Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Census Bloodbath: Mean Wild

[Editor's note: More concrete release date information has become available online since the time I first did research for this project, so The Prey has been adjusted to its proper 1983 date rather than 1984, and my release calendars and the 1983 Post Mortem body count has been updated to reflect this.]

Year: 1983

 Edwin Brown
 Debbie Thureson, Steve Bond, Lori Lethin
Run Time:
 1 hour 20 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Plot: The Prey follows a group of three young couples on a camping trip at The Northpoint in Keen Wild, which is interrupted by a monstrous killer that seems to be a Romani person who survived a forest fire thirty years before even though he looks like a straight-up Funhouse mutant with monster claws (Carel Struycken, who would go on to play Lurch in the Addams Family movies). Presumably, this is the film being racist, but it's too confusing to really read. Anyway, the couples are Gail (Gayle Gannes), a blonde who is meant to be a horny ditz gold digger type but absolutely does not want to have sex with her repulsive boyfriend Greg (Philip Wenckus); Bobbie (Lori Lethin of Return to Horror High and Bloody Birthday) and Skip (Robert Wald), who are the sporty ones, or at least they are the ones who wear matching jerseys to go hiking; and Nancy (Debbie Thureson) and Joel (Steve Bond), who don't really have any personality other than the fact that he does the fishing and she cooks the fish. On the case, but not really, are the weirdo park ranger Mark O'Brien (Jackson Bostwick, who was randomly the voice of the Jinn in The Lamp) and his lazy boss Lester Tile (Jackie Coogan, AKA Uncle Fester, in his final role).

Analysis: There's actually some pretty solid stuff in The Prey, which was shot in 1980 even though it took several years to find a proper release. For one thing, the kills, while not paced particularly well, are a breath of fresh air in the anemic, MPAA-riddled mid-'80s, so the timing probably couldn't have been better. There are occasionally demure low budget murder setpieces that keep the important elements offscreen, but for the most part we are actually getting a good old meat and potatoes, over the top blood spray and intensity.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of movie around those 8 murder sequences (two of which occur in the opening 10 minutes, the rest of which occur mostly in the final 30). And most of that movie is composed of stock footage nature shots that remind you that, yes, this film is set in the forest. You can kind of get what they're going for, as the shots include much creepier and more predatory animals as the night gets deeper and darker, but it's obviously a cheap bit of filler. This is driven home by an excruciatingly long scene set around a campfire, which intercuts half-baked snippets of dialogue with random shots of, say, a centipede crawling past the camera, for what feels like 15 minutes and very well may have been. There is also an excessive use of slow motion in the climax that drastically deflates the tension even as it inflates the run time. I suppose you couldn't claim that The Prey doesn't have an abundance of style, it's just really bad style.

This turgid, punishing pacing and editing is unfortunate, because there is a lot of likable material scattered around The Prey, in addition to the kills. For the pruriently minded who swing that way, there is an excellent extended sequence where the men (including Steve Bond, who was a Playgirl centerfold) take off their shirts and frolic about in a swimming hole. The score is also surprisingly excellent, swinging at will from a more classical 1930s horror orchestral feel to a dissonant Bernard Hermann klaxon wail. And none of the cast is particularly terrible, with Thureson even delivering some top notch emotional reactions to the horror she encounters.

The Prey also has a nasty streak a mile wide. Bobbie's kill in particular is brutal and comes absolutely out of nowhere, especially considering she's in the running to be a Final Girl because of her androgynous name and the fact that she's being played by consummate survivor Lori Lethin. And I won't spoil the ending, but dear lord is it downbeat and grim, maybe more so than any other movie of the year. I surely wish the multiple cuts on the film's Blu-Ray release (evidently there is an international cut involving reshot flashback footage, as well as one that combines the two cuts) had included a shorter one that tightens up the pace, because then this movie might have really been cooking with gas.

Killer: The Predator (Carel Struycken)
Final Girl: Nancy (Debbie Thureson)
Best Kill: Bobbie's kill, which comes completely out of nowhere: she and Nancy are running from the killer, her foot is caught in a snare trap, and she is suddenly lifted into the air and bashed brutally into a tree trunk. Wild!
Sign of the Times: Gail puts about an hour of work into achieving the perfectly teased side pony.
Scariest Moment: The boys discuss how they're going to seduce their girl friends by "slipping it to" them.
Weirdest Moment: Right after the first body count kill, the film randomly cuts to a two minute scene of the park ranger just sitting at home playing a banjo.
Champion Dialogue: “I think I'm getting a blister on my blister."
Body Count: 8
    1. Frank is decapitated with an axe offscreen.
    2. Mary is axed to death.
    3. Gail is smothered with her sleeping bag, though later she has burns all over her face.
    4. Greg has his throat clawed out.
    5. Skip has his neck snapped.
    6. Joel falls from a cliff when his rappelling rope is cut.
    7. Bobbie has her face smashed into a tree trunk.
    8. Mark O'Brien is strangled so hard that blood explodes from his mouth.
TL;DR: The Prey is a movie with some great parts that are connected by long stretches of absolute misery.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 961

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