The Prey (1980 film)

The Prey is a 1980 American slasher film directed by Edwin Brown, and starring Debbie Thureson, Steve Bond, Lori Lethin, and Jackie Coogan. The film follows a group of campers in the Rocky Mountains who are stalked and murdered by a disfigured assailant. It was the final film credit of Coogan, who died in 1984.[4]

The Prey
Original poster art
Directed byEdwin Brown
Produced bySummer Brown
Screenplay by
Edwin Brown
  • Summer Brown
Music byDon Peake
João Fernandes
  • Gary Gero
Edited byMichael Barnard
Essex Productions[1]
Distributed byNew World Pictures
Release date
  • November 4, 1983 (1983-11-04) (U.S.)[2]
Running time
80 minutes[3]
CountryUnited States

The film was written by director Brown and his wife, Summer, for Essex Productions, a film studio that specialized in adult films. Brown had previously worked as a producer on one of their features, the softcore thriller Human Experiments (1979). Inspired by such films as The Hills Have Eyes (1977), the siblings wrote the screenplay collaboratively. Filming of The Prey took place in late 1979 in Idyllwild, California.

The Prey was acquired for distribution by New World Pictures, and was released theatrically in the United States in November 1983, approximately four years after it was completed, and concurrently showed on premium television in Canada . It was later released on VHS by Thorn EMI in 1988. In 2019, Arrow Films announced they had completed a restoration of the film in preparation for an impending Blu-ray release, marking the first home media release of the film in North America since 1988. Contemporary critical opinion of the film has varied, with its sparse dialogue and pacing being points of criticism. Other film scholars, however, have praised the film for its languorous pacing, which accelerates considerably in the final act.[lower-alpha 1]


In 1948, a wildfire ravages the North Point section of the Keen Wild national forest in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, decimating a rural community of gypsies who live in seclusion in a cave.

Thirty two-years later, in 1980, an older couple, Frank and Mary Sylvester, are cooking food over a campfire in North Point. Unbeknownst to them, they are being watched by a mysterious figure in the shadows. While Mary walks to the lake to rinse their dishes, she hears her husband scream and returns to the campsite to find her husband's decapitated corpse. She is then killed by the killer wielding her husband's axe.

Several weeks later, three teenage couples—Nancy and Joel, Bobbie and Skip, and Greg and Gail—embark on a hiking excursion in North Point. While purchasing their nature permits, the women speak with Mark O'Brien, a forest ranger, who tells them that few people venture into North Point. As the group progress deeper into the wilderness, the high-maintenance Gail earnestly tells her friends that she senses someone has been watching them, but they dismiss her fears. During their first night in the woods, Gail hears a noise and sends Greg to investigate the disturbance. Gail is then smothered with her sleeping bag by the killer, and Greg subsequently has his throat torn open.

The following morning, the others awaken to find Greg and Gail have disappeared along with their camping gear. While searching the woods, Nancy finds a tree smeared with blood, but dismisses it as being from an animal. Assuming Gail and Greg returned home, the group leave a note behind at their campsite, and decide to continue with their trip. Meanwhile, Mark meets with the head ranger, Lester Tile, who informs him that he has received a call from the police regarding the disappearance of Frank and Mary Sylvester. Lester goes on to tell Mark a story about his witnessing a young gypsy boy wandering the woods after the 1948 fire, horribly disfigured by burns.

Skip and Joel decide to hike to the infamous Suicide Peak to rappel down, while Nancy and Bobbie suntan at the base of the peak along a river. Mark meanwhile hikes into North Point to search for the Sylvesters, and comes across the note left behind at the group's campsite. Nearby, he finds vultures consuming Greg and Gail's decomposing bodies, which have been concealed under brush. Meanwhile, as Joel is rappelling down the peak, the killer attacks Skip, breaking his neck, before cutting Joel's rope, causing him to fall to his death. Nancy and Bobbie hear his screams and run to the peak. Upon reaching the top, they find Skip's dead body, and are confronted by the disfigured killer: the gypsy boy from Lester's story, now fully grown, and with razor-sharp claws.

Nancy and Bobbie flee down the peak in terror, but Bobbie stumbles into one of the killer's booby traps, which lifts her into the air and thrashes her body against a tree, killing her. Cornered by the killer, Nancy faces him alone until Mark appears, shooting him with a tranquilizer gun and bashing him in the face with a large stick. Mark then comforts Nancy, but the killer awakens and kills him by crushing his throat. Instead of attacking Nancy, the killer smiles as he reaches softly towards her.

Some months later, during springtime, the crying of an infant child—ostensibly that of Nancy and the killer's—is heard emanating from a cave in the mountains.




