April 26, 2018
Alien intruder movies come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, the aliens are friendly, like in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial or Arrival. Sometimes, they’re horrifying, as in Xtro or The Dark. And sometimes, not even the audience can tell the difference. That’s the case with the 1977 schlocker Prey.
Prey is about a lesbian couple, Josephine (Sally Faulkner from Vampyres) and Jessica (Felicity’s Glory Annen), who lives in a secluded and isolated rural area. A spaceship crashes near their home, and an alien assimilates a human form. Calling himself Mr. Anderson (Barry Stokes from Enemy Mine), the being imposes upon Jo and Jessica for help. They take him in and offer him food and shelter for the night. Jessica, desperate for human contact, tries to persuade the cynical Jo to let him stay longer, but Jo is suspicious of outsiders. As the women get to know their guest, whom they now call Anders, they end up learning a thing or two about each other and their relationship as well. Eventually, Jessica finds that Anders the stranger may not be the only thing she has to fear within their cabin in the woods.
Directed by Norman J. Warren (who also directed Terror) from a script by Max Cuff that was based on a story from Quinn Donoghue, Prey is an odd little movie. It’s completely contained, essentially taking place within the confines of the ladies’ property with basically just the three characters, but it hints at a much larger world, both on Earth and in the heavens. It’s also very ambiguous, with the audience never sure of which character is actually the hero and which is actually the villain. But the big thing that makes Prey so much fun is just how silly the whole thing gets.
At first, Prey comes off as a serious art film, despite the fact that one of the first scenes contains a point-of-view predator shot, complete with heavy breathing and muffled growling. Once Anders is ensconced in the home, however, things start getting wacky. Anders’ true form is revealed early through dream-style imagery, and he basically looks like a human who forgot his Halloween costume so he just did a quick cat face with borrowed makeup (although he does sport some cool fangs). As the trio gets to know each other, they decide to kill time by playing a game of hide and seek. And, by the time the film hits its climactic stride, it devolves into a sonic minefield of annoying shrieks and screams from the women. Prey is not supposed to get campy, but it does just that.
Considering that it was made in an era where television shows like “Three’s Company” would make innocently homophobic remarks and films like The Warriors would drop the “other F-word” at least once in every scene, Prey manages to deal with its lesbian aspect very well. Jo and Jessica are nonchalantly perceived as just a regular couple, with nothing exploitative or sensational about their relationship. Of course, Jo is the dominant one and Jessica is the submissive, but even that is portrayed as just another element of married life. The character of Jo could be easily be replaced with a man and the plot would not miss a beat. Sure, there’s a gratuitous female-on-female sex scene, but that comes off as more campy than sexy (see the line above about annoying shrieks and screams). Basically, Jo and Jessica are shown as a regular couple, with regular couple problems that have regular couple solutions.
The 1977 musical score for Prey was about five years ahead of its time. The music, composed by Ivor Slaney (Death Ship, Horror Hospital), sounds like it was ripped out of (or ripped off in) any one of a dozen eighties slasher movies. The score is mostly made up of electronic synthesizer grooves that ratchet up the tension and remind the viewer that they are watching something that is essentially an alien invasion movie. There are some lovely piano love themes in there as well, but even those pieces end with a sudden SCREECH to emphasize something shocking that happens onscreen. It’s an incredible score that probably would have found an audience of its own had it been done a few years later and gotten stuck into a golden age slasher.
When horror fans think of alien invasion movies, titles like Independence Day, Attack the Block, and They Live come immediately to mind, followed maybe by deep cuts like Without Warning and Lifeforce. But dig a little deeper, and there are plenty of fun movies like Prey to be found.