Editor’s Note: Bill Van Ryn, the man, the myth, and the legend behind Groovy Doom and Drive-In Asylum contributed this November 15, 2020, review when we unpacked Mill Creek’s Sci-Fi Invasion box set. We’re bringing it back for our “Norman J. Warren Week” of reviews.
Norman J. Warren’s unique brand of low budget bat shittery is all over the damn place. While not always totally satisfying (I’m looking at you, Inseminoid), when he’s hot, he’s hot. 1977’s alien freakout Prey is one of the hot ones. It’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach blends elements of D. H. Lawrence’s The Fox, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a dash of Night of the Living Dead thrown in for the hell of it, and this is no accident — the script was being written while filming was progressing, with Warren taking on the project based on the premise alone.
And oh, what a premise. Prey gives us the story of an alien creature who arrives on Earth in a spaceship (unseen by us, other than a colored light show that could have just been a groovy light from Spencer gifts) and immediately encounters two Earth people who are having a romantic tryst in a parked car. He murders both of them, assuming the identity of the man, whose name is Anderson. This being capable of interstellar travel uses a futuristic walkie talkie to communicate with some home base (apparently off-world, which…wow! That’s some wi-fi!), and appears to be on a mission to observe us in our natural habitat. He also likes to eat meat, and that’s it. Total carnivore, this alien.
He moves on and discovers a large secluded estate nearby, where lovers Jessica and Josephine are living an isolated life together. They encounter some mutilated rabbits, which Jo attributes to the work of a fox. They also find our space-hopping buddy “Anderson” (wink wink), seemingly injured, and even though Jo reacts with immediate total hostility, Jessica is excited to finally get someone to talk to other than Jo, who is suspiciously dedicated to making sure Jessica never, ever goes anywhere on her own. They take him back to the house and allow him to stay, which turns out to be a really bad idea on so many levels.
I adore the fact that this movie is so low budget that it doesn’t even attempt to present any convincing alien technology, but it does have some built-in style that expensive effects could never buy. The manor where most of the action takes place is a fantastic location, with wooded areas bathed in muted green and overcast skies — this is England, after all — and amid all these earth tones are a few scenes with shockingly bright red gore. And for sheer “What the hell am I watching?” kicks, just wait until you see the weird slo-mo scene where Anders and the women roll around screaming in a shallow pond. There’s something almost S.F. Brownrigg about Warren’s work, despite their visual style being different. They both have the ability to create a memorable atmosphere in their films, despite having no visible budgetary advantages.
Anderson mostly stumbles around in a daze, acting like he has no idea what parrots are, or plants, or why people bring them into their homes for decoration. He doesn’t know any locations, either, claiming to be from London after he hears one of the women suggest it. When they press him for his first name, he says “Anders”. His hostesses serve him a vegetarian dinner — Jo goes total OG meatless preachy on him — but he responds by vomiting and rushing out of the house to find some more animals to mutilate for dinner. He also doesn’t know anything about sex, and he spies curiously on Jessica and Josephine having screaming sex together. Jo develops a theory that Anders is an escapee from a local mental institution, and later on we come to realize she may have been doing some projecting when she came up with this idea.
That’s one of the interesting things about this weird movie, there is actually an intriguing relationship between these two women, and the script ends up surprising us about one of them, but it exists uncomfortably alongside the fact that one of the characters is a flesh-eating alien, which sort of steals the spotlight. For this reason, I suggest multiple viewings of Prey. In fact, it should be a tradition.
* Be sure to check our “Exploring: Amityville” feature where we look at all of the legit Amityville films — and even more of its bogus sequels.