Horror / Sci-fi
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23rd Nov 05
An alien in search of a food source. A deserted farmhouse. Two lesbians in a dysfuntional relationship. Everything goes wrong...
Review Reviewed as part of the Norman J. Warren Collection boxset
Norman J. Warren’s next outing after Satan’s Slave was the engagingly weird Prey. The phrase ‘out there’ may well have been coined for this particular slice of late 70’s British horror. It may feel silly. It may also feel unintentionally amusing in places, but it is 100% captivating, having gained justified momentum in terms of popularity throughout the last 28 years.
Shot in ten days with a shockingly brief pre-production schedule of three weeks, Prey’s story takes place in an isolated house in the English countryside. Its residents are a lesbian couple – Jessica and Josephine – whose odd relationship is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of Kator – a fanged alien scout on a mission to find a satisfactory food source “high in protein”. With a more human guise (and ‘normal’ teeth), the magnificently coiffured alien adopts the name of Anders and wanders into the women’s domain, learning as he goes and appearing to be a very strange person indeed. He’ll fit right in, then. Think Starman with an appetite for warm flesh. That’s right.
Josephine is the dominant force in the lesbian relationship. Flying off into tantrums with little provocation, she displays steadfast unwillingness to let partner Jessica have any respite from her clutches, even for a few days. Jessica is trapped there, but accepts the situation for now. This is made all the easier by their new distraction, to whom Jessica is most welcoming and Josephine predictably hostile. Then the games begin. Josephine asks the stranger to stay the night but is disgusted when he coughs up his vegetables during the evening meal. It’s less of a surprise to us than it is to Josephine when she finds all her chickens ripped to pieces the following morning.
And so it begins.
The characterisation in Prey eclipses that of Warren’s accompanying films. Max Cuff’s screenplay developed as they shot the film, but you would never guess. When you set a film in one location and a cast of three, the script and performances need to be something special to come off as anything other than a cure for insomnia. The fact that one of the three is an alien scout is a good place to start. Add a dysfunctional lesbian relationship to the recipe and you’ve got one hell of a lot of potential there – potential that certainly doesn’t go to waste in this exceptionally different little film.
The dynamics of this young couple is memorable stuff indeed. Warren leisurely sets up the scenario with great care by introducing them to the audience before they come across Anders. We get to see what normality is for them, thereby gaining insight into the unorthodox nature of Josephine’s love (“There can be no-one else.”), as well as Jessica’s desire to experience something new, to break free. So, when Anders arrives on the scene, their reactions to this newcomer sharply contrast. Josephine sees him as a threat while Jessica sees change, something new, maybe even freedom.
Sally Faulkner gives a marvellously complex performance as the troubled Josephine. She seems normal enough at times, and then from out of nowhere she erupts like an angry child. She’s desperate. She hints towards a psychiatric history but Cuff’s screenplay never spells out the details of her scarring past; the symptomatic ambiguity is all the more intriguing, but we know she’s been in an institution. Throughout the course of the story, we of course learn that she is a complete mentalist, and a homicidal one at that. The narrative threads weave together flawlessly for the final part of the film as Warren ups the pace, taking the conclusion to a place you won’t see coming. You might see some of it coming, but not all of it.
Barry Stokes may be no Jeff Bridges but his unusual affect makes this alien compelling to observe. He’s on a mission, and regularly reports back via a transmitting device to his superiors on the “command ship”, who speak with beautiful English accents for the viewers benefit. We know he’s bad news from the off; he rips apart two meddling policemen but subsequently seems quite harmless, vulnerable even. He looks confused, lost, no more so than when the girls dress him up in drag and put make up on his face. Prey may be short on humour, but the sight of Anders in drag more than compensates. He goes along with it, but he’s getting hungry. Very hungry. He can’t stop looking at the parrot. Eventually he gives in and reverts back to his natural predator state – Barry Stokes with pseudo-werewolf make-up and pointy teeth – and feasts on Jessica’s proteins, leaving nothing to the imagination during the still-shocking finale.
Prey impresses on many levels, and many regard it to be the best of Warren’s films. Apart from perhaps being a nasty, older brother to Carpenter’s Starman, it doesn’t resemble any other films that come to mind. It has its faults, as all the films in this box set do, but for a small-scale production with very limited time and money, this works a treat. Stunningly original, quirky, well acted, this is totally and utterly captivating stuff. Oh yeah, and there’s lesbian sex in it, too.
Extras on bonus disc: Keep on Running – Excellent 30-minute documentary featuring Norman J. Warren, production designer Hayden Pearce, editor Alan Jones, producer Terry Marcel and cast member Sally Faulkner.
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