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03.25.2012by: Jake Dee

Horror Ten Spot: The Best Hunt-Humans-For-Sport Flicks

Well gang, the time is finally nigh. The epic undertaking of THE HUNGER GAMES at long last gets underway this weekend, and if we're to believe how popular it's remained from announcement to post-production, the flick is poised to open with bigger numbers than any of the TWILIGHT films. The shite is MASSIVE! But let's not mistake popularity with originality, or even equate the two. Remember, THE HUNGER GAMES involves the primitive spectacle of competitive killing, a blood-sport to death we've seen many a time in film. In fact, the subject dates back to the early days of talkies. Considering such, and to perhaps get you in the mood for THE HUNGER GAMES, we thought why not spotlight our favorite examples of the ilk. A few variables thrown in of course, but ahead you'll find our Top Ten hunt-humans-for-sport movies. Enjoy!

#10. HOSTEL (2005)

Less of a hunt-for-sport, more of a torture-for-sport exercise, Eli Roth's HOSTEL can be seen as an appreciated wrinkle in the subgenre we're examining today. Of course, the first time we see the 2005 film, we don't really know it's that type of flick. Not until one late expository scene are we made privy of the fact that extremely wealthy individuals are paying good money to indulge in their twisted desire to kill. But that's what it essentially boils down to...jaded men of power getting their kicks by taking the life another human. Sport killing. Part II reversed genders, which seemed like a good idea on the page I'm sure, but in practice, didn't really heighten the scenario. The most disturbing thing about the original though, even more than the graphic, may be where the inspiration came from. Apparently Roth stumbled on a Murder Vacation website in real life, one that offered a chance to kill a person of your choice for like $10,000. That's some crazy ass shit!

#9. HARD TARGET (1993)

Van Damme's greasy, ultra-foul perm-mullet aside...the Muscles from Brussels kicks mucho tail in John Woo's 1993 action assault HARD TARGET. Again, little more than an American action take on Richard Connell's original short story is the film (Most Dangerous Game), but Woo's international flare brings a refreshing take on the material. In his American debut, Woo apparently had difficulty working with Van Damme, who often refused much of the Chinese master's direction. Woo wisely used this to his advantage, blending an array of martial arts with impressive gunplay that has held up surprisingly well over the last two decades. Actually, the violence in the film was so gnarly upon initial cut that the MPAA tagged the flick with an NC-17 rating. Many appeals and cuts later, Woo was finally awarded an R-rating (after seven submissions), despite studio interference. Man oh man what we'd kill to see that first cut, huh? Or, since we're talking hypothetically, word is Kurt Russell was considered for the lead role. If he'd won the role, would the film be better or worse than it is now?

#8. THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND (1983)

Sam Peckinpah's THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND, adapted from Robert Ludlum's novel of the same name, slants a CIA espionage angle into what essentially boils down to "The Dangerous Game" all over again. When a TV host gets word from the CIA that one of the guests at his weekend getaway has malicious intent, a deadly cat-and-mouse game ensues. John Hurt, Rutger Hauer, Dennis Hopper, Chris Sarandon and Craig T. Nelson (replete with foul 'stache) anchor Peckinpah's final film, which is uneven to say the least. In fact, Peckinpash was fired after the film wrapped in 1983, as the edit he provided drew awfully confused reactions from test audiences. Producers and the editor re-cut the film, drastically changing the opening and closing sequences. Not wise for a film, like most of Ludlum's work, with an already complex narrative. Ludlum actually offered to rewrite the script with more clarity, but the impasse between Peckinpah and the producers at the time prevented that from happening.

#7. SURVIVING THE GAME (1994)

Busey. Hauer. Ice-T. Watching these dudes pass a joint back and forth would be interesting enough...but when you team them up with Charles Dutton, John McGinley and F. Murray Abraham...set amid a lethal hunting game deep in the wilderness, the unabashed B-movie camp and kitsch of SURVIVNG THE GAME is born! Directed by Spike Lee's longtime cinematographer Ernest Dickerson (who's directed many eps of "The Walking Dead" mind you), this is perhaps the testosterone-fuelled flipside of THE HUNGER GAMES...an utter man's-man's film. Hell, I don't even remember a broad being in the picture, do you? No matter, this is late-night action at its stupefying finest...Ice-T going ham on one-liners, Busey and Hauer one-upping each with scene-filching lunacy. Violent and nihilistic, SURVIVING THE GAME is also a meditation on the psychology of suicide vs. homicide, which you don't really expect from an otherwise routine action-thriller.