The Prey was directed by Edwin Scott Brown, who also co-wrote the film with his wife Summer Brown, who served as the film's producer.[3][6] The film was produced during the height of the slasher film boom, which had become popular after the wake of John Carpenter's immensely profitable 1978 film Halloween.[7] The film was director-producer team's first non-pornographic feature, as they had previously worked making adult films.[8] After serving as a producer on the softcore thriller film Human Experiments for Essex Productions, studio executive Joseph Steinman offered Edwin Brown a writing and directing job making "a horror film shot in the woods,"[9] a setting which at that time had not been greatly featured in horror films.[10]

Brown and his wife Summer wrote the screenplay, choosing the Colorado Rockies as the setting, and were inspired by Halloween, as well as Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes (1977).[11] Brown stated that he devised most of the film's plot trajectory and characters, writing drafts of scenes which Summer subsequently edited and organized into a comprehensive screenplay.[12]


The film was lead actress Debbie Thureson's first screen role; she had previously appeared in a Maxim coffee advertisement with Kirk Douglas that aired in Japan.[13] Thureson recalled that the screenplay featured little written dialogue, and that much of the filming involved improvisation between the actors.[13] The film also marked actress Lori Lethin's first major film role, appearing as Bobbie, Nancy's friend.[14]

Former child star Jackie Coogan was cast as forest ranger Lester Tile. Coogan had previously starred in Charlie Chaplin's 1921 film The Kid[15] before later starring in the role of Uncle Fester in the 1964 television series The Addams Family.[4] The Prey would be Coogan's final film role before his death from cardiac arrest on March 1, 1984 at the age of 69.[16] Gayle Gannes, who portrayed Gail, was a UCLA student and friend of Edwin and Summer Brown who was encouraged by them to audition for the part.[17] Gannes recalled that she was encouraged by Edwin Brown to play the role as "playful and ditzy."[17] Carel Struycken, a Dutch actor, was cast in the role of the Monster due to his imposing figure, standing at 7 feet (2.1 m) in height.[18]


Director Brown had wanted to shoot the film on location in Colorado, where it is set, but was unable to afford the production costs.[19] The filmmakers initially scouted Big Bear, California, but decided to use Idyllwild instead, as it was less populated at the time, and was in close proximity to Los Angeles.[20] Bostwick recalled that the filming locations were "In the mountains above Palm Springs, around the USC Music camp.[21] Principal photography began in Idyllwild on in the fall of 1979,[22] with a budget of approximately $150,000.[23] The film was shot over the course of ten days, with filming occurring Monday through Friday between October 15 and October 29.[22] The film was shot on 35mm with a Panaflex camera[24] by cinematographer João Fernandes, who was credited under the pseudonym "Teru Hayashi."[25] Additional photography of the wildlife close-ups was completed by Gary Gero.[26]

Edwin Brown incorporated the various footage of animals as an "analogy" to the relationship between predator and prey, which applies to both animals and humans, though he conceded that some of the nature footage was added to increase the film's running time.[27] Brown estimated that around 70 percent of the nature footage in the film was stock footage, while 30 percent was filmed by Fernandes and Gero.[28] He has stated that, due to budgetary restrictions and running out of film stock, some sequences in the screenplay went uncompleted, including one in which Mark, the forest ranger, joins the campers at their campfire.[29]

Producer Summer Brown spent a significant amount of time on set, and Thureson recalled her as being a "mother hen" figure to the cast and crew.[13] Much of the dialogue between the characters was improvised, specifically during their hiking scenes.[13][14] While the majority of the film was shot in Idyllwild, some sequences were filmed elsewhere: Coogan's scenes in the forest ranger station were shot on a studio set,[13] while the sequence featuring Bostwick playing banjo was an insert shot filmed in Lake Mead, Nevada.[30] Additional pickup shots were completed in Los Angeles in early 1980,[30][31] including the final shot of the cave, which was filmed at the Bronson Caves in Griffith Park.[32]

Special effects

John Carl Buechler served as a special effects designer on the film.[3] Struycken recalled undergoing an elaborate latex makeup application to achieve his character's deformed appearance.[33]


The film's score was composed by Don Peake, who had also composed the score of The Hills Have Eyes (1977).[34] Director Edwin Brown was an acquaintance of that film's producer, Peter Locke, and was put in contact with Peake to write a musical score.[34] Producer Summer Brown stated that Edwin wanted a musical score that was "Rachmaninoff[-like]—big, thundering."[35]


The Prey was released by New World Pictures[36][1] on November 4, 1983, screening in cities such as Louisville, Kentucky.[2] It subsequently screened on premium television stations in Canada beginning November 8, 1983,[37] and continued to screen on the Showtime television network throughout September 1984.[38][39][40] The film continued screening in the United States in various cities throughout 1984.[41][42][43]

