As you know (or will understand after reading this sentence), I love a ridiculous movie. Where some see incompetence, I see quirk. Where some see nonsense, I see charm. Where some laugh at the stupidity, I also laugh at the stupidity, but in a more endearing way. I’m always looking for an undiscovered, lunkheaded gem, and every once in a while I find a movie that exceeds my expectations, a movie that is so loaded with absurdity it is like an embarrassment of riches, or, more accurately, an embarrassment of embarrassments. The 1987, low-budget action extravaganza Deadly Prey is one such movie.
The movie’s plot goes like this: the Nefarious Col. Hogan (David Campbell) is training an army of mercenaries for vague and undefined reasons. His favorite war game is having his right- hand thug, Lt. Thornton (Fritz Matthews), pick up random saps off the street and set them loose in the woods for his men to hunt down. However, they make a serious (and wildly coincidental) error when Thornton snatches Mike Danton (Ted Prior), the deadliest Special Forces operative Hogan ever trained. Soon they find that the hunters have become…well, you know where this is going.
Full disclosure: Deadly Prey is a rock stupid movie. Take the most mindless action flick you can imagine, remove all the nuance and plausibility, and you have Deadly Prey. Ostensibly, it has a The Most Dangerous Game premise (see also: Turkey Shoot, Surviving the Game), but the plot is really only an excuse to kill as many nameless bad guys as possible. What it lacks in, well, everything resembling quality, it makes up for in pure enthusiasm and dedication to its theme. The theme: Ted Prior is awesome.
A musclebound slab with a voice akin to a low frequency seismic vibration, Ted Prior’s Danton is a man of action. When he’s not killing someone, he’s preparing to kill someone, and the movie excels in coming up with new ways for Danton to kill people. He likes his knife, so there are multiple stabbings, but he also uses it for whittling spears (rather than picking up one of the dozens of assault rifles dropped by his victims). His improvisational kills are the best, hoisting a guy and snapping his back against a tree, impaling a dude with a twig, stuffing a grenade down some poor schmuck’s pants. Near the end, he breaks down and uses a gun, which, as it turns out, is much more efficient than a spear. It would have been a much shorter movie if he began that way, but then we wouldn’t get to see him push a mound of rocks down a cliff onto his enemies like he was Wile E. Coyote.
In addition to his killing prowess, the movie shows off Danton’s keen survival skills. He wraps a single vine around his torso to disappear into the thick Californian jungle. He lies on a bare branch two feet over everyone’s head pretending to be a chunky pink python. Not only does he dig a pit to hide in within seconds, he also fashions a camouflaged bamboo covering to use for ambushes. He is such a dedicated survivalist that he eats worms (for real) and knows how to cook a mouse on a spit. I don’t mean just skewering the whole thing over the fire like a barbarian. He cuts the mouse into the choicest bits and cooks them on a tiny stick. Surprising amount of meat on a mouse, by the way. Yes, you have to make hard decisions when you’ve been stuck in the wilderness for, um, a day.
The movie doesn’t tip its hat right from the beginning. At the start, Mike Danton seems like an average bum, not wanting to leave his sweet waterbed to take the trash out for his wife. Thornton certainly doesn’t realize what he’s getting into when he snatches Danton (in broad daylight, in front of house, surrounded by witnesses). Everything changes once his sweatshirt comes off, though. When the camera makes a slow pan up his almost naked body—as if he were a Greek god in cut-offs—we know those paramilitary clowns are in trouble.
Not that they weren’t in trouble enough to begin with. The movie opens with a full squad of mercs stalking an unarmed, overweight accountant in comically tattered clothes. He is the most un-deadly prey imaginable, but they still can’t bring him down, even with full automatic weapons and grenades. The accountant even manages to take one of them out with a rock before finally being mowed down by Thornton, the only competent soldier in the bunch. Setting these guys against a murder machine like Danton is blatantly unfair. It’s like sending out a bunch of ducklings to hunt a tiger.
