Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Prey


**


The Prey (1984) isn’t the kind of slasher the genre’s ardent fans will be expecting or perhaps liking, mainly because its intentions are a little different than something like Friday the 13th which establishes a formula sort-of started in Carpenter’s Halloween. Admittedly, I grow tired of going  back to this when talking slashers, but I just always feel inclined to reiterate that certain films weren’t concerned with copying or mimicking the formula Friday the 13th would utilize and inspire countless knock-offs and imitators. The Prey have young adults in their early 20s (I would say around 20 or 21 is what we are led to believe they are aged) camping in the wilderness nearby where an older couple were ax murdered (the man is beheaded with squirting blood from the neck where the head used to be, while her death is hinted but not shown); the man’s pipe had been dropped during the attack and the group use to it to pass around weed-smoking! Still, the sex is tame and there's zero nudity despite a subtle hint of tit during a bikini top removal while one of the girls sunbathes. But this is very much a wilderness camping trip disrupted by a killer. More closer to something like The Forest (absent the ghost kids), where location is very important, The Prey isn't a total formula slasher.

Meanwhile, we are provided a ton of “critters footage”, heart beats on the soundtrack, and a first-perspective view from the eyes of someone looking at them from a distance. So we know that someone dangerous is in the woods and prior to the campers arriving to the wilderness this killer is for some reason egged on by a past traumatic event involving a large fire. At about 80 minutes, the basics of the plot would make up a short film so the added footage of spiders, bears, insects and the like makes sense as padding and as a way to orchestrate the environment the characters inhabit. The people in the film aren’t the only ones in the woods…this is, after all, a refuge and home to those critters and animals not the characters we are introduced to (besides the park ranger). What we do know is that those together around a campfire learning about the scary story of The Monkey’s Paw will be visited upon by a psychopath they have no inkling is among them.

One of the obvious choices to bite the dust first is the long-blond haired, blue-eyed princess applying make-up and concerned about her looks in the middle of the woods with five other buds who could care less (besides her boyfriend, certain to be the heir to a fortune). The use of a sleeping bag and eerie silence as she fights and perishes while her beau is off looking for what caused the very noise now murdering her is equal parts odd and unsettling. Then her boyfriend has his throat mangled by some type of gloved claw as the camera focuses on an owl just in the area on a tree limb (the only party to what has happened besides killer and prey). The “warning beacon” goes off as the second murder happens as a type of awakening to the immediate kill. All that accompanied the silence as his girl was suffocated was the sound of crickets as her legs kicked and arms flailed. Not the most go-for-the-jugular kills but I have to say I found them somewhat effective.

In Just Before Dawn, the ranger is played by George Kennedy who describes “the mountain” as dangerous and evil. In fact he warns the young adults in this film to remain out of the mountain, warning that the mountain should be stayed off of because a deed won’t keep it from harming them and doesn’t adhere to a written document giving them ownership. They don’t heed his advice and most suffer because of it. Similarly, The Prey has a killer living within the wilderness unstable and dangerous. Young adults are entering his domain unaware of his trauma and psychopathy. Like the “mountain” of Just Before Dawn, The Prey offers an evil living within its idyll, a danger that isn’t necessarily a bear or snake, but a human animal that is just as primal and able to strike violently uninvited. We receive a backstory regarding a group of gypsies burned alive and how one of their number barely survived, a young boy himself horribly bodily damaged by the fire. It is enough to give us a killer and the resulting trauma of this event that sparks the homicidal impulses that encourage his psychopathy.

To me, the film’s best scene involves the heroic park ranger who discovers the decomposing body of the princess as the carcass is being gnawed on by buzzards. He is tormented by this as flashbacks of the dead girl alive and quite pretty alternating in his mind with what he now sees, as the buzzards look on from above on a tree branch waiting for him to leave so they can continue their feast. It lays out to us what "the evil" does to those intruding upon its home, the effects left behind after "the evil" is through with its victims, and how mother nature feeds from them once "the evil" leaves them to rot.

As the final minutes (the climax where we see the deformed human beast) erupt, the terror scenario kicks into high gear. The mountain-climbing buddies—deciding their missing members perhaps took a hike—have no idea that on top of the mountain they plan to descend is the killer. While their girls sunbath in bikinis, the climbers suffer a neck twist to the first victim (looking down as his pal scales down the peak) and cut rope causing the second victim to fall to his doom. Then the girlfriends (one who is Lori Lethin from Bloody Birthday (1980)) realize what happened to the guys and run for their lives. Lethin catches her foot in a rope trap that hurls her upside down and face-first into a tree. Our hero, the ranger, shoots the killer with a tranquilizer dart and yet it incapacitates him merely briefly. This bit of implausibility (as well as how fast the killer gets down the mountain) does take away from the ending, but it is still unnerving considering what we are told happens to the final girl alive.

Even at 80 minutes, The Prey may test the patience of slasher fans who want the pace and the kills to locomotive along so they don’t get bored. That simply isn’t the case here. The film is glacial almost and particularly cares about putting over the location. Its beauty is unquestionable—at times quite tranquil and serene—full of sun that often radiates, green, blue clouds, peaks that reach great distances, and waterfall that gushes as the group take this all in happily. Then this very place yields its horror and all are polluted by the killer that lives within it. I’m not of that critique that considers The Prey one of the worst slashers of the 80s, but I consider it a middle-of-the-pack, forgettable effort that just doesn’t have enough to brush aside the best the genre has to offer. Still, I think it is fair and not all that bad. This could have been a lot worse. The make-up is suspect, the violence quite lo-fi, and the killer a bit laughable; but, the place and how the killer surprises his victims are positives to take away from The Prey.


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I had a fun dialogue with a young lady I work with about the rather hilarious scenes particularly in romantic comedies and action genre wher...

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