Critical response

TV Guide awarded the film one out of five stars, writing: "The killer in this standard mad-slasher-in-the-woods effort is a crazed gypsy mutant horribly burned in a fire that occurred 30 years before. Still angry and wielding an ax, he lumbers off after a bunch of camping youths. There is not one iota of creativity here."[44] Ron Castell in the Blockbuster Video Guide called the film a "tiresome shocker, which contains the absolute minimum of plot and dialogue required to make a horror film."[45]

Charles Tatum from awarded the film one of five stars, stating, "There is not one minute of suspense here." Tatum summarized by saying, "Sure, most of the slasher films of the 1980s were not worth the celluloid they were filmed on, but this video nightmare may well be the dullest produced."[46] The slasher film website Hysteria Lives! gave the film an unfavorable review, stating, "THE PREY is dumb, boring (I had to push needles into my legs just to stop from slipping into a catatonic state), and pitifully indulgent."[47]

Dread Central gave the film a favorable review, calling it "an effective little backwoods slasher offering some vicious kills and a memorable, downbeat shock ending".[48] Film scholar John Kenneth Muir praised the film, writing: "For horror aficionados, The Prey remains a superior (and vastly underrated) film of its genre because it reaches a fever pitch of terror near the climax."[5] Muir also notes the recurrent "man vs. nature" theme in the film, accentuated by the repeated sequences of wildlife interspersed throughout the narrative.[5]

Film scholar Thomas Sipos, however, characterized the film as "basically a travelogue" due to its ubiquitous nature footage.[49] In his book The Gorehound’s Guide to Splatter Films of the 1980s, Scott Aaron Stine echoes a similar sentiment, writing: "The highlights (be as they may) are some impressive National Geographic-style nature photography. In fact, there's so much stock footage (did I just hear someone shout "padding"?) that the person responsible was given co-cinematographer's, and deserved it."[50] Stine also commented on the film's gore, calling it "standard," and noted the monster makeup as "shoddy."[50]

Home media

Thorn EMI Video released the film on VHS in the United States in 1988,[51] featuring the original 80-minute theatrical cut.[3] The Prey remained unavailable on DVD and Blu-ray[52] until 2019, when Arrow Films announced a 2-disc Blu-ray release, featuring a new restoration and three different cuts of the film.[53] The restored theatrical version of the film was screened at the 2019 Texas Frightmare Weekend[54] with stars Lori Lethin, Carel Struycken, and Jackson Bostwick in attendance.[53] The Blu-ray was released on September 17, 2019 in the United Kingdom,[55] with a street date of October 1 in North America.

Alternative cut

An alternative international home video cut of the The Prey, which runs approximately 97 minutes, incorporates an expository flashback and eliminates 6 minutes[56] of the nature footage present in the original 80-minute cut.[48][51] The flashback, set in 1948, elucidates the origins of the film's killer, only alluded to by the forest ranger, Lester Tile, in the theatrical cut.[57] The flashback entails two men who commit arson at the gypsy commune after one of the men finds that a gypsy has had sex with his wife; it is implied that the killer, then a child, was maimed in this fire.[58] The additional footage featured in this sequence was shot by an unknown director in the summer of 1981, and was incorporated as a campfire story told by Joel to his friends. In order to make the insertion of the footage more seamless, dubbing from an unknown actor was used in place of Steve Bond.[59]

This flashback sequence is present on several international VHS editions, including the Japanese release,[60] and was added at the insistence of Essex Productions executive Joseph Steinman, who wanted the film to contain more nudity.[61] the flashback features several sex scenes.[58] Edwin Brown stated in 2019 that he had no involvement in the writing or filming of this footage, and felt it was "badly shot and badly edited."[57]

Notes and references


  1. John Kenneth Muir lauds the film for its "fever pitch" climax, and deems the film "vastly underrated" in his book Horror Films of the 1980s (2011).[5]


