The Prey (1984)
Dare I say, this movie seems more competent every time I see it. I was recently discussing on The Bodycount Continues message board how it’s a thin line between low-budget horror being incompetent, boring, unwatchable junk and accidentally becoming outsider art. Thanks to the randomly inserted animal footage (Apparently giant centipedes are native to the California forest) and Ranger Mark O’Brien’s impromptu hardcore banjo solo, what would have otherwise been a routine “Teens go camping, get killed” flick becomes a bizarre, dream-like trip through free-association zero-budget grime-bucket cinema.
Of course, I’ve seen the original cut of “The Prey.” I know the unusual path it followed to come into existence. In the seventies, director Edwin Brown shot a softcore porno about gypsies coming into town and seducing all da’ white women. For whatever reason, that film wasn’t completed. For whatever other reasons, the director dug up the footage in the late seventies/early eighties (Accounts of when the film was shot vary.) and decided to build a spam-in-a-van slasher around it. (The original footage was told as the campfire story in the film and provides the killer’s origin.) But then, presumably in order to make the film more marketable, all of the porn footage, that was the film’s whole point for existing in the first place, was cut out, leaving the movie too short. Thus, gratuitous nature footage and gratuitous Mark O’Brien stood in for gratuitous humping, padding the film out to feature length.
Without even knowing this, it would be obvious the movie was directed by a pornographer. All the characters seem preoccupied with getting laid, even more so then is typical for teens in a slasher movie. A good ten minutes in the middle are devoted to necking and non-graphic groping. Of course, in the end we find out that the so-called monster (Who is really just a horribly burnt seven-foot tall gypsy. Played by Lurch! And the “Twin Peaks” Giant!) is killing not to protect his home from interloping teens, but because he’s horny. It was something of a relief, when I finally saw the long-rumored porno scenes last year, to see that they were completely unrelated to the distinctly rape-y ending.
But, back to my original point. If you can make it through the unrelated dream-logic of the film’s first hour, you get rewarded with Jackie Coogan (the second “Addams Family”-related cast member in the film. What are the odds?) eating a cucumber sandwich and Captain Marvel freaking out over some vultures. If you make it through that, you get a stark, dread-filled slasher in which a young girl’s friends are ruthlessly, brutally murdered. Even her would-be rescuer is struck down. In the end, she’s confined to a fate worse then death: Being the unwilling breeding partner of a horrible beast, pumping out presumably similarly deformed and psychotic off-springs for all eternity. It’s almost Laymon-esque in its nastiness. All of this adds up to make “The Prey” a distinctly bizarre, utterly unique film-watching experience. See it late at night, with a bunch of drunk friends and a bowl of sugary snacks near-by to keep you awake during the boring parts. (The bootleg copy I bought in Baltimore even ends with a trailer reel of completely unrelated titles also available from Thorn EMI Home Video. Glorious.) (8/10)
Hands of the Ripper (1971)
A really strong late Hammer production. The gritty production values and themes of psychology versus magic gives this more depth then you’d expect. Eric Porter gives an excellent performance, determined to save an orphan girl, which turns out to be the daughter of Jack the Ripper and shares his homicidal tendencies. Despite the heady themes at play here, the movie still ladles on some pretty intense gore. Creative use of a looking glass and an improvised de-swording provide the high-lights in that department. The movie has a sad, nihilistic tone, and despite Angharad Rees giving a mostly catatonic performance as the girl, her arc proves appropriately tragic. (8/10)
Surf Nazis Must Die (1987)
You really can’t undersell the power of a good title. If it was just called, say, “Beach Wars,” “Surf Nazis Must Die” would be completely forgotten. But that great title has gained it a lot of notoriety, causing it to often be placed, incorrectly, among other Troma classics. That label implies campy sleaze but “Surf Nazis Must Die” is completely serious and short on cheap thrills. The movie is slow, features far too many scenes of people surfing in slow-motion, and a turgid electronic score. The titular surf Nazis aren’t anywhere near as outrageous as the name implies and the movie is mostly about beach turf wars, then it is about the Nazis need to die immediately. Once Leroy’s Mama comes calling for revenge, it’s too little too late. The image of an elderly overweight black woman blowing away beach punks provides some brief amusement, but the movie’s pretty much all ready over by that point. You really don’t need to see “Surf Nazis Must Die,” no matter how much the title compels you too. (5/10)