Do you remember that sequence in Rambo: First Blood Part 2 where John Rambo uses the jungle to stealthily take out several Vietnamese soldiers? Deadly Prey is like that sequence, but stretched out for the length of a whole movie. Danton lays waste to the first group of soldiers in minutes. When Hogan realizes who they are dealing with (Thornton should have totally been fired for picking that guy), he sends a larger batch of reinforcements. Danton wipes them out and the next batch Hogan sends the day after. It’s funny that no one balks at being ordered to hunt a man who’s killed the last forty-five guys sent after him. They are less mercenaries than they are professional lemmings.
I blame Hogan. The shady businessman funding his army-building enterprise (Troy Donahue, one of two “big names” in the movie) describes Hogan’s training skills as “the best.” I must politely disagree. First of all, he is clearly running a bargain basement operation. His headquarters are a military surplus depot surrounded by WWII era Army vehicles that we are supposed to believe still function. Most of his elite recruits look like stoners fired from the local Arby’s. Their training seems to consist of walking in a straight line and shooting randomly without aiming. The few times they get close to Danton, they engage him in hand-to-hand combat—one at a time, naturally. I’m glad their training prevented them from doing something stupid, like just shooting Danton point blank.
Part of Hogan’s special training must include being oblivious to anything happening behind you, because the Tin Man could sneak up on any of these guys. This includes Danton himself (Hogan’s prize pupil). First he is knocked out and dragged into Thornton’s Jame Gumb abduction van while he’s giving directions. Then, after an entire day of eluding Hogan’s men, he is taken by surprise by a couple of Deliverance style yokels (who talk in thick Southern accents, despite being in California). Also, his field of vision seems to be limited to the framing of the camera, because he gets a surprise punch from a guy literally standing right beside him in an open field.
While the movie spends most of its time showing you that Danton is awesome, they also spend a lot of time telling you that Hogan is somehow equally awesome. According to Danton, Hogan is the “most decorated Special Forces officer in history.” Unless his metals are for Advanced Desk Sitting and Creative Grenade Arrangement, I see no evidence of this statement. Hogan barely lifts a finger the entire movie. I don’t even understand why anyone listens to him. When they finally manage to capture Danton, Hogan tries to persuade him to switch sides. His negotiation tactics amount to yelling “Join me, damn it!” Somehow, Danton resists this compelling argument. As terrible as he is at everything else, Hogan does have a Jedi like ability to make people not want to kill him.
The first night, Danton sneaks up on Hogan. Rather than slitting his throat, he just tells Hogan to back off and stop making him kill all his guys. Basically, he lets him off with a warning and disappears into the shadows. Hogan immediately sends another bunch of guys to hunt him some more. Danton has multiple opportunities to kill him afterwards, but doesn’t. Even after he [Spoiler] causes the death of his wife, Danton still doesn’t kill him. All he does is tell Hogan to take off his shirt and shoes and start running. Presumably this is to give Hogan a taste of his own most dangerous game, but we never know because the movie just ends with a freeze frame of Danton shouting a battle cry. Um, yay… I guess? It’s a strange time for the movie to discover ambiguity.
I would be remiss to not mention one very special guest star. Instead of calling the police after witnessing Danton’s abduction, his wife calls her dad. Because who needs the police when your dad is the one and only Cameron Mitchell? And I’m talking late stage career, full on weird-rambling-uncle mode Cameron Mitchell. Most of his screen time consists of wandering around with a gun, looking slightly confused, and spouting monologues about his time as a cop on the streets, “where there is no music.” Every one of his scenes is pure gold. I’m fairly sure he had no idea which movie he was acting in, and I’m 100% sure he ad-libbed all of his lines. The only thing he needed to know was there was a paycheck waiting for him at the end, and he was sure as hell going to earn it.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this movie is that it has a sequel. From 2013! Now, it is not uncommon for the director of one of these forgotten, super low-budget indies from the ‘80s to claim that they are working on a sequel. It’s always a pipe dream, but director David Prior (Ted Prior’s brother) somehow pulled it off. I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently Danton didn’t kill Hogan after all! Hogan’s been in jail all this time. Now that he’s out, he’s looking for revenge. Man, after all those years the guy is still an entitled prick. I can only imagine what kind of deadly, high tech office desk he will sit behind this time.