Prey AKA Alien Prey (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (21st August 2019).
The Film

One of British genre cinema’s most important and distinctive independent filmmakers, Norman J Warren made a series of horror films which were at the forefront of a new wave in British horror during the 1970s. Reflecting a period of permissiveness and fearlessness, Warren’s distinctive stylings are far removed from the Gothic conventions of Hammer Films, deliberately upped the ante in terms of sex, violence and gore to create a new breed of horror that was designed to shock for shock’s sake.

Five of Norman J Warren’s horrifying chillers are presented here in new restorations and on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK. Containing a wealth of new and archival extras – including new appreciations by contemporary British filmmakers, new cast and crew interviews, audio commentaries on all five films, rare short films, outtakes and alternative scenes, and making-of documentaries – this stunning Limited Edition box set is strictly limited to 6,000 units.

Video

Two more thoroughly enjoyable Norman J. Warren flicks!

In Prey dog-faced alien - Kator - sent to assess Earth lands in the English countryside and assumes the identity of a local man Anderson (Barry Stokes). The real Anderson had attacked him after discovering him spying on him and his girlfriend (Sandy Chinnery).

He stumbles on the house of Jessica (Glory Annen) a bisexual woman who has recently broken up with her boyfriend Simon and is now living in the mansion with Jo (Sally Faulkner), a very intense homosexual woman who has obviously suffered physical and emotional abuse in the past. There is a subtext that implies that Jo may have killed the absent Simon and it’s obvious that she deeply resents and distrusts men. The two women are in a relationship. Into this unstable environment comes Kator / Anderson and naturally things turn into a pressure pot.

Strange, captivating scfi-horror variation on D. H. Lawrence’s The Fox (1922). Being a low budget Warren production from the late ‘70s it’s also got exploitation credentials with some nudity and blood letting. But it’s a simple, beautifully made film, well shot on lovely, summery English locations with a much stronger emphasis on characterisation than is usual for a film of this ilk and devotes much of films short screen time to the odd ménage à trois.

In my view this is easily Warren’s best and he steps up to bat doing a fabulous job, by any standard; especially when you consider that this was shot in two weeks over the summer with a skeleton crew. The strident, effective, very simple electronic score is by Ivor Slaney; a shame it’s not on CD. This has some brief, judicious effective use of slow motion. All of the performances are excellent, honest and no holds barred.

The second film covered here is Terror; a barmy horror pastiche taking elements from Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and filtering them through the more conventional sensibilities of Norman J. Warren. It’s well done with a committed cast and decent production values.

Ivor Slaney is back and his electronic score occasionally tries for Goblin-like intensity. Terror is little more than a loose plot that strings together a series of mildly gruesome deaths caused by the supernatural influence of Mad Dolly (a scenery chewing L. E. Mack) a witch who was murdered in the Georgian period and who’s out for revenge.

Doctor Who alumni Michael Craze (Ben in the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton eras) and Elaine Eves-Cameron (1978's The Stones of Blood with Tom Baker) turn up in fun supporting roles; Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca in the Star Wars films) has a hilarious bit designed to be a red herring. Another enjoyable ditty from Warren.

Both of these discs had some very mild framing issues when compared to the US Vinegar Syndrome releases but Powerhouse Films have issued replacements. In any case, the framing was so slight that only by doing side by side comparisons would 90% of punters have noticed the differences.

Prey has the more naturalistic colour schemes with Terror being heavily influenced by the more strident, artificial gel lighting Lucioano Tovoli conjured up for Argento's magnum opus. Both have splendid flesh tones with a warm but natural appearance. Red fares especially well in both transfers with plenty of blood on show; there's no signs of the slightly purplish hue that plagued the blood in Satan's Slave (1976).

Obviously, Terror is much less conventional than Prey so it really comes alive when the gels kick out and flood the screen. Prey has plenty of lush greens being set in a country house and environs and being a summer-lensed production is wonderfully pastoral.

Black levels on both are deep and rich with plenty of shadow detail; gone is the unintended crush of the standard definition transfers of old. If any remains it's baked into the celluloid. Detail is ever present on all focal planes with closeups fairing especially well. The films can look slightly soft and grainy but that's inherent in the materials and I could see not a trace of digital tinkering or noise reduction.

Contrast is very supportive on both but especially appreciated on Prey which is primarily set in bright, sunny and summery daylight; no blown out highlights here. The encodes are both flawless as we've come to expect from maestro David Mackenzie and Fidelity in motion; I can't honestly think of a single time MacKenzie and company have slipped up and done less than stellar work.

Both films look as good as they're ever likely to short of 4K restorations on UHD Blu-ray discs. Bravo Powerhouse Films!

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 1.66:1 (Prey), 1.85:1 (Terror) / 85:00 (Prey), 84:18 (Terror)

Audio

English LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English HoH

Both films have the same audio options as the other three films in the Bloody Terror boxset reviewed separately. Solid, well recorded mono tracks typical of the period with occasion evidence of production expediency. Being earlier than than the two '80s productions (Inseminoid, Bloody New Year) they're slightly more dated but essentially the same. They are however a notch more florid than Satan's Slave but I put that down more to the crew's greater experience and familiarity with working with Warren. Range is decent if not as spectacular as bigger budget productions but only a tech head is likely to really notice the difference.

