Open Season (1974)
This film from director Peter Collinson almost serves as a precursor to the realities the horror genre would unleash in the years to come when the real monsters are those around us as opposed to a boogeyman in the dead of night sporting fangs or a hairy wolfman costume. It’s a cruel film yet one that’s hard to turn away from and that’s a credit to the three stars portraying what amounts to psychotic madmen that are unveiled as the plot develops. A plot that strongly resembles an old chestnut, The Most Dangerous Game.
The three in question are good old boys from the city heading out to the wilderness for their annual hunting excursion away from the wife and kids. Peter Fonda, John Phillip Law and Richard Lynch are a trio of Vietnam vets who seem to be decent enough until the road trip starts and the debauchery begins. Blowing off some steam the boys start by picking up a couple of waitresses leading to an all out orgy. By this point they’re not quite the family oriented hubbies they were introduced as at the film’s opening engaged in a family picnic with the neighbors and kids. Somethings amiss and getting creepy.
My suspicions are confirmed when the trio begin to covet the good looking woman pumping gas at a roadside station. A kidnap attempt is upon us. Cornelia Sharpe is the unfortunate victim as is her traveling companion, Alberto de Mendoza. On an obscure forested side road, the two will be forced to the ditch at gunpoint and the tension begins to rise when their car is dumped into a lake. Mendoza is a banker and figures that he’s being held in an attempt to get the bank to pay for his release. Far from it.
The cruelty factor of the script will only increase as the trio are truly monsters among us. They’ll take the pair to a secluded hunting lodge miles inland from any highway and force them to cook and become general laborers. Sadly, Miss Sharpe makes the mistake of thinking Fonda likes her. Booze and rape are sure to follow which only forces a wedge between the two captives. When Sharpe and Medoza have given in to their captives they’re shocked to discover they are being set free with the use of a compass. It’s at this point the real reason for their kidnapping that we’ve suspected all along will be confirmed. Fonda points out that once you’ve hunted man, nothing else seems to offer the same thrill.
“You’re going to hunt us like animals!”
Sharpe and Mendoza are on the run from their captors who themselves are going to be in for a surprise as the film comes to it’s conclusion thanks to a cameo of sorts from one of Hollywood’s most well known actors at this time, William Holden.
“You’re license to kill ran out after the war.”
***OK SPOILER COMMENT OVER***
This is a bleak tale from director Peter Collinson who died of cancer at just 44 years of age. He worked with many well known actors directing titles like You Can’t Win’Em All, The Sell Out and what is easily his most remembered film, the 1969 heist film, The Italian Job. I consulted my copy of Peter Fonda’s wonderful memoir, Don’t Tell Dad to see what he mentioned about the film but only reserved a paragraph for the film stating, “I had a grand time shooting that film.” It was partly filmed in Spain which is what he is referencing here in the comment. Never enough to satisfy this student of film history.
John Phillip Law’s character is as far as one could think up compared to his recent role as Sinbad in the Harryhausen classic of ’73, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Law would reteam with the director for 1976’s Target For an Assassin. One of the screens easiest guys to dislike, Richard Lynch, morphs into what we should expect. He started this one off as a regular family guy which had me wondering where he was going to take this role. Sure enough he ended up adding another memorable role to his gallery of villains.
I’m fairly certain I may have seen this one on late night TV in my teens but it’s been a number of years so in truth this felt like a first time viewing and it’s not a film I’m likely to forget anytime soon. The central theme of the plot is taken from Richard Connell’s short story, the Most Dangerous Game published in 1924. It’s been adapted for the screen in various forms from 1932’s movie of the same name to titles like Run of the Sun, John Woo’s Hard Target and even Ice T on the run from Gary Busey and Rutger Hauer in Surviving the Game.
The copy of Open Season I came across was in poor condition and probably a copy of a copy. I’m not all that sure it’s available on DVD or blu ray and that’s mainly because if you type in the title on Amazon the results you’ll get are for the cartoon kiddie movie of the same name. On that basis, I’d suggest this would make a nice entry for the Scream Factory line of blu rays.
Hard to recommend yet I’ll admit to wanting to see just how far this was going to take me. Can’t say I liked how far the cruelty went with the leading lady but the trio of psychopaths had me glued to the set just waiting for them to receive a just punishment for their evil deeds.