Go back far enough, and every forest and every mountain has a story; an area of astonishing natural beauty, it was in 1948 that a fire swept through the North Point section of the Keen Wild national forest in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, destroying the encampment of gypsies who lived in the area with apparently no survivors.
In the summer of 1980 the events of that night are little more than a campfire tale for the six friends who are hiking in the area, three couples, Nancy and Joel, Bobbie and Skip, and Greg and Gail; warned of bears in the area by park ranger Mark O’Brien, the real threat is more sinister, and one by one they will be lost in the trees forever.
“It’s not human and it’s got an axe,” read the poster for The Prey upon its eventual release in 1983, four years after principal photography had ended, a tagline so literal it’s almost as though it was badly translated from Japanese stereo instructions; directed by Edwin Brown from a script co-written with his wife Summer Brown, it was a low-budget horror inspired by such seventies films as The Hills Have Eyes which failed to replicate that notoriety.
Although shot first, The Prey has much more in common with the camping slasher series Friday the 13th but that delay in release meant that Jason Vorhees and family were already established before audiences were able to see this feature on its sparse release, but now given a 2K Blu-ray restoration by Arrow, even had it been first past the post it would not have attained the status and respect of a classic.
Presented in three different cuts, starting with the eighty-minute US theatrical cut, the international cut adds a substantial flashback to the events preceding the 1948 fire, some in sepia, some inexplicably in colour, while the composite cut combines the footage of both versions to take the runtime to a tedious one hour and forty-two minutes, with an additional forty-five minutes of outtakes in the bonus features, confirming that more is not necessarily better.
The first victims of the shambling, deformed killer an elderly couple who are so lifeless they may as well be dead even before grandpa gets his offscreen decapitation, The Prey contains so much stock footage of wildlife that at times it seems Brown would rather have been shooting a nature documentary, and certainly nature is a bigger star than the cast.
The leads unknown and forgettable, their dialogue sparse and banal, ranger Mark is played by Jackson Bostwick who had been Captain Marvel in the 1974 television series Shazam! and his deskbound superior is the final cameo for Jackie Coogan, Uncle Fester in The Addams Family in the sixties, while likely the best known of the cast from later roles in Star Trek The Next Generation and Twin Peaks is Carel Struycken, concealed behind dubious prosthetics.
Presented with new interviews with many of the cast, Debbie Thureson, Lori Lethen, Bostwick and Struycken, who at that point had never seen the film, among the other features is a visit to the original shooting locations in Idyllwild, California and a post-screening session with Lethin, Struycken and Bostwick, but Arrow’s efforts to produce a prestige package cannot disguise that The Prey is low-hanging fruit for completists only.