David A. Prior, a prolific low-budget filmmaker known for B-movies like Killer Workout and the infamous Deadly Prey, has died after what his brother Ted describes as “a long battle with failing health.” He was 59.
Prior began his career with the horror movie Sledgehammer (1983), which has the distinction of being the first shot-on-video slasher movie. That film established patterns that would persist throughout Prior’s career, namely, extremely low budgets, hammy dialogue, outrageous action, and, most importantly, the presence of his brother Ted, a former Playgirl centerfold who would go on to star in many Prior productions.
After Sledgehammer, Prior directed Killzone (1985), the first of several Vietnam-themed revenge movies in his filmography, Killer Workout (1987), one of two movies in the short-lived “aerobic horror” subgenre, and the “all-girl Dirty Dozen” Mankillers (1987) before directing what has become his best-remembered and most-beloved movie, Deadly Prey (1987). Despite appearing as if it was filmed in someone’s backyard, Deadly Prey has a certain over-the-top charm that has made it a favorite among VHS collectors. (VHS copies of the film regularly go for $50 and up on eBay.)
Prior’s output increased in the late ’80s, releasing four movies in 1989 and five in 1990 alone—including The Final Sanction with the late Robert Z’Dar—all in the action and sci-fi genres. This prolific streak continued until 1994, when Prior released the buddy-cop movie Felony. His output slowed considerably in the late ‘90s and 2000s, picking up again recently amid revival screenings of Deadly Prey at repertory theaters. At a 2011 screening at The Cinefamily in L.A., Ted Prior talked about his brother’s enthusiasm for his work, saying, “In his mind, it’s just [he thinks], ‘Ted, you have to see these effects, they’re awesome!,’ and I watch it and I go, ‘oh, God.’ But he’s got the drive.”
Prior released a sequel to Deadly Prey, Deadliest Prey, in 2013, and an action-thriller, Relentless Justice, in 2014. According to IMDb, he had two films in post-production at the time of his death. Prior’s Facebook page is overflowing with tributes from colleagues in Alabama (where he shot most of his movies), and L.A., many of whom remember him fondly as the person who gave them their first break.