since production starting in the late seventies, so by rights this should have been first out of the gate. Instead, The Prey sat on the shelf gathering dust for several years, until Roger Corman’s New World Pictures picked it up for distribution.
The overly familiar storyline doesn’t really require any sort of deep analysis. Three young couples head off into the mountains for a weekend of camping, yet very soon find themselves being stalked by a disfigured madman with – quite literally – an axe to grind. We learn that he once belonged to a gypsy community but was badly burned by a forest fire several decades earlier – as depicted by some ropey stock footage. Now he bears a murderous grudge against anyone foolish enough to stray into his territory.
Be prepared for an abundance of roaming POV shots through the undergrowth, accompanied by a ridiculous thunderous heartbeat sound. Atrocious acting is par for the course in this type of film, and in this respect The Prey doesn’t disappoint, with our principal cast of unknowns seemingly adlibbing during certain scenes together.
Usually some amusement can be had watching these early horrors, simply by trying to spot very early appearances of future Hollywood stars. Alas, there are very few recognisable faces in this endeavour, although it’s worth mentioning that forest ranger Lester is played by veteran actor Jackie Coogan – making his last screen appearance. Jackson Bostick plays the other ranger O’Brien, who was previously best known for portraying Captain Marvel in an early 70s TV version of DC Comic’s Shazam! He doesn’t get much of an opportunity to be heroic here, instead treating us to a burst on the banjo and telling a truly awful joke. The killer – billed simply as “The Monster” - is played by distinctive looking Dutch actor Carel Struycken, who would later find fame playing Lurch in the Addams Family (1991).
Fans of the genre will come with certain expectations, yet director Edwin Brown fumbles much of the film, with the key problem being misjudged pacing. There are endless shots of wildlife going about their daily business, from birds and squirming bugs to roving bears. If we were watching The Long Weekend or Day of the Animals, this footage might be justified. It simply doesn’t belong here, serving only to pad out the running time and slow down the pace. The rugged location of Idyllwild in California does serve the film well, providing some attractive scenery. The gore quotient on the other hand is relatively low, though there are a smattering of mildly effective moments. This shows off some half-decent early work by make-up FX whizz John Carl Buechler, who sadly passed away earlier this year.
If pace wasn’t a big enough issue with the 80-minute theatrical cut, time wasting is taken to a whole new level in the expanded international release (included on the Blu-ray). In this excruciating sluggish re-working, more than 20 minutes of so-called “gypsy flashback” footage was added several years later. Rather than adding backstory, it simply takes the narrative off into a different direction.
Recommended only to completists of little-known 80s slashers - anyone else should approach with caution.
The Prey makes its worldwide debut on Blu-ray from Arrow Video in a limited edition release of 3,000 units. This comprises a 2 disc set, including no less than 3 different versions of the film in HD.
The US theatrical cut (1:19:46) is the director approved version and has been restored in 2K from the OCN. Presented in 1.85:1, the image is bright and detailed without any discernible issues for the most part. The exceptions are on a few occasions where some obvious stock footage has been used, in which case the quality drops. The International & composite cuts of the film incorporate footage taken from other elements, which seem to be in good shape.
The audio track preserves the original mono. Dialogue is distinct throughout (perhaps not a good thing!) and atmospheric sounds of the wild are effectively reproduced. English subtitles are included.
Arrow Video have once again pulled out all the stops to provide this release with an impressive selection of extras. This includes an entertaining selection of new interviews, filmed during the summer of 2019:
Gypsies, Camps & Screams (27:01) - an enthusiastic Debbie Thureson talks about playing one of the leads.
Babe in the Woods (13:45) - horror actress Lori Lethin provides her recollections on this film.
Gayle on Gail (11:49) - actress Gayle Gannes talks in London about her involvement.
The Wide-mouthed Frog & Other Stories (18:20) - Jackson Bostwick recalls his role as ranger O'Brien.
Call of the Wild (7:30) - the amiable Dutch actor Carel Struycken discusses how he became cast in this film as "The Monster".
In Search of The Prey (13:58) - Sporting a "Straight Outta Idy" t-shirt, Arrow's Ewan Cant and actress Debbie Thureson revisit the original shooting locations in Idyllwild, California
Q&A from Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 (17:05) - Cant interviews stars Lori Lethin, Carel Struycken and Jackson Bostwick on stage.
Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 Audience Reaction Track
VHS Trailer and TV Spot
Original Script (BD-ROM Content) - just to prove there really was a script!
Brand new audio commentary tracks: Producer Summer Brown, plus film historian Amanda Reyes and Ewan Cant
DISC 2 - International & Composite Cuts of the film (1:35:37 & 1:42:34 respectively)
Extended Outtakes reel (45:48)- a selection of fairly uninteresting material.
Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn
Limited edition booklet featuring new writing on the film by Ewan Cant (first pressing only and not available for review)