Rambling About The Prey (1984)
February 04, 2017

Six twenty-somethings travel into the densest part of the woods so they can, ahem, pitch some tents. Little do they realize that a disfigured hermit stalks the grounds, bumping off anyone who humps in his woods. Truly, 1984's The Prey is high quality filmmaking that explores a serious contemporary issue: young'uns picking dumb places to bump uglies.

I will say, though, that The Prey doesn't waste any time in getting creepy, or at very least trying too hard to be such. It begins with a mellow, ambient theme that'll spook your socks off..... until the tempo picks up. Ambiance gives way to awesome, booming drums and a vicious assault on your ears. With violins. Can we make a portmanteau out of this? Violicious? Whoever wrote the score absolutely wanted you to know you're watching a horror movie, utilizing one of the most forced string instrument-laden theme songs I've heard.

Once the noise subsides, the movie cuts to one of its only effective scenes. The camera pans over a burning forest, and in the distance you can make out ghostly moaning. Screams of pain, torture and sorrow echo throughout the woods, though not a soul can be seen. Cue villain origin story.

It all comes together later when a police officer named Lester delivers the intel on this cryptic prelude. The antagonist is the sole survivor of this incident. He and his Romani brethren had a camp set up there in the woods, and it burned to the ground. Surviving such an intense ordeal damaged not only his body, but his mind. The trauma transformed him into a enraged killer. Regardless of the VHS box's claim that the antagonist isn't human (the tagline reads "It's not human, and it's got an axe!"), The Prey's big bad is as homo sapien as you get.

Because one introductory scene isn't enough, the film transitions to a middle aged couple eating and staring at their campfire. It's an enthralling scene that goes something like this:

Man: Good chow [chewing]
Woman: Mmmm... [drinking, chewing]
Woman: [chewing]
Man: [chewing]
Woman: [chewing]
Man: [chewing, nods]

It continues longer than it ought to, then segues into the two of them going about their chores. The man decides to chop woods in the pitch darkness, and the woman commences cleaning. And by "cleaning," I mean "lots of monotonous footage of walking and first-person views of the villain doing fuck all but staring at her while his heart thumps loudly." The killer was apparently on the verge of a heart attack.

Eventually, the man screams and the woman rushes to his aid, only to find him decapitated (KILL #1). I'll give the actress this: she belts out one hell of a scream and gives a fitting facial response. I can't stand when characters find their loved ones dead and only cut a weak whimper accompanied by a slightly concerned face. Sadly, our lady--who was most likely named Joyce or Ellen or Martha or Cathy--similarly bites the dust. The camera cuts to an axe held aloft by an off-screen assailant, it descends a couple of times and that's that (KILL #2).

Now, cue horny twenty-somethings. Honestly, there isn't much going on for the next half-hour or so. If you're watching on YouTube, I recommend clicking on the 37 minute mark and continuing from there. Or better yet, click the X in the upper right hand corner. You're better off doing that, trust me.

You see, for the next thirty minutes, this is what you'll witness:

  • The main entourage throwing out disposable--and almost certainly ad libbed--lines that establish nothing.
  • Numerous bits of nature stock footage.
  • A park ranger telling bad jokes to a deer.
  • The same park ranger, for no reason at all, strumming his banjo and singing. Again, THIS. ESTABLISHES. NOTHING.

I've always wanted to peak at the The Prey's script so I can see how much the writer actually penned. Every minute of this film that isn't devoted to someone dying in a horrible manner is just padding. We see actors walking and mumbling, then a centipede crawling on the ground, then the actors laughing, then a bird eating another animal, then the park ranger being irritating, then a raccoon, then....

This occurs until night falls, then the cycle changes up a little: actors singing around a fire, an owl, actors doing camping stuff, a snake eating a mouse, a poorly told ghost story, and then finally they shove off to bed. Two of them start boning in a sleeping bag before the girl says she can hear someone stalking them. Annoyed, her boyfriend goes to check it out. Meanwhile, the killer takes advantage of the distraction and smothers her to death.

He very.......very......slowly.....smothers her to death (KILL #3).

One interesting tidbit: immediately after the first girl bites it, the flick cuts to the ranger setting a drink down and staring off into space, then goes right back to the forest. WTF, editing department?

Cut back to the dude. His lantern burns out, and the killer sneaks up behind and him and rips his throat out (KILL #4.), complete with obnoxious REEET! REEET! REEET! Thank goodness for that forced music. How else would I have known a spurting neck wound is shocking and gruesome?

From there, The Prey resumes in predictable fashion. More stock footage and empty dialogue until the two remaining men decide to embark on some outdoor activities. One rappels down a rock wall while the other spots him. The killer emerges and twists the spotter's head all the way around (KILL #5), then cuts the rope and sends the climber to his death (KILL #6).

By now, the park ranger is wise to the villain's murder spree. He finds Kill #3's body, plus he hears #6 scream before splattering, as do the remaining girls. A tense scene ensues in which the two ladies flee from the antagonist. Sadly, it concludes with one of them catching her ankle in a snare that sends her flying face-first into a tree (KILL #7). Her friend mourns her passing as the killer closes in, but the park ranger runs to the rescue.

...only to be strangled to death (KILL #8).

By this point, you might've just woken up. Somewhere between the nine minute mark and one hour in, the sleeper hold The Prey slapped upon you should have taken effect. You'd be awakening in time to see the thrilling conclusion. The killer nabs the girl, then the movie treats us to more stock footage. Finally, we see a cave in the middle of nowhere while a baby's laugh echoes from its innards. You see? He only wanted what the other twenty-somethings wanted all along.

Now, be thankful this dreadful slasher is over.

Useless facts:
-The Prey was shot in 1978, but didn't see the light of day until 1984.
-Jackie Coogan appears as the cop, Lester, who gives us the backstory. He also previous played Uncle Fester on the Addams Family series. On the flip side, Carel Struycken plays the antagonist. He would later play Lurch in the Addams Family films of the '90s.

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