Hunting is one of those topics that inspires a visceral reaction in people. Either you’re the sort who can’t stand the idea of gunning down defenseless animals for sport, or you believe that humanity got to the top of the food chain for a reason and we can do whatever we need to to stay there, there aren’t many neutral parties in this argument. But what if… what if we weren’t on top of the food chain? What if humans were prey, not predators? Hollywood’s been playing with this idea since 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game, and plenty of directors have taken a crack at the concept. As we celebrate the return of the once-shelved controversy The Hunt, let’s program a virtual film festival of our favorite movies where humanity is the prey. Before you say anything, yes, we left The Hunger Games out on purpose. Let’s pursue more exciting prey, shall we?
A Quiet Place
Here’s a great place to start: with an extraterrestrial race that’s just better at hunting than we are. A Quiet Place posits an alien race that is basically indestructible to human munitions and hunts by sound. They’ve already decimated the planet’s population when the movie starts, leaving scattered bands of survivors creeping silently through the wreckage trying to hold on for one more day. The film follows a family of four contending with the beasts as the mother gives birth – not typically something you can do without making a little noise. It’s a tense and fun thriller even if the ending feels a little hokey.
The participants in Kinji Fukasaku’s exploitation classic aren’t hunting each other because they want to – they’re just junior high schoolers marooned on an island and forced to battle to the death by the Japanese government. If you’ve played Fortnite you probably recognize the premise, and this was a cult hit that inspired a ton of imitators. The original is still one of the best, combining tense sequences of stalking, relentlessly brutal combat, and a performance by Takeshi Kitano as the class’s teacher. It mixes extremely dark humor in to create a unique and transgressive movie.
One of the lesser-known films on this list, 1971 mockumentary Punishment Park is worth digging up for the brutal and unsparing way it presents its central concept – a group of anti-war protesters are loosed into the California desert with no water or food and pursued by police officers and National Guardsmen as a training exercise. If the protesters reach the end of the course in three days, they will be freed. If captured, they face prison sentences. Combining alternate history and tense survival, much of the dialogue was improvised by the actors which make the whole production even more realistic.
The 10th Victim
This oddball 1965 Italian sci-fi flick takes a popular human-hunting concept – the murder game show – and runs with it. In the future, violent individuals participate in “The Big Hunt,” a televised competition where they need to survive ten rounds – five as the hunter, and five as the prey. If they do, they retire in wealth and luxury. If they don’t – well, they die. Ursula Andress stars as a huntress about to get her tenth kill, only to run into Marcello Mastroianni as her target. The duo plays a wild New Wave game of cat and mouse before a remarkable downer climax, even for the genre.
The Naked Prey
The oldest film on this list, 1965’s The Naked Prey is a fascinating film. Cornel Wilde stars as an unnamed safari guide who runs afoul of an African tribe that kills his clients strips him naked and turns him loose on the savannah to be hunted down. Wilde both produced and directed the movie as well, so every ordeal he suffers through on screen is his own damn fault. The movie stood apart from its contemporaries with a unique soundtrack of authentic African tribal chants and very little dialogue. The racial politics of this one are a little dated in the 21st century, but the intensity of the pursuit is timeless.
Surviving The Game
Before Ice-T was a Law & Order staple, he kicked off his acting career in Ernest Dickerson’s 1994 human hunting flick. He plays a homeless man who gets hired as a hunting guide by a businessman who flies him out to the mountains and then informs him that he’s not the guide – he’s the prey. Pursued by a number of rich sociopaths who shelled out $50,000 for the opportunity to kill another human being, Ice has to take them out armed with just a pack of cigarettes and his fists. It’s a little silly at times but solid performances and cinematography that works way harder than the movie deserves make Surviving The Game worth watching.
This 1985 Aussie flick is inspired by Lord of the Flies but pulls some interesting twists along the way. When a primary school teacher and her class are abducted by a quartet of masked thugs and trapped in a cave, it kicks off a remarkably violent and unsparing chase through the backcountry as the kids learn some skills that they typically don’t teach you in school. When the group sets in at a rocky outcropping – the titular fortress – for a siege, things ramp up in a very satisfying and brutal way. HBO brought this over to the States early in the network’s life, so that’s where most of us saw it.
Legendary Hong Kong action director John Woo clashed with star Jean-Claude Van Damme while making his first Hollywood film, but Hard Target still holds up. A mulleted Muscles from Brussels stars as merchant seaman Chance Boudreaux. He gets caught up in a young lady’s quest to find her missing father and learns that he was abducted by businessman Emil Fouchon who likes to hunt people for sport. Woo’s first cut of this flick was so violent that it received an NC-17 rating and he had to trim it down seven times to get it to an R. It’s a gleefully meaty action movie that might not be up to the director’s best but still delivers.
City slickers in the wilderness is a premise that’s been played for both laughs and drama, but John Boorman’s 1972 Deliverance remains the pinnacle of the genre. When a group of Atlanta men hit a remote Georgia river, they come into contact with a group of hillbillies with bad intentions. One of the mountain men dies, and the other one disappears into the woods bent on revenge. What follows is a tense and unsettling chase down the river, where the survivors know that their pursuer could come from anywhere and use his knowledge of the area to take them out. It’s an iconic movie with some truly tremendous performances.
Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity
Sometimes you just want to eat the biggest chunk of cheese you can find, and this 1987 sleaze classic certainly fits the bill. After nubile female prisoners Daria and Tisa break out of their space prison, they crash their stolen shuttle on a planet with one inhabitant: the mysterious Zed, who lures unsuspecting travelers there to hunt them for sport and mounts their severed heads on the wall of his trophy room. With clunky robots, softcore humping and leather bikinis everywhere, this is a trashy take on the formula that was actually brought up before Congress as an example of inappropriate content on cable TV.
80s action doesn’t get much better than this, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura as elite military rescue team members who get surprised in South America by an extraterrestrial hunter. This one really hits all the sweet spots – the single Predator is outnumbered and outgunned, but his stealth tech and experience lets him pick off his foes one by one as they struggle to figure out what is happening. The final slugfest between Arnold and the beast is one of the most macho moments in cinematic history, as they discard their weapons and go toe-to-toe until the explosive climax. None of the sequels ever reached this level of badassitude, but we have high hopes for the new one.
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