  1. "The Prey (1980)". British Film Institute. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  2. "The Prey trade advertisement". The Courier-Journal. Louisville, Kentucky. November 4, 1983. p. 35 via
  3. Stine 2003, p. 232.
  4. Bawden & Miller 2016, p. 9.
  5. Muir 2011, p. 410.
  6. "The Prey (1980)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
  7. Clover 1993, p. 24.
  8. Lethin, Lori (June 3, 2012). "The Prey (1984)" (Podcast). The Hysteria Continues (Interview). Interviewed by Nathan Johnson. Begins at 1:03:35. Retrieved March 19, 2018 via Stitcher.
  9. E. Brown & Cant 2019, 16:10, 35:16.
  10. E. Brown & Cant 2019, 17:12.
  11. E. Brown & Cant 2019, 17:30.
  12. E. Brown & Cant 2019, 21:00.
  13. Thureson, Debbie (May 2018). "Gypsies, Camps and Screams" (Blu-ray short). Los Angeles, California: Arrow Films.
  14. Lethin, Lori (May 2018). "Babe in the Woods" (Blu-ray short). Los Angeles, California: Arrow Films.
  15. Bawden & Miller 2016, p. 7.
  16. Barron, James (March 2, 1984). "Jackie Coogan, Child Star of Films, Dies at 69". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 19, 2018.
  17. Gannes Rosenthal, Gayle (May 2018). "Gayle on Gail" (Blu-ray short). London, England: Arrow Films.
  18. Struycken, Carel (May 2019). "Call of the Wild" (Blu-ray short). Dallas, Texas: Arrow Films.
  19. E. Brown & Cant 2019, 36:44.
  20. S. Brown & Cant 2019, 0:45.
  21. "Tracking The Prey: An Interview with Jackson Bostwick". The Terror Trap. January 2006. Archived from the original on September 14, 2019.
  22. Cant 2019, p. 11.
  23. E. Brown & Cant 2019, 23:30, 40:20.
  24. E. Brown & Cant 2019, 45:25.
  25. Cant, Ewan; Thureson, Debbie (2018). Finding the Prey (Blu-ray documentary short). Arrow Films.
  26. Brown, Edwin (dir.) (1988) [1980]. The Prey (End credits). New World Pictures.
  27. E. Brown & Cant 2019, 12:00.
  28. E. Brown & Cant 2019, 14:39.
  29. E. Brown & Cant 2019, 24:40.
  30. Bostwick, Jackson (May 2019). "The Wide-Mouthed Frog and Other Stories" (Blu-ray short). Dallas, Texas: Arrow Films.
  31. Cant 2019, p. 16.
  32. Cant 2019, p. 17.
  33. Struycken, Carel. "JA Kerswell talks to Carel Struycken - the killer from THE PREY (1980)". Hysteria Lives (Interview). Interviewed by Justin Kerswell. Archived from the original on October 26, 2012.
  34. S. Brown & Cant 2019, 4:32.
  35. S. Brown & Cant 2019, 4:49.
  36. "Top 10 Axe Murdering Maniacs". Dread Central. April 20, 2010. Archived from the original on July 7, 2012. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  37. "Pay-TV/First Choice: Tuesday". The Vancouver Sun. Vancouver, British Columbia. November 4, 1983. p. 121 via
  38. "The Prey (1980)". Detroit Free Press. Movies. Detroit, Michigan. September 9, 1984 via
  39. "The Prey (1980)". The Arizona Republic. Movies. Phoenix, Arizona. September 16, 1984. p. 289 via
  40. "The Prey (1980)". The Clarion-Ledger. TV Schedule. Jackson, Mississippi. September 16, 1984. p. 151 via
  41. "The Prey trade advertisement". Philadelphia Daily News. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. June 1, 1984. p. 66 via
  42. "Crosscreek Cinema advertisement". The Index-Journal. Greenwood, South Carolina. January 21, 1984. p. 5 via
  43. "The North Twin Star advertisement". The Marion Star. Marion, Ohio. April 20, 1984. p. 16 via
  44. "The Prey (1984)". TV Guide. Retrieved March 19, 2018.
  45. Castell 1995, p. 927.
  46. Tatum, Charles. "Movie Review - Prey, The (1984)". eFilmCritic. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  47. Kerswell, J.A. "THE PREY". Hysteria Lives. Archived from the original on December 18, 2004.
  48. Serafini, Matt. "Saturday Nightmares: The Prey (1984)". Dread Central. Retrieved September 23, 2015.
  49. Sipos 2010, p. 50.
  50. Stine 2003, p. 233.
  51. The Prey (VHS). Thorn EMI Home Video. 1988 [1984]. ASIN 6301934547.CS1 maint: ASIN uses ISBN (link)
  52. Doupe, Tyler (October 29, 2016). "13 Horror Movies You Can Only See on VHS". Syfy. Archived from the original on November 24, 2017.
  53. Arrow Films (April 1, 2019). "*** SURPRISE SLASHER ANNOUNCEMENT!!! ***". Facebook. Archived from the original on April 5, 2019.
  54. Hurtado, J. (April 8, 2019). "Texas Frightmare 2019: 14th Annual Event Reveals Film Lineup With Classics and New Features". Screen Anarchy. Archived from the original on June 6, 2019.
  55. "Arrow Video USA Release Calendar". Arrow Films. Archived from the original on September 14, 2019.
  56. Rubin 2019, p. 22.
  57. E. Brown & Cant 2019, 28:00.
  58. The Prey: The International Cut (Blu-ray). Arrow Films. 2019 [1980].
  59. Rubin 2019, p. 21.
  60. The Prey (VHS). Japan: Cinema-Ya. 148H3006.
  61. E. Brown & Cant 2019, 29:17.


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