#6. DEATH RACE 2000 (1975)

Although the remakes are slick, entertaining, often DTV fodder, without Roger Corman's subversive punk-rock original - the 1975 flick DEATH RACE 2000 - none of the remakes and sequels would exist. So consider this a doff of the lid to Corman's classic, starring a pre-Rocky Sly Stallone and a young David Carradine. The flick comes from the highly underrated filmmaker Paul Bartel (EATING RAOUL), who injects a raw energy and hyper-anarchic vibe into a premise we've come to know and love. In a dystopian future, maniacal drivers in souped-up and tricked out vehicles are awarded points for running down innocent pedestrians during a cross-country road trip. Shit's pure dark comedy, punctuated by inventive bouts of death and destruction, which I appreciate more than anything. An interesting bit of trivia, most of the cars seen in the film didn't actually run. They were often pushed down hill to create the illusion of motion, with the car-cams under-cranked as to speed up the images onscreen.

#5. THE RUNNING MAN (1987)

Given the technological advancement in the realm of cinema, it's kind of astonishing that Paul Michael Glaser's THE RUNNING MAN has yet to be retold in some form or fashion. Not that I'm in favor of such a thing, but considering how outmoded some of the tech is the 1987 original, an update would seem an obvious decision. Moreover, it's Stephen King's short story - about a wrongfully accused man thrown through a gauntlet of horrors on a sadistic game-show - that is so rife with spinoff potential. Still, the original retains an entertainment value that's near impossible to deny, playing to the morbid cynicism of a voyeuristic society. In many ways, THE RUNNING MAN foreshadowed reality TV, where viewership is predicated on the discomfort of the subject being filmed. In the movie, we see how sick and twisted a future population has become, how enamored they've become with watching the death of another human being, deserved or not.

#4. THE NAKED PREY (1966)

Cornel Wilde's 1966 film THE NAKED PREY may be the best overall example of the hunt-to-the-death films...it's no coincident that it's the first on our list to come after the 1932 template. You see, Wilde not only directs, but stars in the film as "The Man" being poached by a herd of indigenous African tribesman. Stripped naked and set to roam free through the African wild, the sole survivor of a Safari crew is given "the Lion's Chance" of making it out of the hellish scenario alive. So raw, so visceral, there's a particular early scene where one of the Safari mates is bound to a large plank by his elbows and knees. He's then smeared in clay and hoisted over a fire to roast alive...to the death. The indelible scene holds up today, but can you imagine the outrage of viewers in the mid-60s. On location with a sub-million dollar budget, you can imagine the rigors and perils of filming in Africa. Wilde was not only ill through most of the shoot, adding to his performance, he also narrowly escaped being pierced by spear that he claimed could have proved fatal. Gnarly shite!

#3. PREDATOR(S) (1987, 2010)

While overtly noted in Nimrod Antal's 2010 sequel...articulated through Adrien Brody's line: "this planet's a game preserve, and we're the game"...the 1987 version by John McTiernan is too essentially THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME with an extraterrestrial spin. It also has a military bent that sets it apart, as the hunted remain armed a great deal of the time. But aside from the uniqueness, damn has PREDATOR held up well over the last 25 years! The Mexican jungle locale, the pitch-perfect FX, the believable acting, the elaborate set-pieces, the ass-kicking finale...none of them as separate entities have lost an edge...and together as a whole, the film remains one of the best action flicks ever turned in. I'd even go so far as to say it's Arnold's best film (sorry T-2 purists), featuring quite possibly his best performance (outside of TWINS, of course). PREDATORS was a decent attempt to continue the story, or to retro-explicate the first entry, and while certainly head and shoulders above the AVP films, like most, it still can't touch the original.

#2. BATTLE ROYALE (2000)

Let's face it, on the page THE HUNGER GAMES is little more than BATTLE ROYALE for pubescent tween girls. Which is to say, no matter how much you imbue the film with Gap model automatons, nothing will ever outmatch Kinji Fukasaku's J-horror masterpiece. Nothing! Sure, the hunt-for-sport paradigm is somewhat compromised, as an out-and-out war to the death is seen in the film instead of specific poaching scenario. That said, onscreen competitive death has never more exorbitant, never more entertaining, never more visceral. The shite's wildly profligate, sodden in more gore than your girlie's panties on rag-cycle. Geysers of blood-spray, red gallons spewing every which way...resulting from guns, knives, swords, tasers, axes, nunchucks, crossbows, cyanide, and a whole raft of unconventional weapons...binoculars, saucepan lids and the like. Shite's brutality to the nth degree...realized in the most tremendous way imaginable. Such an irrefutably cool movie!

#1. THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932)

You've heard me talk about it all damn day, but it's true. Chances are, without the existence of the 1932 film THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, few of the aforementioned films would have followed suit. It's as simple as that. Irving Pichel and Ernest Schoedsack's trailblazing film has not only inspired the better part of our list, latently, it's often directly attributed as such in the writing credits. For those who missed this one, it gives you the setup we're all familiar with: a maniacal hunter hatches a shipwreck to get a load of passengers on a deserted island. There, he begins to pick off strangers one by one, hunting them down and mercilessly marauding them. The film was quite a jolt to the system in those days, with bitingly dark material most audiences weren't yet accustomed to. Interestingly, the film employed a lot of the same sets and sound FX from KING KONG, which came out a year later. 80 years and counting, through all its imitators and incantations, the '32 version still remains THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME.

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