Deadly Prey (1987) and The Deadliest Prey (2013)

| November 17, 2015

To say that David A. Prior’s Deadly Prey is a cult classic is to be guilty of gross understatement. Originally released directly to video in 1987, the film has gathered a passionate cult following who discovered the film on VHS all over the world. This process reached a peak with some theatrical screenings of the film over the last few years, and the production of a genuine sequel entitled The Deadliest Prey which reunited Prior with the original film’s stars Ted Prior, David Campbell, and Fritz Matthews 27 years later. The film has even been used as the namesake for a Chicago gallery that displays hand-painted movie posters from Ghana. Now for the first time, Deadly Prey hits Blu-ray and DVD from Olive Films and Slasher Video, with the sequel also hitting home video on the same day. Anyone who is already a fan probably has both on preorder, but what should the uninitiated expect?

In Deadly Prey, psychotic Colonel Hogan (David Campbell) trains an army of mercenaries for wealthy businessman Don Michealson (Troy Donahue). Hogan’s training consists of sending some of his men into a nearby city and kidnapping random people, then setting them loose in the wilderness surrounding his camp and letting the trainees hunt them down. One day, they kidnap Mike Danton (Ted Prior) while he’s taking out the garbage (wearing only his cut-off jean shorts), and that turns out to be a big mistake. Danton served under Hogan in Vietnam, and Hogan trained Danton to be the ultimate killing machine. As Danton slaughters the trainees, Hogan figures out the only way he has a chance against his former student is to fight dirty. Even so, Danton may have some help from an unexpected place. But can one man really survive against a whole army?

Deadly Prey starts off running and never really stops. The plot and characterization are incidental to the action: Danton punching, kicking, stabbing, shooting, and blowing up the bad guys. Many, many bad guys. Most of them armed with machine guns and grenades, which they seem curiously bad at using. Several times, Danton is under fire from a line of men with guns unloading toward him and he easily escapes into the forest. This gives many of the action scenes the feeling of a bunch of kids playing army; it seems impossible that at no point do any of the mercenaries angrily whine “Hey, I got you!” as Danton runs into the woods. The story in general feels that way, too. This is a world of good guys and bad guys, and Campbell clearly enjoys playing the ruthless Hogan. It’s a shame but not a surprise that this juvenile mindset carries over into the film’s treatment of its female characters, one a villain and one whose only real purpose is to get fridged in order to fuel Danton’s fury. This would be a lot more offensive if the whole movie and all the characters in it weren’t so cartoonishly ridiculous, but it does stand out as a weirdly mean-spirited moment in an otherwise very goofy movie. Deadly Prey strips the 80s action formula down to the bone and explodes in jean shorts and mulleted rage, providing nothing but the cheapest thrills. In short, it absolutely deserves its reputation as a cult classic.

The Deadliest Prey picks up twenty-five years later as Hogan is being released from jail for the crimes he committed in the first movie. He already has a new HQ and an army of recruits waiting for him on the outside thanks to a pair of investors and a new right-hand lady, Sophia (Tara Kleinpeter). Now married with a young son, Danton is once again kidnapped while taking out the garbage, but this time there’s a twist: Hogan has installed webcams throughout the forest, and viewers online can watch as he fights for his life. This catches the attention of three bored gamers (Zack Carlson, Dimitri Simakis, and Suki-Rose Otter) who hack into Hogan’s system, figure out where Danton is, and drive out to help him. Meanwhile, Danton tears through the army of mercenaries pretty much exactly the same way he did in the first movie, only this time the explosions are considerably more impressive. In fact, aside from the side plot with the three hackers, The Deadliest Prey is very close to being an Evil Dead 2-style remake of the first film, hitting the same story beats but pitched as almost a straightforward comedy.

That change can be fatal to this kind of movie (see the later Andy Sidaris L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies films for an instructive example of this), but in this case the cast is clearly having a blast and the tone is even more goofy than the first time around. It helps that the tone never quite veers into direct self-parody, and that writer/director David A. Prior has a much better handle on the technical side of filmmaking that prevents The Deadliest Prey from having the kind of unintentionally humorous effect of something like Birdemic. There are numerous direct call-backs to the first film, which will make it even more ridiculous to anyone who has seen it, but any new viewer should quickly figure out what’s going on here with little difficulty. Just like before, there are bad guys and good guys, and most of the movie is the bad guys walking around in the trees until the good guy comes and shoots them, stabs them, snaps their neck, etc. etc. If it doesn’t feel nearly as crazy as the first one, it’s probably due to the fact that the element of surprise is missing. We know what to expect from a sequel to Deadly Prey, but it’s not necessarily a complaint that The Deadliest Prey delivers more or less exactly on those expectations. It’s probably going to be more of a fun footnote in the legacy of Deadly Prey than a cult classic in its own right, but it’s still a lot of fun.

Olive Films released Deadly Prey and The Deadliest Prey on Blu-ray and DVD on 17 November 2015. Special features for Deadly Prey include a photo gallery, excerpts of the film dubbed into other languages, the film’s trailer, a reel of outtakes, and an interview with makeup effects artist Jack Hojohn. It’s worth noting that the trailer, outtakes, and dubbed excerpts are all transferred from what looks to be a well-worn video tape. They’re interesting to have, but they look rough. It’s also worth noting that there was no available source material to create a true HD master for the Blu-ray, as the film was sourced from a PAL Beta SP tape. If you’re on the fence as to whether to get the Blu-ray or the DVD, be aware that there is probably no appreciable difference in image quality between the two. Honestly, it’s somewhat puzzling that Olive Films and Slasher Video released the film on Blu-ray at all. Special features on The Deadliest Prey include “Deadly Prey: 27 Years Later” interviews with writer/director David A. Prior and stars Ted Prior, David Campbell, and Fritz Matthews. This film was shot on RED digital cinema cameras, and thus has a true HD transfer for the Blu-ray presentation. Both are worthwhile purchases for any fan of crazy, low-budget action.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom
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