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Prey (Norman J. Warren, 1978)


     Starting out as a seemingly predictable creature feature, Norman J. Warrenís Prey soon twists expectations, morphing to become a most unlikely chamber drama. With a small cast of characters that features two reclusive lesbians and a feral alien creature that disguises itself as a human being, the movie boldly eschews normality, but benefits from the choice. In the opening moments here, the creature takes on a host body and mauls some hapless motorists before director Warren introduces us to the naive Jessica (Glory Annen) and the controlling Jo (Sally Faulkner), a same-sex couple who live alone in a nearby cottage. Before long, the creature shows up on their estate, in the form of Anders (Barry Stokes), an attractive but apparently dim young man, and begins to insinuate himself into their solitary lives.


     Jessica and Jo initially assume that the stuttering Anders is a simpleton, and in a passive aggressive game of one-upmanship, they allow him to stick around. Before long, however, suspicion and jealousy cloud their friendships, and Preyís alien intruder is transformed into a blunt metaphor for the threat that male figures pose to lesbian relationships. As the movie continues to develop, it becomes obvious that Jo, the possessive, volatile half of the couple, has some skeletons of her own in her closet. As Jessica grows more aware of her loverís irrational hatred of men, she grows increasingly blind to Andersí own oddities, putting herself in harmís way.


     From a plot perspective, Prey is extraordinarily implausible, but the hothouse tensions that it generates are unique and compelling. A fox hunt staged midway through the movie becomes an opportunity for savage release. The consistent sexual frankness that Warren depicts frankly begins to feel more dangerous than Andersí flesh-eating tendencies. Throughout, there hangs the questions of how long Warren can keep this game going on, and how he plans to resolve it. What he finally contrives is both gruesome and poetic. The inevitable adulterous climax that Prey concludes with seems the natural progression of all of the bad vibes that surfaced before.


     Thanks to its low budget, Prey had to be more character driven than most entries in its genre. Necessity obviously worked to the filmís advantage, since the dynamics at play here are so distinctive. Although the movie is less than expertly made (an extended drowning sequence employs slow-motion to the point of unintentional hilarity, for example), the majority of the technique is unobtrusive, allowing viewers to focus on the characterizations. Slyly humorous and more disturbing than any rampaging alien alone could be, Prey is a solid B-movie effort. The filmís final freeze frame, of two innocent children strolling down a wooded path toward certain death, is the fitting punchline to this singularly perverse movie.



Jeremy Heilman