In case you didn’t already know, the woods are a pretty scary place. Nature enthusiasts and campers would be better finding a nice all-inclusive resort for unwinding. And horror movies have been warning us to stay out of the woods for a long time. From Norway’s Lake of the Dead to The Blair Witch Project, unsuspecting campers and hikers have found nothing but unhappy endings in the wilderness. When Friday the 13th blew up box office expectations, a flurry of horror movies looked to capitalize on the terrifying feeling of being isolated in the woods with a killer stalking you. Some of these movies were good – The Burning. Others were terrible – Don’t Go In The Woods. Similarly-themed 80s slasher movie, The Prey, may fit in either category, depending on who you ask.
Years ago a wildfire raged through a national park killing a community of gypsies. Now a group of teenagers have returned to the park for a weekend getaway. All they want to do is hike, camp, and do some mountain climbing. But when they venture into the park’s north section, they quickly learn that there are a lot of different predators waiting in the woods.
The Prey … Slasher Movie, Or Nature Documentary?
Let’s start with the silver-lining – The Prey isn’t as bad as Don’t Go in the Woods. At the very least, this slasher movie is mostly watchable. Sadly, The Prey doesn’t have much else going for it. Among its problems, writer and director Edwin Brown doesn’t really know what to do with the concept. A derivative horror movie is fine so long as it can entertain and deliver the goods. But Brown paces a familiar story – even by 1981 – at a glacial pace like he’s making Oscar bait. With a simple set-up, The Prey simply dawdles too much in the absence of a story with much substance. There’s little in the way of suspense or atmosphere to fill the void between scenes where actual stuff happens. Instead Brown includes what appears to be a lot of stock wildlife footage to seemingly remind us that predators abound in the woods.
But Brown paces a familiar story – even by 1981 – at a glacial pace like he’s making Oscar bait.
There’s also plenty of scenes that badly needed editing. While there’s not much slashing in this slasher, you’ll find find plenty of scenes featuring characters doing nothing that dwindle on for awkwardly long stretches. Every once in a while, Brown remembers he’s making a slasher movie. Unfortunately, Brown then struggles to overcome the movie’s low budget. Most of scenes feel awkwardly staged including a classic 80s slow-motion scene with no pay off. Some diehard 80s horror fans will appreciate The Prey’s final act. Its ending may chill some viewers; most fans will think it’s too little, too late.
The Prey Fails to Fully Utilize Decent Make-Up Effects
If there’s a highlight to The Prey it’s John Carl Buechler’s special make-up effects. Following his work on The Prey, Buechler would work on much more high profile work, like Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master, and Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Though he doesn’t get many opportunities to show off his work, Buechler’s brief gore effects are much better than what you’d expect to see in a movie with this kind of budget. Even we don’t to see much of the killer, Buechler’s effects still hold up.
At times, one has to wonder if the killer is ever going to make an appearance in their own movie.
And speaking of the killer, The Prey really misses its mark. At times, one has to wonder if the killer is ever going to make an appearance in their own movie. Brown and his co-writer and wife, Summer Brown, introduce an origin that never factors into the movie. As a result, The Prey’s killer ends up being a benign and almost perfunctory part of the movie. The rest of the cast is perfectly fine for this sort of movie. None of the performances are so bad as to detract from the movie. But there’s something sad knowing The Prey represented ‘Golden Age’ Hollywood child actor Jackie Coogan’s last role.
The Prey Isn’t the Worst Camping Horror Movie, But That’s Not Saying Much
Some might say it’s unfair to pick on The Prey, which is clearly a low-budget effort. But here’s the thing – a lot of big budget movies are bad for some of the same reasons. And you don’t need a lot of money to write even a basically engaging movie that follows some sort of internally consistent logic. Some of the best horror movies of all time were low-budget, independent efforts. Aside from a couple of effectively gory death scenes, The Prey is a boring, inept rehash of camping horror movies. From inexplicably lingering camera shots to the frequent use of stock wildlife footage, The Prey is all filler, little killer.