Review: Innocent Prey (1984)

Being Terrified Is Just the Beginning.

INNOCENT PREY (1984)
Rated R / Color / 99 minutes
Directed by Colin Eggleston
Also Known As: Voyeur
Purchase it: Umbrella Entertainment (DVD)

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS!

Having just reviewed KADAICHA, it made perfect sense to follow it up with INNOCENT PREY, the second Aussie-made movie that occupies Umbrella Entertainment’s double feature disc. Shot in 1983, this thriller from director Colin Eggleston (LONG WEEKEND) wasn’t released in the United States until 1991, when it made its VHS debut. INNOCENT PREY would then quietly fade into obscurity for nearly twenty-six years, and that is a crying shame because this movie is so much fun!

INNOCENT PREY tells the harrowing tale of Cathy Wills (P.J. Soles), who is surely one of the unluckiest women to ever walk the Earth. When we first meet her, Cathy is living an idyllic life in Dallas, Texas with her husband Joseph (Kit Taylor). That all changes one night when she sees Joe’s car parked at a seedy hotel. After calls to his office go unanswered, Cathy assumes he is having an affair and decides to go see for herself.

She sneaks around to the rear of the building and confirms her worst fears when she peeks in through the bathroom window. But Cathy’s shock and anger quickly turns to horror as she witnesses her hubby slit the unsuspecting prostitute’s throat with a straight razor (Deborah Voorhees from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING!), and continue to violently thrust away at her corpse. Disgusted, Cathy flees the scene, leaving Joe to clean up his mess.

She hadn’t been this horrified since the time she walked in on her grandparents “doing it.”

Later that night, Cathy waits in the darkened house for Joseph to come home, then bravely confronts him. Annoyed by his wife’s prying, Joe prepares to make her his next victim, until he is suddenly ambushed by the police and dragged away to answer for his crimes. Cathy then decides to accept an offer to visit Australia from her friend Gwen (Susan Stenmark), shortly after Joe escapes from a mental institution and tries to kill her! Once she arrives in Aussieland, Cathy has a brief respite from the insanity in her life, and even manages to find a little romance with a gentleman named Rick (Grigor Taylor).

But it is all very short-lived as Joseph manages to elude the authorities and track Cathy down in Australia! And on top of that, Gwen’s landlord Philip (John Warnock) is a total loon himself! He has hidden cameras stashed all over the house, and watches everyone during their most intimate moments as he dines upon microwaveable dinners. And wouldn’t you know it, he’s developed a dangerous fixation on poor Cathy, who now has to contend with two psychotic men as the film enters its electrifying third act! What’s a woman to do?!

When I selected INNOCENT PREY on the DVD menu, I wasn’t really sure what to expect as there is little to no information about this movie on the internet. (The Wikipedia page is pretty empty, and you can’t even find a trailer on YouTube!) But I have to say that I’m glad I went into this film blind, because I had a great time watching it! P.J. Soles (HALLOWEEN, ROCK N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL) turns in a good performance as the beleaguered Cathy Wills, a naive yet good-hearted woman who attracts the worst kind of men. Though she seems to take everything in stride, Soles really sells her moments of terror and sorrow well.

“Oh no! I left the curling iron plugged in upstairs!”

And while I do love P.J., Kit Taylor is easily my favorite actor in the entire film: He absolutely kills it as the murderous Joseph Wills. When we first meet Joe he is friendly and disarming, but his facade of normalcy crumbles early on. After a disastrous meeting with some oil tycoons, we discover that Joe is a fraud with a questionable history. This of course leads up to the big moment where he picks up Deborah Voorhees at a bar, then brings her back to his hotel room to introduce her to his favorite shaving implement.

And once he’s in “kill mode,” Joe becomes borderline unstoppable! He easily escapes from a not-so-high security facility, evades and murders multiple police officers, fakes his own death, and then sneaks his way to Australia to surprise his wife! But the tables are turned on him by the film’s other resident madman, Philip. Played brilliantly by the late John Warnock, Philip keeps a watchful eye on everything (and I do mean everything) via his closed circuit TV system.

