There are good films, and there are bad films. There are even ‘so bad they’re good’ films. And then there is Deadly Prey (1987).
This movie exists in its own universe. Like a comet, it hurtles past the Good and Bad constellations, briefly orbits planet So-Bad-It’s-Good, before exiting our galaxy for as yet uncharted regions of critical understanding.
But, lest we become lost in deep space, let us pause to consider the plot, which is very much rooted in our own earthly world.
In the backwoods outside Miami, a team of mercenaries – led by ruthless Colonel Hogan (David Campbell) – is rigorously preparing for a covert mission. To hone his soldiers into finely tuned killing machines, Hogan has adopted an extreme and unconventional approach at his training camp.
You see, the Colonel is the type of man who laughs at mere assault courses, who snubs his nose at bayonet-holed straw dummies. Not for him the tired fakery of pretend military exercises, oh no: Hogan prefers to keep it much more real and lethal.
In fact, his approach revolves around having his soldiers hunt and kill ‘runners’ – ordinary people kidnapped off the street and forced to flee for their lives in a secluded wood before they’re caught and killed.
The film opens with the latest ‘runner’ being easily chased down and murdered. Unimpressed, Hogan orders his men to head into town and bring back some fresh meat. By a huge coincidence, the elite mercenaries make the mistake of snatching Mike Danton (Ted Prior).
So, given these kill-or-be-killed stakes, only one question remains: can Colonel Hogan and his mercenaries kill Danton, before Danton kills them?
Now, this may not sound like a plot that you’d need a PHD in astrophysics to understand, but – much like the mysteries of our solar system – Deadly Prey asks questions baffling enough to leave even Stephen Hawkins’ electronic voice box speechless.
Why, for instance, does Danton spend the entire film running around naked, except for a pair of skin tight denim shorts cut so short they verge on the pornographic?
Why, despite fighting for his life against a team of elite soldiers, does Danton decline to pick up a gun? I made it fully 49 minutes before Danton, having fought off numerous assailants, finally thinks to picks up a weapon. (Having said that, Danton had in fact killed 20 people by this point with relative ease, so maybe that’s a moot point.)
And why does Danton’s girlfriend, having seen him kidnapped and bundled into the back of a van, call – not the police or any other recognisable form of law enforcement – but her freaking dad, for heaven’s sake?
I know I ask these questions, but your time would be better spent searching for the origins of the universe than trying to find answers in the plot. With Deadly Prey it’s not so much a case of suspending your disbelief, as completely erasing it.
This is nowhere more evident than in the credulity-shattering scene where Colonel Hogan, examining the crumpled corpses of two of his men, is suddenly struck by a chilling realisation.
“I know this, I know this style… It’s my style… Danton? Mike Danton, it’s gotta be.”
“Know him? I trained him.”
I especially enjoyed the in-no-way-unbelievable revelation that the Colonel can recognise precisely who killed the two men by the nature of their butchery. What did our hero do, carve ‘Danton wuz here’ into their abdomens? Utter piffle.
Still, for all its brain-dead tomfoolery, Deadly Prey is a thoroughly enjoyable romp, particularly when Danton tears about the woods employing the kind of advanced cub scout skills seen in First Blood or Predator.
Yes, the acting is universally horrendous but, combined with the lamentable editing which leaves everything happening a beat too slow, the film gradually begins to take on an odd, mesmeric charm.
This works best in moments of inspired gonzoid genius – such as when Danton severs an opponent’s arm during a fight, then uses the dismembered limb to beat him to a bloody pulp. It’s like the famous Monty Python and the Holy Grail black knight scene, only played straight – and all the funnier because of it.
So there’s certainly plenty to enjoy, and that’s even before we get to the exploding helicopter.
Intent on finishing off Danton, Hogan deploys a chopper to track down and kill the pesky veteran. Caught in open ground, it doesn’t look good for Danton as he desperately tries to evade machine gunfire from the aerial vehicle.
Finally, after ineffectually firing his own machine gun at the helicopter, Danton remembers his weapon is also fitted with a rocket-propelled grenade. One shot later, and Colonel Hogan has no more air support for his manhunt.
One moment the chopper is there: the next it’s a dirty great fireball. It’s almost like they didn’t actually blow up a real helicopter. That’s low budget filmmaking for you.
Exploding helicopter innovation
While it makes precious little sense, Danton’s refusal to pick up a gun until halfway through the film does have some benefits.
Sans gun, Danton has to improvise weapons and traps out of sticks, branches and whatever else is lying around the woods, making for some highly entertaining methods of despatching bad guys.
The music in the film is bizarre. A keyboard heavy ballad, it sounds like the score for a daytime soap opera rather than a testosterone-fuelled, macho action movie. Again, cost considerations probably played a part in all this.
Exposition is an art. When it’s done well, it can effortlessly give the viewer vital information about the story without getting in the way of scene. Conversely, when it’s done badly an actor can be left slowly chewing big chunks of indigestible dialogue.
Deadly Prey’s scriptwriters imaginatively opt for a third way and seek to short-circuit the whole process. So when Danton unexpectedly runs into yet another old army buddy, we get to hear the immortal zinger: “Mike Danton? I haven’t seen you since you took a bullet trying to save my life.”
Were there any other important details you needed about their relationship?
The cult around Deadly Prey’s has steadily grown over the years. So much so, that it appears a sequel Deadliest Prey with Ted Prior himself is on the cards for next year.
Review by: Jafo