‘It’s not human, and it’s got an axe!’
The Prey is a 1980 American horror film directed by Edwin Scott Brown from a screenplay written with his spouse Summer Brown (the latter also produced). It was very briefly released to cinemas in 1984 by New World Pictures when the company had been sold by Roger Corman.
Debbie Thureson, Steve Bond (Massacre at Central High, To Die For), Lori Lethin (Return to Horror High, Werewolf TV series), Robert Wald, Gayle Gannes (Human Experiments), Philip Wenckus, Jackson Bostwick (The Psychopath, What Waits Below, The Outing), Jackie Coogan (Halloween with the New Addams Family), Connie Hunter (Something Evil) and Garry Goodrow (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978, Eating Raoul, Once Bitten). Future adult movie star John Leslie has an uncredited role as a gypsy.
Don Peake (The Hills Have Eyes, 1977) provided the score except for the opening credits which are accompanied by Modest Mussorgsky’s classical piece ‘Night on Bald Mountain‘ (also used for the 1972 British film Asylum).
The deep, dark forest has always been an ideal setting for slasher flicks, hasn’t it? From Don’t Go in the Woods to The Forest to I Spit On Your Grave to, of course, summer-camp fare like Friday the 13th, Sleepaway Camp, The Burning, etc. the formula is a simple, yet effective, one — throw a bunch of city folks out in the sticks and bad things happen to them. They’re out of their element, while the killer is most certainly in his, so there’s never any question about who’s got the upper hand and who’s gotta fight to (temporarily, in most cases) survive. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it works. Why mess with a good thing?
In 1980, former (and future) skin flick director Edwin Brown figured he might as well throw his hat into the horror ring and show he could make a backwoods slasher, as well, since everybody else seemed to be doing it — and making a tidy little profit in the process. With a little bit of money (under $50,000 apparently) to go out to the wilds of Utah to see what he could come up with. The end result is The Prey, one of the slowest, most hopelessly padded, most agonisingly repetitive entries in the entire “country killer stalks the city slickers” canon, yet also a remarkably interesting one — albeit for all the wrong reasons.
Here’s the deal: in 1948 in a remote area of the Keen Wild known as the North Point Woods, there was a forest fire. Some unnamed dude evidently got burned up pretty bad in it, and now, in 1980, seemingly out of nowhere, he’s out for blood. Fortunately for him, a half-dozen semi-virile late-teens/early-20s types (none of whom are played by anyone I recognise) show up, so he can start his killing spree good and proper. There ain’t much blood, there ain’t much by way of even partial nudity, and there definitely ain’t anything fitting any standard definition of the word “riveting” going on.
And that’s about it as far as the plot goes. Here’s where things get (forgive me for abusing the term) intriguing, though — Brown (along with — I think, at any rate — his wife, Summer, who co-wrote the screenplay) had so much time to kill that to even hit the 80-minute mark he resorts to some truly mind-blowing shit in order to stretch the proceedings out.
How mind-blowing, you rightly ask? How about tons and tons of stock footage of various critters in the wild that looks like it’s culled from literally dozens of different National Geographic specials? Seriously, there’s spiders, lizards, frogs, snakes — even bleeding caterpillars and centipedes — shown for countless minutes on end doing pretty much nothing. And if that’s not enough for ya, the single-longest scene in the flick involves one of the two forest rangers we meet telling a joke about a frog with an unusually wide mouth — to a deer! Yes. Really.
If you’re still in the mood for even more blatant stuffing of the run-time’s ballot box, though, fear not — there are also a bunch of pointless scenes of go-nowhere conversation around campfires, and, in a truly bizarre instance, a lengthy discussion about the culinary merits of cucumber-and-cream-cheese sandwiches. It all becomes so staggeringly mundane that it almost borders on the exotic.
I believe the word we’re looking for here, friends, is surreal. And speaking of surreal, this movie’s Addams Family connections are just that. The forest ranger mentioned a minute ago who can’t get enough cuke sandwiches? He’s played by Jackie Coogan, better known as Uncle Fester from the TV series, and our “hideously” malformed killer (made up by a very-early-in-his-career John Carl Buechler) — who, curiously enough for a film with absolutely nothing going on doesn’t even show up on screen until about the final ten minutes or so — is portrayed by Carel Struycken, who would go on to play Lurch in Barry Sonnenfeld’s two Addams Family movies. How weird is that?
Still, probably weirdest of all is the fact that there apparently exists an even longer, 95-minute cut of this film out there someplace. Don’t ask me what sort of extra filler that might be weighed down with, since by the time Thorn/EMI released this on VHS about a year after its almost-certainly-brief theatrical run (I’ve never met anybody who’s seen this thing on the big screen, have you? Nor could I find a single image of its poster anywhere online — but New World did, for a fact, put this out theatrically — somewhere) it had been mercifully pared down to the still-way-longer-than-it-has-any-business-being version most of us remember (to the extent that any of us remember it at all).
It’s never been released on DVD, so I’ll leave you with a link to the VHS cut that some enterprising horror fan has slapped up for posterity on YouTube. Be prepared for the longest hour and twenty minutes of your life. But not, curiously enough, the dullest.
Ryan, C, HORRORPEDIA – guest reviewer via Trash Film Guru
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