The 1980s were a great time for horror movies in general and slasher flicks in particular. With the advent of home video and the booming popularity of video rental stores, there was suddenly a need for more and more videos to stock those shelves. Lots of studios specializing in cheaply made, straight-to-video movies sprung up overnight. Horror fans are a motley lot and easily amused. They are not known for snobbish attitudes, willing to take a chance (and often enjoy) films of lower budget and artistic caliber. As long as the film has plenty of violence, at least some blood-soaked gore (and perhaps a little T&A), they are usually satisfied. This is absolutely perfect for film houses like New World Pictures that specialized in no-budget horror flicks that were low on sophistication but high on sleaze.
By and large, the slasher boom of the ‘80s produced large helpings of dreck, but if you are willing to dig through the rubble, there are more than a few gems to be found. If you stumble upon The Prey in your digging, keep looking. It is an absolute bore. There are very few kills, and those are unimaginative, poorly shot, and low on the violence scale. The acting is bad, the script non-existent, and it so ridiculously dull.
I didn’t set a timer, but I’d guess that about 1/4th of the 80-minute run time is taken up by long nature shots. There are shots of the moon and stars. Shots of the mountains. Shots of the trees and the animals. Shots of snakes eating other animals. It's as if Terrence Malick made a low-budget slasher film during his hiatus in the ‘80s. Or more likely they didn’t shoot enough footage and instead found a lot of stock nature footage to pad the run time.
In fact, when the film was sold to the international market, some now-forgotten director cut out some of the nature footage and added in a lengthy backstory to the killer featuring a band of gypsies and lots of casual sex. It doesn’t improve on the film in any way, but it makes for a fun extra on this Arrow Video release.
In the original cut, the film begins with a forest fire in the Rocky Mountains and a narrator noting that a band of gypsies was decimated by it back in the 1950s. In the present day (which was 1980), a band of attractive young people head up to those same mountains for a little camping adventure. If you’ve never seen a slasher film before, then I have to tell you that one by one the campers are murdered by some unknown figure. If you are a fan of the genre, then you know how this plays out.
It is a very shaggy film. Beyond the nature footage, there is scene after scene of rambling nonsense. When the campers arrive, they sit around the campfire telling stories. One guy tells a not very funny joke but the rest just sort of talk without much form or point to their talking. It is as if the director told them to improvise but didn’t realize none of the actors are very good at improvising. The volume is turned down so low that it is difficult to hear what they are saying anyway, and more nature scenes are intercut with their talking as to make it all incomprehensible. Afterward, they each go to their own corner of the forest for a little sexing. One couple gets it on admirably. Another finds the girl making the guy beg for it and the third pair fight over the guy scaring the girl in an earlier scene.
Eventually, the killer comes to do his business which involves dragging the blonde girl out of her sleeping bag and then…nothing. The kill happens off-screen. Later, we see her dead body, but it is hardly mutilated. Look, I hate to be the guy who complains about not enough graphic violence in my movies, but if you are making a low-budget horror film, you need to do something to keep me watching. When everything else is this bad, I need me some bloody violence.
It eventually comes down to the Final Girl. There is a bit of a twist that was amusing, but that one quirk does not a good movie make.
I can see why the international distributors thought the film needed a little more, but the killer's back story really isn’t it. The original cut is very vague on who the killer is and why he’s doing it. That little intro with the gypsies dying in the fire is really it. We have to assume it was a surviving gypsy that is doing the killing, but it really doesn’t matter. Who watches a slasher film for the killer’s motivation anyways? The new scenes explain to us in agonizing detail that some townies got mad at the gypsies who just moved in, scared that they will rape their woman-folk. When one gypsy does get to sexing a pretty townie (she comes willingly, but when the husband finds out, she cries "rape") that town goes mad and burns the forest down. The scenes are long and dull but do up the naked breast count significantly if that’s your kind of thing. Ultimately, it's like the filmmakers decided to take slasher in the forest genre and see how many ways they could do it wrong.
Arrow Video has done its usual job making excellent releases out of terrible films. They’ve restored it from the original film negatives in 2K. It includes both the original U.S. cut and the International version with the extra gypsy footage, plus a Composite cut combing footage from both cuts. There are a couple of audio commentaries, new interviews with the actors, and a revisit to the film's location in California. Plus there is a 45-minute outtakes reel, trailers, the full script embedded on the disk, and a nice booklet with an essay and full-color photos. Oh, and it is a limited release with only 3,000 disks going to market.