Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Not That Innocent

Year: 1984
Director: Colin Eggleston
Cast: P.J. Soles, Kit Taylor, Martin Balsam
Run Time: 1 hour 17 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Plot: After Cathy Willis (P.J. Soles of Halloween) witnesses her husband Joe (Kit Taylor of Early Frost and Eggleston's follow-up slasher Cassandra) murdering a prostitute (Debi Sue Voorhees of Friday the 13th: A New Beginning), she enlists the help of local Houston Sheriff Virgil Baker (Martin Balsam of Psycho, indulging in the chewiest Southern accent that ever y'alled) to catch him. Once he's behind bars, she flees to live with a friend in Australia, but the Sydney apartment complex she lives in is run by a voyeuristic madman named Philip (John Warnock) who sets his sights on her.

Analysis: I have never seen a movie that is more clearly split right down the middle. The two halves do ultimately come together to serve the general theme of "men, am I right?" but essentially the final 45 minutes of Innocent Prey is Innocent Prey 2. Unfortunately, like most sequels, there are diminishing returns.

It doesn't help that the first half of the film is shockingly good. Even though it's an Australian's vision of Texas, where everyone's accents are a little wobbly (except for the aforementioned Martin Balsam, who is encased in concrete) while they are looking out at you from under the brim of an enormous cowboy hat, it showcases an astonishing ability to ratchet up the tension using the camera. The film's plot is a pretty standard Lifetime movie-esque story (this is not a complaint, I love it when slashers do that), spruced up with an approach pure cinema.

The scene that best exemplifies this is the murder that poor Cathy witnesses. When she suspects her husband of cheating on her, she sneaks around the back of the motel that he has parked outside of and sees him with the prostitute, her body up against the window. We see Soles' eyes through a narrow sliver of the open window, then the other woman's heaving body with her lover only visible in the mirror, pulling out a straight razor and making a slashing motion above the character's sight line. Then the upper body of the woman drops into view, her throat slashed, as she crumples to the floor. It's an astonishingly well executed set-up that keeps the viewer off-kilter and highlights each horrifying revelation at the exact moment that it's too late for Cathy to do anything about it.

This is by far the best scene in the movie, but there are multiple moments in this branch of the story that achieve a similar level of visual tension. It then becomes a hell of a good "woman under siege" thriller as she must fight back after her husband traps her inside her home. It's also a showcase for P.J. Soles as a horror heroine in her own right, delivering a nuanced performance that's not quite Jamie Lee Curtis level but certainly worth celebrating.

The second half, on the other hand, is just goofy. It's basically asking the question "What would happen if Norman Bates ran the apartment building from Sliver?" The answer? "That would be pretty stupid." 

There is much less control over tone and tension in this part of the film, which highlights the fact that the gore effects are pretty minimal instead of using their limitation as an advantage, as the first half does. There is also some wacky-ass stuff with an electrified doorknob that has absolutely no business being in this movie. It's certainly not enough to ruin the movie, because it's still totally watchable, but it does have a deflating effect until the film's shocking but perhaps inevitable final shot.

Killer: Basically All Men
Final Girl: Cathy Willis (P.J. Soles)
Best Kill: Absolutely that opening motel bathroom kill, because holy shit.
Sign of the Times: The perm that threatens to throttle the life out of Cathy and gets closer than any man ever does.
Scariest Moment: The cop guarding Cathy steps out of the room and instantly stops responding to her conversation.
Weirdest Moment: Philip sings Cathy a lullaby while watching her fall asleep on the monitor.
Champion Dialogue: "My legs feel like they belong to someone else. And whoever it is just ran a marathon on 'em."
Body Count: 8
    1. Prostitute has her throat slashed with a straight razor.
    2. Warden #1 and
    3. Warden #2 are killed in a brawl, though their exact injuries are indistinct.
    4. Officer Casey is beheaded offscreen.
    5. Workman is strangled in the crook of Joe's elbow.
    6. Joe is killed offscreen.
    7. Gwen is blasted with scalding water. I think.
    8. Philip is electrocuted and defenestrated. 
TL;DR: Innocent Prey is two completely distinct films stapled together, but the first one is excellent.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 791

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