Perfect Prey (1998)


aka Perfect Prey: When the Bough Breaks II

USA. 1998.


Director – Howard McCain, Screenplay – Robert McDonnell, Producers – Denis Ballew, Glenn Greene & Charles Meeker, Photography – Edmund Talavera, Music – Ennio di Berardo, Special Effects Supervisor – Larry Fioritto, Production Design – Roger Fortune. Production Company – Meeker-Greene Entertainment


Kelly McGillis (Audrey McLeah), David Keith (Dwayne Allan Clay/Daniel Wallace), D.W. Moffett (Detective Jimmy Cerullo), Bruce Dern (Captain Swaggert), Richard Riehle (Detective Devlan), Joely Fisher (Elizabeth Crane), Clayton Murray (Harlan Evans), Mike Kennedy (Captain Dan Feagler), Gregg Daniel (Detective Footman), Nicole Forester (Patricia Atkins), Trichina Arnold (Susie)


Houston police captain Swaggert is faced with what he believes is a serial killer, although his superior dismisses such an idea. Swaggert appeals to forensic profiler Audrey McLeah for help in making the case. Audrey has been placed on sick leave because of mental health issues but Swaggert persuades her to come back in a consultancy capacity. She soon begins to draw connections in the case where the police have been unable. She deduces that the killer is antique dealer Dwayne Allan Clay who tours fairs across the state, targeting and abducting women who express an interest in his collector’s dolls. Meanwhile, Jimmy Cerullo, a fellow detective working with Audrey, has uncovered evidence that Audrey may have been abducted by Clay while she was a med student and that the wrong person has been convicted for the crime.

When the Bough Breaks (1994) was a fine and underrated entry in the 1990s forensic psychology/serial killer thriller genre that emerged after the success of The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Though burdened by a number of plot holes, it worked through a fine performance from Ally Walker as the profiler, her unusual relationship with a boy in a psychiatric institution and some well handled twists and suspense. It was probably not a film that ever needed a sequel – or for that matter seemed popular enough to warrant one – however this emerges in Perfect Prey. Few of the people involved with When the Bough Breaks are present here. Denis Ballew, one of the co-writers of the original, is a producer but appears to be the only common name behind the cameras. The characters of Audrey McLeah and Captain Swaggert are carried over from the original. However, the roles that were played by Ally Walker and Martin Sheen the first time have now been recast with Kelly McGillis and Bruce Dern. Unlike When the Bough Breaks, Perfect Prey did not achieve a cinematic release but went directly to cable tv.

Whereas When the Bough Breaks did some original things with the forensic psychology/serial killer thriller, Perfect Prey heads into more traditional territory. The plot parallels The Silence of the Lambs in a number of ways. David Keith and his penchant for abducting women and locking them up before killing them, as well as his apparently confused gender issues, are far too close to Jame Gumb in The Silence of the Lambs, for instance. The heroine’s obsessive tracking of the killer before he kills his next victim and the climactic scenes where she tracks down his street address and ventures into his house alone without backup are copied directly from The Silence of the Lambs. All that Perfect Prey lacks is a character like Hannibal Lecter, although Clayton Murray’s performance as a crazed Death Row inmate who claimed responsibility for Audrey’s abduction in the past is clearly an attempt to inject some of this into the mix.

For all that, Perfect Prey is not too badly written. The character tensions between Audrey and the other detectives on the Houston police force are well drawn and scriptwriter Robert McDonnell throws in some reasonable twists. If there had been someone like Michael Cohn who directed When the Bough Breaks at the helm, Perfect Prey could have been a fair effort; alas, the film suffers from bland direction that fails to grasp many of the opportunities for suspense.

Kelly McGillis makes a striking substitution for Ally Walker. She gives a much harsher and more burned out performance than Ally Walker did – indeed, Kelly McGillis’s Audrey is at such removes from Ally Walker’s interpretation that they could be two separate characters in different films. McGillis is also lumbered by a most unbecoming haircut, although she at least does a fair job of looking drab and burned-out. David Keith is perhaps a little too chirpy and far too much like Ted Levine in The Silence of the Lambs to fully convince, although there is a certain fascination to seeing him work his charms at the fair and especially in the scene where he confronts Kelly McGillis there. Bruce Dern seems miscast – it seems harder to think of anyone less suited to substituting for Martin Sheen, who is known for his cool-headed nice guy performances, than Dern who has a history as bug-eyed crazies.

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