Buried Vendetta: Eyes of the Prey (1992)

Dave delves deep into his bag obscurities to unearth the best rape-revenge movie you’ve never seen, and meets the director in the process.

In praise of Emerald Fennell’s excellent Promising Young Woman (2020), Isobella Austin, writing for The Conversation, remarked how it was “a refreshing change of pace in a genre packed with films depicting rape as an attack on the father’s honour” before going on to assert how “rape-revenge films starring women rarely focus on her internal journey, instead relying on her acts of incredible violence”.

If you look back at Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973), I Spit on Your Grave (1978), Ms. 45 (1981) and Savage Streets (1984), their priority was always the gratifying glory of blood-soaked avengement – which is fine. That said, it would be remiss to view a welcome smattering of female-driven, retribution-themed pictures as something that was only invented in the #MeToo era – just ask Rick Thompson.

“We’d done corporate and commercial work for years,” recalls Thompson. “We just thought why not do something that takes us [his wife Joyce was the production manager] out of our comfort zone and see if we can make something that tells a story. Dean Crow was a friend of ours, and at the time he’d made two movies [Backwoods (1987) and Twice Under (1989)] and word was that he was making money from them, which gave us the impetus to give it a go. Fast forward a few decades though, and he told us over lunch that he lost his shirt on the third one [Father’s Day (1988)], so perhaps one and done was the right decision!”

Initially it seems a straight-forward premise for EYES OF THE PREY, which begins with a typically gratuitous rape sequence that leaves medical nurse Alex (Peggy Dunne) in a bad way. However, when her influential uncle (Richard E. Kennedy) gets wind of the episode, his prominent role in town affairs means he’ll stop at nothing to avoid the publicity of a trial, even if it facilitates the men who attacked his niece remaining free. The assistant district attorney, Mitchell Litrofsky (Joel Kirschman), has other ideas though, and when he realises that Alex is out for vengeance, he tries to convince her that the criminal justice system is where her salvation lies.

For a film that has all but disappeared from public consciousness (if it was ever there to begin with), Rick Thompson’s first and unfortunately last feature belies all expectations. Visually, it’s cinematic, directed with flair and dexterity. Thompson’s clearly at ease with the camera (he serves as director of photography too), not least in the grimy, nocturnal shadows of downtown Indianapolis. Meanwhile, David North’s script, which could easily have settled for the lowest common denominator, attempts to bring a moral complexity to the picture, and ensures that Alex’s evolving emotions form the main body of the narrative.

“We found David though the classified ads section!” recalls Thompson. “We had a pile of scripts, and we’d sit on the end of the bed each day once the kids were in bed, leafing through each one. Usually they’d start off with a truck sailing off a cliff or something, which led to ‘NEXT!’, because it was so far beyond our meagre budget. David’s script was originally titled ‘Vendetta‘, although by the time we were shooting we’d changed it to ‘Natural Reaction‘. Then, our distributor asked if we’d consider switching it to Eyes of the Preyand we loved it.”

The couple hit pay dirt in terms of casting. Peggy Dunne is ideal in the lead role, bringing vulnerability to a layered character who’s aching with pain, conflict and doubt.  Meanwhile, Maurice Chasse, as ringleader Frank Stanacek, is the straggly-haired, unshaven, headband-wearing embodiment of evil – but he’s not a caricature. Living at home with his upstanding immigrant parents, his room adorned with thong-clad beauties, there’s depth here in the type of character who’s so often drawn out in crayon around a cookie cutter. Ditto for the supporting cast, be it the good-natured, if slightly naïve Kirschman, or heavy-set defiler Steve (Daniel Scharbrough) – a man who’s only real concern in life is the welfare of his ailing Dad.

Debuting at WorldFest in Houston during the Spring of ’92, Eyes of the Prey made it onto tape in America twelve months later, while in Germany it was released under the fanciful moniker of ‘I Spit on Your Grave 2’.

“Well, that wouldn’t have been my idea for a title,” ponders Thompson. “But hey, the customer is always right! It was a great shoot and we moved fast, which for the most part meant one take for every scene. It was a twenty-one day schedule that began on 1st November 1989, and finished the day before Thanksgiving. It was a rich experience, and everyone seemed to get a lot out of it. Both Joyce and I would certainly have more money in the bank now if we’d not done it [Thompson thinks the total budget was $110k], but what a life experience!”

In terms of rape-revenge movies, Thompson’s film couldn’t be further removed from it’s Deutsch alter-ego, and perhaps its unconventional nature contributed to its anonymity. At the time that probably seemed like a bad business decision, but artistically speaking, especially thirty years on, it’s nothing less than a triumph.

USA ● 1992 ● Drama, Thriller ● 91mins

Peggy Dunne, Maurice Chasse, Mitchell Litrofsky, Kevin Lee Giese ● Dir. Rick Thompson ● Wri. David North

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