For some reason, old Hollywood actors often show up in slashers. Jackie Coogan, whose career stretched from silent films to playing Uncle Fester on The Addams Family to, well, The Prey appears in this, his last film. Coogan also was the reason for the California Child Actors Bill, the first known legal protection for the earnings of child performers, which is better known as the Coogan Act.
The Prey didn’t play theaters until nearly four years after it was made. It was created by the husband and wife team of Edwin and Summer Brown, who had previously worked on the video nasty Human Experiments. This was their first non-adult movie.
Back in the late 1940’s, a fire raged through the Rocky Mountains and wiped out a family of gypsies that all lived in a cave. Of course, one of them survived.
It all starts with two old people getting killed as they cook around a campfire. Then, the film alternates between an increasingly intense pace and long stretches of nature footage that was supposed to prove the difference between killer and his prey, but also padded the film so it had a decent run time.
Let’s meet our teen couples. There’s Nancy and Joel, played by Debbie Thureson and Steve Bond, who we all know better as Travis Abilene from Picasso Trigger. Here’s Bobbie and Skip, played by Lori Lethin from Bloody Birthday and Robert Waid from Summer Camp. Finally, we have Greg and Gail, who are played by Philip Wenckus in his lone acting role and Gayle Gannes from Human Experiments.
They’re helped on their camping trip by hunky ranger Mark O’Brien (Jackson Bostick, Shazam! himself!) and crusty older ranger Lester Tole (Coogan). Gail’s convinced before too long that someone is watching them and before you can say Jason Vorhees, she’s dead and so is Greg.
That burned up gypsy boy goes after everyone with a real vengeance, including a scene where he leaves Gail and Greg’s bodies for the vultures, a moment that’s poignantly intercut with the group’s first meeting.
I love the ending of this film, where it feels like Ranger Mark has taken out the clawed and disfigured killing machine, only to have his neck snapped as if it were nothing. Then, the killer slowly approaches Nancy and caresses her hair.
After some nature footage — get ready for so much nature footage — we move several months into the future, where we see the cave where the killer’s family died in the fire and hear the cries of a baby. Now that’s dark.
The monster in this is played by Carel Struycken who would go on to play not just Lurch in the modern Addams Family movies, but also the Giant in Twin Peaks.
You can grab the Arrow Video re-issue of this film from Diabolik DVD. It’s packed with all manner of extras, from cast Q and A’s to a tour of the shooting locations. It even has two cuts of the film: the U.S. theatrical cut and the so-called gypsy cut with the extended beginning. You can run a composite cut of the film so you get the ultimate version of the film. Plus, there’s an audience reaction track from this year’s Texas Frightmare so that you can pretend you’re sitting with a rabid crowd!
Seeing as how this was shot around the same time as Friday the 13th, it may have been seen as imitator when originally released, but it totally stands on its own. After all, what movie has a better tagline? “It’s not human and it’s got an axe!”