Dialogue is always front and centre in emphasis so clear and easy to understand. Music is undistorted and I could hear no signs of pops or clicks. There is a very slight amount of hiss but it's barely audible.

As is usual for Powerhouse Films, English hard of hearing subtitles are provided and they're accurate and welcome. Essential even.

Extras

2004 audio commentary with Warren and film historian Jonathan Rigby on Prey
2004 audio commentary with Warren and screenwriter David McGillivray on Terror


Vintage yak traks ported over from the 2004 Anchor Bay Coffin-shaped boxset. Warren is always chatty and informative and Rigby is one of the best moderators in the business. On the Terror track, two old professional pals have a ball talking up a storm about working on the film. Both tracks are valuable and essential listening for fans.

"British Entertainment History Project: Norman J. Warren - Interviewed by Martin Sheffield on 5 April 2018, Part One 1942-1975" (60:17) prey
"The Early Years: Norman J. Warren on Directing in the Sixties" 2019 featurette (17:17) terror
"Norman J. Warren: A Sort of Autobiography" 2004 featurette (27:22) Terror


Biographical pieces which are self explanatory. The first is massively detailed and part one of a two-part piece with the second part on the Inseminoid disc and my comments there apply here as well. The new 2019 pie e is Warren concentrating specifically on starting out in the business in the swinging '60s. And the final one is ported over from the 2004 Anchor Bay set and focusses more on his life. All three are excellent and essential.

"Keep on Running: Making Prey" 2004 featurette (27:32)
"Bloody Good Fun: Making Terror" 2004 featurette (41:08)


Two chunky retrospectives ported over from the 2004 Anchor Bay set. Both are thorough and cover the productions from beginning to end and also comment on the after life they've had.

1977 On-set Footage from Prey with commentary by Norman J. Warren (2:21)

Silent footage shot on the set of Prey; fascinating if brief.

"Tales of Terror: John Nolan on Terror" 2019 featurette (12:45)"

Lead actor Nolan recounting his experiences working on Terror.

Terror: Extended Scenes (Play All - 5:26):
- Hypnosis #1 (first extended scene) (1:16)
- Hypnosis #2 (second extended scene) (0:53)
- Bathtime with Brenda (with audio introduction by Norman J. Warren) (1:34)
Night Club (with audio introduction by Norman J. Warren) (1:41)


Some amusing if non-essential extended bits and bobs with Warren explaining why they were deleted.

The Bridge:
- "The Bridge" 1955–57 short film (with optional commentary with Norman J. Warren) (6:52)
"Making The Bridge" outtakes with commentary with Norman J. Warren (1:31)
"Carol" silent 1962 test footage (with optional commentary with Norman J. Warren) (2:53)
Drinkin Time:
- "Drinkin Time" 1963 short (2:33)
"Drinkin Time: Introduction with Norman J. Warren" (3:22)
Whipper Snappers:
"Whipper Snappers" 1977 commercial (0:32)
"Whipper Snappers’ Introduction by Norman J. Warren" (3:17)
"Daddy Cross" 2011 trailer for a 1978 ‘lost film’, with voice-over by Warren (1:39)
"Norman J. Warren Presents Horrorshow" 2008 portmanteau short (32:46)


Examples of Warren's other, short work starting with his amateur "The Bridge" and moving in to his professional shorts "Carol" and "Drinkin Time" with the former being mere test footage. After that we have a '70s TV commercial, footage for the aborted feature film "Daddy Cross" and finally a short multi-part piece done for a convention, produced by the great man but directed by others. All interesting stuff for scholars.

Prey: Theatrical Trailer (1:01)
Terror: Trailers and Promo Spots (Play All - 4:07):
- Theatrical Trailer (1:41)
- French Theatrical Trailer (1:41)
- TV spot (0:22)
Radio spot (audio set to images of lobby cards) (0:22)

What it says; vintage promotional pie es.

Prey Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (54 images)
Terror Image gallery: Original Promotional Material (95 images)


Extensive HD galleries, particularly for Terror.

118-page liner notes book with new and vintage writing in all five films in the set.

Holy zarking fardwarks!

A ball-bustingly good extra 118 pages on Norman J. warren and his most popular films. Never a critical darling this is as good a collection of essays and material as I've read on a film maker and bless Powerhouse and all those responsible for giving Warren his due. There aren't many books out there about Warren and his work and this superb tome goes some way towards redressing the balance. Perhaps Jo Botting and Katt Ellinger can take up the gauntlet?

Overall

Overall superb discs of problematic sources but the team at Powerhouse Films has done wonders with Warren's endearingly goofy little programmers building - and improving - on the work done by Vinegar Syndrome for the US discs. Picture and sound are about as good as we can expect from films of this vintage and budget which seems to damn with feint praise which is not the intention. They both look fabulous and Powerhouse Films should be proud. As with the other three discs in the set (Satan's Salve, Inseminoid, Bloody New Year) the extras packages are second to none porting over many prior bits and pieces and adding valuable new ones.

I feel that I can say this now, but Bloody Terror is *THE* release of the year for me.

Get it bought ASAP because there are only 6,000 copies being produced and the whopping 118-page book is a deal breaker.

The Film: A Video: A+ Audio: A Extras: A+ Overall: A+

 


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