Saturday 10 February 2024

Prey (1977)

Prey is a 1977 British science fiction-horror movie directed by Norman J. Warren and it doesn’t quite conform to conventional genre expectations.

An alien spacecraft with a single crew member lands somewhere in the English countryside. The alien is confused and disoriented and lashes out violently when he feels himself threatened. As a result of his misinterpretations of human behaviour he kills two people.

He finds refuge in an isolated farmhouse. Jo (Sally Faulkner) and Jessica (Glory Annen) are the only inhabitants of the farmhouse. They are lesbians. They’re not sure what to make of the alien (who calls himself Anders and is played by Barry Stokes). He looks entirely human and they have no reason to suspect that he is anything but human but his behaviour is rather odd.

The atmosphere in the farmhouse was tense even before Anders arrived. It becomes more tense. Anders has wandered into the middle of an emotional minefield.

Anders becomes the catalyst for further emotional dramas although he actually doesn’t participate. But his presence in the house is quite enough.

Anders is more the manipulated than the manipulator. Jo goes out of her way to humiliate him in order to try to make him seem ridiculous and unattractive in Jessica’s eyes.

And we’re still not entirely sure what his intentions are.

Of course the dramas will come to a head, but not quite in the way we might expect.

There are certainly science fictional and horror elements in this movie but much of the focus is on the emotional dramas at the farmhouse.

The relationship between Jo and Jessica is clearly very troubled. Before Anders’ arrival Jessica announces that she wants to leave for a while, to spend some time on her own. Jo’s reaction is extremely hostile. Jo is clearly jealous and possessive. Jo hates men. It’s obvious that she thinks that Jessica is a bit too fond of men. The two women sleep not just in separate beds but in separate bedrooms. There seems to be a lack of physical intimacy between them.

Jo seems a little unstable and definitely inclined to anger. She is clearly a time bomb ticking away, a bomb that could explode at any moment.

In a 1970s exploitation movie you expect a lesbian sex scene and you get one and it’s moderately graphic but it’s rather different from the usual run of such scenes. There’s an extreme emotional intensity. It’s as if their frantic love-making is a desperate attempt to convince themselves that their relationship is still viable. This is not just a sex scene thrown in out of commercial necessity. This is two real very troubled people having sex.

There are only two sex scenes but both are crucial and both pack a punch, in very different ways.

I think it is legitimate to wonder if this movie would have worked just as well, or possibly better, as a straightforward erotic thriller without the science fiction elements. I think it’s possible, but on the other hand the fact that Anders is an alien explains why he makes no overt sexual advances to either woman. And that works quite well. It emphasises that Jo’s jealousy is irrational. It emphasises the paranoid nature of her anxiety that Jessica will betray her sexually or leave her.

The acting is pretty good. Barry Stokes is weirdly detached, as you]d expect from an alien who understands nothing of people. Sally Faulkner is nicely intense with subtle hints of derangement that slowly become more marked. Glory Annen (in her film debut) is excellent. There are really only three characters in the movie which puts a lot of pressure on the three leads but they come through with flying colours.

This was a very low-budget movie made insanely quickly but it’s another movie that demonstrates that talent and commitment matter more than money when it comes to making movies.

Norman J. Warren did not direct very many movies. More than anything else this probably reflected the catastrophic state the British film industry was in by the mid-70s. Especially the British popular film industry. By the late 70s obtaining funding for genre movies was extremely difficult; by the mid-80s it was impossible. But he did make Satan’s Slave (1976) which is an awesome movie. And he did make the totally insane Inseminoid.

Prey is weird and disturbing but it’s a pleasingly interesting and oddball movie which is highly recommended.

The Vinegar Syndrome Blu-Ray looks fabulous and includes some worthwhile extras including an audio commentary by Norman J. Warren and Sally Faulkner.

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