A lesser known gem from the 80s slasher craze, “The Prey” is a Camp Crystal Lake copycat that manages to stand out from the pack as a pretty solid film.
The Prey (1984) is a good example of the average Friday the 13th inspired horror film. To be honest, it is almost the exact same movie as the 1982 American slasher film The Forest, directed, written, edited and produced by Don Jones. That film, which I reviewed a few years ago on my personal blog, was shot in Sequoia National Park in California in 1981.
The Prey also shares a great deal in common with another 80s slasher film, Memorial Valley Massacre (aka Valley of Death, Memorial Day, and Son of Sleepaway Camp) from 1988, directed by Robert C. Hughes. All of these films came out during the heyday of the slasher film craze and take advantage of the typical tropes of the sub genre we’ve come to know and love.
Create the “80’s horror movie” checklist here with me:
- A group of six attractive teenagers go camping in the wilderness (check one).
- There’s an old forest ranger who saw something creepy years ago, a lone weirdo who was burned and wandering around the woods alone. He warns the campers about the impending danger, and naturally they don’t listen (check two).
- The group of six teens gets all hot and heavy on their first night in the woods (check three).
- The next morning, two of them go missing (check four). Could it have to do with the perspective shots that play every once in a while, accompanied by the sound of a beating heart?
Along with perspective shots, there are also plenty of pseudo-artsy shots of animals in relative close up, with bizarre music playing to accompany them. Ants scurrying, along with worms, snakes, beetles, etc. The best scene was when a park ranger comes across a vulture eating a dead body. Inter-cutting his anguished face, we see the body the vulture was feasting on, the vulture itself, and back and forth again and again. Meanwhile, strange music is blasting, and the eerie noise building. It is simply glorious.
The campers in this case are Nancy, Joel, Bobbie, Skip, Gail and Greg — mostly unknown actors, but Bobbie is played by lesser known 80’s scream queen Lori Lethin. They all do a remarkably good job selling the part, being both sympathetic while having the necessary character defects to make them worthy of getting hacked to pieces later.
Once they’re out in the woods, it certainly looks nice. Filmed in the San Jacinto mountains, it’s very beautiful wilderness.
As a film, THE PREY was really good. It had a nice linear flow, and the characters were not as two dimensional as other films. There is downtime where the characters are allowed to interact, and it’s all realistic feeling and honest. The sense of curiosity builds slowly. As we watch the film unfold, there is a genuine wonder as to what will happen next.
Additionally, The Prey is well paced. Being that it is only 77 minutes long, it moves at a brisk pace and never gets boring. In terms of horror definitions, I would file The Prey under slasher. For the most part, the kills in the film were not shown, so it’s not a gorefest. Keeping the violence and blood downplayed made the other focuses of the film stand out more.
There is a fantastic sequence where The Monster (so billed in the credits) watches two of the campers take on some rock climbing. One starts to climb down a cliff while the other watches, and we can sense the impending doom building — creating an atmospheric tension that is genuinely creepy.
Another thing done really well in The Prey is the decision to save the audience a full view of The Monster until the very end. No spoilers here, but I was thrilled that it was Carel Struycken (Twin Peaks) in a small role.
The Prey is a really great standalone film from the golden age of VHS horror. In another dimension, maybe this film would have received the half a dozen or so sequels other slasher staples received. If you’re inclined to seek this one out, you can find the full film for free on YouTube right here.