Color, 1977, 85 mins. 13 secs. / 77 mins. 44 secs.
Directed by Norman J. Warren
Starring Barry Stokes, Sally Faulkner, Glory Annen, Eddie Stacey, Jerry Crampton
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Anchor Bay (DVD) (UK R0 PAL), Image, Redemption (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

Following Preythe lead of fellow PreyBritish genre innovator Pete Walker, Norman J. Warren made the shift from grimy sexploitation films like Her Private Hell and Loving Feeling to full-on horror films in the mid-'70s. His second terror outing (following Satan's Slave) and one of his best is Prey, a dreamy, pastoral chamber drama for three characters that happens to have some sci-fi elements and ultimately turns into a bloodbath.

Outside a remote English village, an alien arrives at night and quickly dispatches a young couple in the vicinity. It takes on the form of the dead man and calls itself Anders (Stokes) to infiltrate the home of Jessica (Felicity's Annen), a bisexual Canadian who's inherited the house, and her domineering lesbian lover, Josephine (Vampyres' Faulkner). Tension soon builds over Anders' refusal to eat normal food, his tendency to hunt animals on the property (which are blamed at first on a fox), and the disappearances of locals including Jessica's ex-boyfriend. Josephine becomes increasingly tense over the new arrival's influence over Jessica, which might threaten far more than the relationship between the two women.

A surprising change of pace from the usual straightforward horror fare of the time, Prey spends much of its time simply focusing on the three characters and showing how the power dynamic constantly Preyshifts around between them. This approach pays off most strongly when the film deals with sexual identity, especially Jessica's Preyslippery sense of attraction and a lengthy, memorably strange sequence in which the women dress up Anders in drag for some celebratory bubbly. All three actors are quite strong in their roles, with Stokes making for a chilling, unusual threat and demonstrating once again why his career should have lasted much longer. (Among other projects, he can also be seen in one of the better UK '70s sex comedies, The Ups and Downs of a Handyman, and Jacques Demy's Lady Oscar.) It's not a film for all tastes, but the radical break from standard genre approaches here still makes it a fascinating film as well as an unexpected variation on D.H. Lawrence's controversial novella The Fox, which had been filmed a few years earlier with Sandy Dennis and Anne Heywood in roles that will seem oddly familiar after watching this film.

Also released as Alien Prey, this film has a bumpy history on home video with a variety of cuts in many versions. The UK VHS suffered the most, losing a few seconds from its goriest Preyclimactic scene and also dropping several minutes around the halfway point leading up to the gender-bender party. The American VHS from Comet (in an oversized box with a memorably shocking cover) had all the violence intact but was fairly difficult to find, while the subsequent Image DVD (licensed via Redemption) in 2004 Preyhad a significant 11-second trim to the big gore scene, as did the reissue from Redemption via Kino Lorber in 2009. The transfer was also quite weak and full of damage, though the disc did feature a half-hour director interview, a British trailer, and a small gallery. Norman himself was involved in the UK DVD premiere from Anchor Bay as part of a Norman J. Warren Collection with Terror, Satan's Slave, and Inseminoid, marking its uncensored video premiere in its native country and also featuring a very informative audio commentary with Warren and Jonathan Rigby. All home video versions to this point were full frame and visibly cropped, losing a substantial amount of image info on the sides.

The 2018 dual-format Blu-ray and DVD release from Vinegar Syndrome marked only the second Warren film to come out in HD (and the first horror title), though it's definitely not the last. The 1.66:1 framing is a huge plus here as it finally restores the full width of the compositions, making much more artistic sense Preyand removing much of the ratty, claustrophobic feeling of the other cropped releases. It's also completely uncut thanks to being transferred from the original negative without the damage and missing frames from the Image release, and the colors look healthier here than ever before. The DTS-HD MA English mono track sounds excellent, Preywith optional English SDH subtitles provided. The film can also be played with a new commentary featuring Warren and Faulkner (who apparently had a much better time on this film than Vampyres) with ample discussion of the locations (including Shepperton), the eventual fate of Stokes (he went off to Canada), the extreme challenge of working with animals (especially Wally the parrot), the repulsive condition of that lake, and the logistics of importing swans. In addition to the trailer, the release also features a trio of featurettes -- “Directing the Prey” (21m57s) with Warren, “Becoming the Prey” (13m56s) with Faulkner, and “Producing the Prey” (7m17s) with producer Terry Marcel. All of these expound on topics from the commentary while touching on everything from a planned but unproduced sequel to the UK Pink Panther films just before this to the unusual nature of lesbian screen couples at the time. There's also more detail about the difficulty of wrangling enough equipment and money as well as keeping up with a script that was being rewritten as it went along but turned out as a memorably perverse and atmospheric piece of work in the end.


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Reviewed on February 12, 2018.