Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Off the Shelf: Deadly Prey / Deadliest Prey (Blu-ray)

by Patrick Bromley
In Vietnam, he was the best. He still is.

A mix between The Most Dangerous Game and First Blood, Deadly Prey casts Ted Prior (brother of the director) as Vietnam veteran Mike Danton, who is kidnapped by a team of mercenaries led by Colonel Hogan (David Campbell) and hunted for sport. See, he's the prey. But he's deadly.
Co-written and directed by David Prior -- the man also responsible for Killer Workout, recently released on Blu-ray by Olive Films and Slasher // Video as well -- Deadly Prey is to action movies what Z-grade slashers are to horror: it delivers only the bare minimum of what we want from these kinds of films. After the smallest bit of setup, Deadly Prey becomes a 65 minute demo reel of violence. Bad guys encounter Danton and Danton kills them, usually by shooting them but on at least one occasion by chopping off an arm (bloodlessly, because making it bleed is a more difficult special effect) and beating the bad guy to death with it. It's about as basic and straightforward as an action movie can get, directed with total crudity and artlessness by David Prior.

And, yet, the movie has developed a fervent cult following, and I don't believe its fanbase embraces it for its "so bad it's good" camp value. For action lovers looking for a fix in the heyday of VHS, Deadly Prey cuts away all the bullshit and offers just the thing that fans want in a movie like this: one dude messing up a bunch of other dudes with much blood being shed. It's assembled with all the style and technique of a group of high school friends making a movie in their backyard, but that probably adds to the charm for some.
More than 25 years after Deadly Prey was released, director Prior wrote and directed a sequel, appropriately titled Deadliest Prey. I guess if Rocky and Indiana Jones can come back after long absences, so can Mike Danton. Ted Prior reprises his role, now sans mullet and a quarter century older as well as a married father of one. After a long stint in prison, Colonel Hogan gets out and wants revenge, so he has Danton kidnapped (again) and hunted for sport (again). The big twist this time and is that he has the jungle outfitted with cameras (yep) so that the hunt can be broadcast as a reality show.

In nearly every way, Deadliest Prey is just a remake of the original film: same lead actors, same story, even the same supporting performance by Fritz Matthews as one of the mercenaries, here playing the twin brother of his original character. He's even dispatched the exact same way. Prior hasn't really progressed as a filmmaker in the 25 years that have elapsed, and the naïve sincerity he once demonstrated in Deadly Prey no longer gives him any currency. He had directed another 24 films by the time he made Deadliest Prey, meaning the movie has far less of an excuse for being as crude and bad as it is. What once was charming now just feels past its prime and a little bit sad.
Previously unavailable on DVD, Deadly Prey and its 2013 sequel are now out on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films and Slasher // Video. Deadly Prey looks a lot like a bad old VHS tape, which is explained by the disclaimer that appears on the disc jacket:

"Deadly Prey is presented using the best available elements provided by Slasher // Video. Not sourced from an HD Master; remastered from PAL Beta SP and unconverted to Blu-ray and DVD specifications."

Because it's much more recent and looks to have been shot digitally, Deadliest Prey looks substantially better, but there are pros and cons to this. While Deadliest Prey looks a lot better than its predecessor on Blu-ray -- it's presented in proper widescreen and the digitally-shot image is bright and clean in HD -- it's actually to the movie's detriment. There's a layer of remove when the film looks like bad VHS shot in the '80s -- it's much easier to forgive the crudity of the filmmaking because it all seems of a piece. When the movie looks more slick and contemporary, the incompetence rises right to the forefront.

Both discs contain a few bonus features, consisting mostly of interviews with the participants talking about what it was like to make the movies and see them develop a following.

As someone who loves '80s action movies and exploitation films, I'm able to cut both Deadly Prey and Deadliest Prey a great deal of slack. I won't make a case that either one is very good, but they serve their function.

Deadly Prey Blu-ray release date: November 17, 2015
88 minutes/1987/Unrated
1.33:1 (1080p)
DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)

Bonus Features:
Photo Gallery
Dubbed Prey

Deadliest Prey Blu-ray release date: November 17, 2015
80 minutes/2013/Unrated
1.78:1 (1080p)
DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)

Bonus Features:
Interview with Ted Prior
Interview with David A. Prior
Interview with David Campbell
Interview with Fritz Matthews

Order Deadly Prey from Olive Films here

Buy Deadliest Prey from Olive Films here

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