Though he seems awkward and completely harmless at first, Philip quickly devolves into Norman Bates whenever he witnesses people “bumping uglies” on his monitors. And unlike Joe, who prefers stabbing and slashing, Philip prefers surprising his victims with thousands of volts of electricity. This leads to a few tense moments during the climax when Cathy tries to flee the house, but isn’t quite sure what doorknobs are safe to touch. (As revealed by the hilariously unexpected demise of a minor character!)

“Oh there’s someone sneaking up behind me? HA! As if I’d really fall for that!”

But what truly won me over was INNOCENT PREY’s dark sense of humor. While the cast plays everything straight, the scenario presented to the audience becomes increasingly over-the-top as the movie plays out. In particular, I loved how Joseph Wills suddenly becomes a tenacious slasher villain. He proves to be a terrible con-man, but is somehow capable of silently decapitating a police officer and using the head to set up a perfectly timed jump scare within minutes. (Stick with what you know I guess.) He’s easily the best part of this movie, and it is a pity that he unceremoniously bows out late into the film’s final act.

Replacing him as the main threat is the creepy and seemingly innocuous Philip, who finds sex to be morally repugnant and punishable by death. Philip’s brand of murder involves high-voltage booby traps, and burying victims in his garden before daybreak. He’s a fun addition to the proceedings, but is certainly a far cry from “slasher Joe,” the murder machine from New Zealand! Also, I must admit that Joe being a killer Kiwi made me chuckle a bit, because New Zealanders tend to be more reserved and polite than their Aussie counterparts. Then again, it’s always the quiet ones you’ve got to watch….

INNOCENT PREY is an enjoyable thriller that sadly never had a chance to find its audience. It’s got a great cast, a more than satisfactory soundtrack composed by Brian May (no, not that Brian May!), and offers up a FATAL ATTRACTION-type storyline with a slasher twist. I was pleasantly surprised by this movie, and I’m more than happy to reward it with a rating of:

DVD REVIEW:

Packaging: INNOCENT PREY comes in a standard DVD amaray case. Visit the KADAICHA review to see Umbrella’s cover art for this double feature release.

Audio & Video: I’m not quite sure what INNOCENT PREY’s transfer was sourced from (I’m assuming VHS?) but it fares a lot better than KADAICHA did. The movie is featured in fullscreen (4:3), and the picture quality isn’t bad at all. The 2.0 Dolby Digital audio track is perfectly acceptable, and I didn’t experience any issues as I watched the movie. For as rare as this film is, I really can’t complain about the presentation.

Special Features: KADAICHA shares the disc with INNOCENT PREY, earning top billing (even though INNOCENT PREY is definitely the better film), plus there are trailers for both Oz flicks. There is also a short interview with actress P.J. Soles entitled Looking Back on Innocent Prey: A Conversation with P.J. Soles. Running at just over twenty-two minutes, P.J. is very warm and engaging as she fields various questions about filming in Australia, and also shares some interesting tidbits about the film.

Spoiler: She totally loves Australia!

P.J. signed on to star in INNOCENT PREY, mainly because it would be her first leading role. Though she wasn’t too keen on appearing in another Horror film (she was just coming off of STRIPES), a trip to Australia was just too tempting! P.J. also shines a little light on the film’s delayed release (the result of Executive Producer David Williams having a spat over earnings between his U.S. and Australian distribution partners), discusses how the director worked around the Australian Film Commission’s rule of hiring one American actor, and addresses the controversy of her curly hairstyle in the film!

As stated earlier, there is little info on the web regarding this film (other than reviews), so this short interview was a welcome extra. I do wish there was a little more meat to P.J.’s interview (or an additional chat with someone else from the cast or crew) but I’m quite happy with what we’ve been given here!

Final Verdict: Though I would absolutely love a future release of INNOCENT PREY with an HD transfer, I’m just glad to have a copy of it in my collection. It’s an Ozploitation rarity that’s been given a new lease on life, and the inclusion of P.J. Soles’ interview definitely makes it worth picking up. Umbrella Entertainment’s double feature of KADAICHA & INNOCENT PREY gets my recommendation, and has earned itself a rating of: