Movie Review #1: The Prey (1984)

Director: Edwin Brown
Nation of Origin: USA
Synopsis: Six backpackers camp out in a vast forest and are picked off by a murderous hermit.

The Prey opens to ghostly imagery, depicting a forest ravaged by smoldering flames. Through the snap and crackle of burning trees, we can hear the heartrending wail of a dying gypsy tribe as they slowly burn to death. Right off the bat, the film delves into the origin of its antagonist, and does so in a human sort of way that we’re unaccustomed to seeing in most obscure horror entries from the ’80s. We could only hope that the rest of the movie will be as heart-pound as this. The disturbing scene eventually fades, segueing into an image of a blood-red moon accompanied by brooding ambient music. It seems like a perfect setup for an ’80s horror flick, one ripe with atmosphere that promises to be dark and possibly brutal.

Mere seconds later, the film stumbles and never recovers. The musical ambiance gives way to a drumming THUDTHUDTHUDTHUD that almost sounds chilling until an orchestra joins the piece. Not just any orchestra, mind, but one seemingly formed of crackheads and speed freaks belting out spastic high notes in an apparent attempt to build Hitchcockian tension. Unlike the music in Alfred’s movies, though, this one is so jarring and obnoxious that it doesn’t play so much as attack you.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the opening credits are terrible enough to scare off most horror fans or bad movie die hards. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the lion’s share of B-movie enthusiasts will sit through the atrocious music with the expectation of further accidental hilarity. All I can say is: don’t hold your breath. Sadly, The Prey doesn’t even rise to that level of quality, especially after the effective intro. Not only does the film go downhill after that, but takes a sheer drop off a cliff, hits the stone wall several times, crashes legs-first in a ravine, and is ripped apart by coyotes while still semi-conscious.

Mostly, The Prey's downfall can be attributed to inept filmmaking, as is evidenced in its first death scene. Here we meet an aged couple eating dinner in the kind of awkward silence that says, “Writing even basic dialog is not my strong suit.” While the lack of speech is not especially bothersome, it doesn't help that it's paired with several useless shots of the couple either chewing or staring off into space. If anything, this brief scene gives you a taste of what to expect for the next seventy or so minutes. Eventually, the woman wanders into the forest where a clunky first-person scene ensues. It's apparent the director wanted to create tension here, but the scene goes on for so long that any tension it may have initially conjured eventually fizzles out. Finally, it culminates in the man screaming, the woman finding his decapitated corpse, and then a shot of an axe descending off screen (likely onto the woman) with such slowness that you'd think the killer was buttering bread.

When I think of horror from the ’80s, one word comes to mind: mayhem. It doesn’t matter if the movie is gory or clean, just give me plenty of insanity and terror, maybe even a little ridiculousness and camp (hey, it worked for TerrorVision), and to hell with these slow-moving axes and chewing old people. But I digress…

From there, the flick shifts into roughly half an hour of pointless footage. It’s in this act that we meet the main entourage, consisting of six backpackers and pretty much no script. They wander through the woods, mutter garbled lines to one another, and do very little to develop their own characters to even a one-dimensional extent seen in less awful horror films. There are even a few strange parts where the camera focuses on a character laughing for seemingly no reason, evidently cutting into the middle of a conversation without giving the audience any sense of context. In between shots of the people mumbling to one another, we’re also treated to random nature stock footage and cuts of a park ranger either singing or telling bad jokes to animals, all in an attempt to pad the film out.

This carries on well into nighttime, when one of the couples shares a sleeping bag and bumps uglies. As with any horror flick, this is an ill omen. At this point that film could redeem itself a little with two effective death scenes back to back, rewarding viewers for the monotonous time spent watching what feels like miles of brain-rotting celluloid. Unfortunately, we should be so lucky. The killer eventually emerges and smothers Depthless Woman Character #1 to death in a tiresome manner that rivals Alien Prey's godawful slow-motion drowning scene. After that, the antagonist catches up to her lover and uses his bare hands to tear the man’s throat out. As grisly as the scene is, any power it holds over the audience is overshadowed by what sounds like a six-year-old messing around on a Casio keyboard.

That’s right, if you thought awful music only existed in the early phases of this flick, you were dead wrong. From here, the movie’s terrible synthesizer-based score gains more of a presence and, like the opening theme, serves more to annoy than to build atmosphere.

The second half of the movie plays out much the same as the first: more footage of arbitrary animals, more pointless muttering from shallow characters, more first-person stalking, more dull deaths, and finally an ending. If you haven’t passed out or turned the movie off by this point, then you’ll catch a semi-decent conclusion, but one that doesn’t justify nearly an hour worth of abysmal horror film before it.

I don’t always look for complicated stories and deep characters when watching horror movies. In the case of films intended for grindhouses and drive-ins, all I ask for is a little fun, a lot of action, and at least passable filmmaking. Unfortunately, The Prey doesn’t feature any of those. It’s about seventy minutes worth of filler used to pad out maybe ten minutes worth of relevant film. More than anything, it feels like a student movie that someone stretched out to feature length, and more to the film’s detriment than benefit.

Rating: 1.5/10