The Prey is an odd film that will definitely not appeal to everyone. A slasher film with not much actual slashing in it and a story that could charitably be described as “sparse” or less charitably as “barely even there”.
Coming from the fine folks at Arrow Films, this new 2-disc release is a 2k remaster of the original film and for your money you get not just one, not two, but three different versions of the film. The US release, the international release and the composite/fan edit which attempts to marry the two versions up. Also included is the usual raft of special features that have now become standard with any Arrow release, including outtakes, interviews, trailer spots, commentary tracks and more. Hats off to Arrow, they’re great at finding these obscure movies and somehow managing to amass a huge collection of additional information about them. But is that all worth the effort here? Well, that’s a harder sell.
The Prey tells the story of three couples who go hiking in the wilderness and how they end up brutally murdered by a horribly mutilated gypsy child who grew up alone in the woods and seems to have some real problems with people camping anywhere in the forest. That’s the core of the entire story and that’s just fine. Slasher movies don’t have to have a particularly complex plot. Audiences come for the blood and gore, but in this instance audiences might be justifiably confused by what they see here.
Quite a few of the kills are off-screen, or the camera is looking away so there’s no detail, and most of the action is kept till the very end of the film. That being said, what few practical effects that are on display are very nicely done. Kudos must be given to the makeup applied to our killer, especially to his hands, which are disturbingly realistic, even by today’s standards.
This film has two main problems: pacing and editing. There is a staggering amount of what could be described as filler. Scenes will frequently be interrupted by the camera cutting away to show some random shots of wildlife. One scene is repeatedly broken up by shots of insects and snakes and random birds and this happens all the way through the film with no apparent rhyme or reason. There is also an extended scene of one character tuning a banjo and then playing it. Does it have anything to do with the story? Nope! Does it add anything to the character in any meaningful way? Double Nope! There is also an extended scene of two people eating dinner which apparently includes the infamous “orgasm cake” from The Matrix: Reloaded if their expressions are anything to go by. This is then followed by an extended scene of a man lighting a pipe and it is of CRITICAL IMPORTANCE that we must watch every moment of this.
The most laughable part of blatant runtime padding comes near the end of the film when two of the characters encounter the monster. One of them is paralysed by fear and the other begins backing towards her… and backing… and backing… for a full thirty seconds. Thirty seconds of a character slowly backing across the screen while the camera tracks her. Truly riveting stuff.
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The editing is also just odd and disjointed. One scene has the boys chatting about how they intend to seduce their girlfriends into some outdoor snu-snu, but it keeps cutting away to watching the killer setting a rope trap. Back to the boys. Back to the killer. Back to the boys. Back to the killer. There are random cutaways, as mentioned above, to shots of wildlife, or of scenery, or the killer wandering through the woods accompanied by only his heartbeat or a musical sting that’s so familiar to any fan of Hitchcock that it’s surprising they got away with it without some lawyers sniffing around.
Is The Prey a bad film? No, certainly not. The characters are fun to watch, the killer is interesting and if you happen to be in the mood for a more meandering story then this is certainly going to scratch that particular itch. But it is slow, glacially slow, and if you were to remove all the padding from the film you’d likely be left with only forty minutes or so of actual plot where something relevant happens. This is further exacerbated in the international release which adds thirty minutes of new content in the form of what is little more than a gypsy romance/soft core porn movie. It grinds everything to a halt and instead goes on to supposedly tell the story of our killer’s parents and what happened to them before the film began. The problem is that it’s clichéd and seems more interested in seeing what it can get away with in terms of titillation instead of storytelling.
But then it’s no stranger than a whole scene dedicated to the love story between one man and his banjo.
The Prey is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.