Take a Bough: Perfect Prey (1998)

Dave kicks back with another ’90s DTV serial killer thriller but this time something seems oddly familiar…

When PERFECT PREY made its debut on HBO in early July ’98, there was nothing that suggested it connected to any other film. Even when the cameras started rolling nine months prior, industry bible Variety reported that it was simply a plain ol’ indie killer thriller (then titled ‘Perfect Lady’). And while the cable premiere was locked in early, Perfect Prey‘s producers had high hopes for an eventual theatrical run.

There was something eerily familiar about the film, though.

A character called Audrey Macleah.

Another called Captain Swaggert.

Weren’t they in Michael Cohn’s When the Bough Breaks (1994)?

Was this… A sequel?

If you glance at Perfect Prey‘s cast and crew, there’s a single connective body and that’s producer Denise Ballew. A former agent who’d just ended a spell as VP of Production and Development at Prism Pictures, Ballew was instrumental in getting the likes of Decoy (1995) with Peter Weller and Power of Attorney (1995) with Danny Aiello made. Cohn’s original When the Bough Breaks had been a modest hit on video for her and Prism too – so prior to taking an acquisitions job with Promark, HBO’s request for Ballew to provide a follow-up (of sorts) was impossible to resist.

Presenting a good balance between natural continuation and total standalone, Perfect Prey subtly alludes to its predecessor without bogging itself down with exposition. The mental state of Macleah (Kelly McGillis, replacing Ally Walker) is key to this. The forensic psychologist is now on a period of leave from the Texas Rangers, with her ex-boss Captain Feagler (T.J. Kennedy) referring to her as “a troubled woman”. Not that Swaggert (Bruce Dern, taking over from Martin Sheen) has any concerns. He knows her ability well, and the risk of a few fractious conversations between law enforcement departments is a price worth paying considering the situation.

In Perfect Prey, South and East Texas have been rocked by a series of five similar murders. Each time the victim has been a young woman held captive for up to six days before their inevitable slaughter. With a sixth female snatched off the streets, the cops know it’s a race against time – and Macleah’s accutely aware that she could very well be the only person capable of saving her.

The definition of derivative, the script by Robert McDonnell (his second serial killer flick of the year after Postmortem (1998)) is prone to borrowing sizable chunks of subgenre influencer The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – but that’s OK as there’s enough depth to elicit a few satisfying nods of approval at the screen. Be it Richard Riehle’s cynical and sexist homicide detective or David Keith’s chilling psycho, the pieces in McDonnell’s jigsaw are a fine assortment, even if they’re ultimately part of a puzzle we’ve completed before.

Happily, McGillis brings considerably more to Macleah than Walker did, and Dern is a fair trade for Sheen. Quite why Perfect Prey junked explicit attachments to its predecessor for its American release is a mystery, especially as it bore the name ‘When the Bough Breaks 2: Perfect Prey’ when it landed on British video in February ’99. As a humorous aside, Rick Fulton’s snappily titled WowVideos column in the Scottish Daily Record was quick to dismiss this Howard McCain helmed picture’s arrival on U.K. soil:

“Who has seen – or even heard of – the first film?” he scoffed. “It bears no relation to the original, and neither Ted Danson nor Rachel Ticotin return.”

Wrong film Rick, but nice try.

Nice try.

USA ● 1998 ● Thriller ● 91mins

Kelly McGillis, Bruce Dern, David Keith, Richard Riehle, D.W Moffett ● Dir. Howard McCain ● Wri. Robert McDonnell

[1] WowVideos: Boughing Out Disgracefully by Rick Fulton, Daily Record, 26th February 1999.

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