The Big Question is a semi-regular outing where multiple Daily Grindhouse contributors and friends offer their answers to some burning question. The results…may surprise you.
This week’s big question is…
What Is Your Favorite Version of
‘The Most Dangerous Game?’
With THE HUNT (finally) arriving in theaters this week, we decided to turn to a well-worn trope. Since Richard Connell’s 1924 short story, “The Most Dangerous Game,” many films, TV shows, and more pieces of media have used the idea about people hunting people.
Whether it’s for the challenge, sport, money, vengeance, or simple cruelty—many iterations of this concept have appeared in entertainment since 1932. With so many to choose from, we asked our contributors…
What is your favorite instance where people are hunting people?
Brett Gallman — SURVIVING THE GAME (1994)
Ernest Dickerson gathered one of the coolest (or, at the very least, most eclectic) casts for a “Most Dangerous Game” riff in SURVIVING THE GAME, which transplants Richard Connell’s conceit to the Pacific Northwest, where wealthy elites hunt down unsuspecting human prey for sport. Sure, we’ve seen this sort of thing before, but this is the only one that features Ice-T fighting for his life against F. Murray Abraham, Gary Busey, Charles S. Dutton, John McGinley, Rutger Hauer, and William McNamara. It’s a rough-and-tumble rendition at that, full of gritty brawls, rugged chase sequences, and gnarly action movie gore.
What’s more, everyone gets a moment to shine. Busey gets to go nuts in that specifically Gary Busey kind of way, all while reminiscing about one of most unhinged childhood memories imaginable. Dutton’s typically amiable demeanor provides a disarming façade concealing the complete psychopath lurking beneath. Hauer is the coolest, most collected maniac of the bunch. Abraham and McNamara are a slimy father-son duo embarking on a unique bonding trip, though the latter has some reasonable reservations. McGinley is all coiled rage, harboring an intense desire to kill this guy simply because he reminds him of the man who murdered his daughter.
Then there’s Ice-T himself, whose entire deal could just be that he’s Ice-T and you don’t fuck with Ice-T; however, the script provides him with a bit more depth as a grieving homeless man who’s lost everything. And when Ice-T has nothing to lose, the audience has everything to gain in the way of ATV carnage, improvised explosives, and crafty sneak attacks. Perpetually caught in the shadow of the previous year’s HARD TARGET, SURVIVING THE GAME is a fun, unassuming B-side to Woo’s extravagant mayhem. No need to pit those two in a death match either—just toss on both for one of the best bits of ’90s déjà vu double features this side of VOLCANO and DANTE’S PEAK.
Samantha Schorsch — BATTLE ROYALE [Extended Cut] (2000)
The hunting of humans is a thread and a theme present in so many films spanning so many years, but few deal with children, and only one where the carnage is forced and purposefully sadistic in nature. That would be BATTLE ROYALE. The premise sets a very clear tone for the kind of massacre you’re about to watch: an alternate future where adults become so afraid of violent students that to punish their parents and strike fear into the children, a random class of students of any age is kidnapped en masse and dropped on an island from only which one can come out alive.
While this general theme has been attempted by lesser followers, none fit the same disgust and fear you feel seeing a blood soaked little girl, the most recent winner, clutching a stuffed animal and grinning a broken, manic grin at the camera. Thematically it’s solid, adults always fear a younger generation and their potential for ultra violence. In Japan at the time of creation, it was knife attacks.
In the US now, we get school shooter characters, but what sets the children of BATTLE ROYALE apart is their wildly varied motivations, willingness, and innocence. You run the gamut of the sadistic kids who learn they enjoy the hunt, the anarchists trying to break and overthrow the system, the friends trying to protect and care for each other, and those who would rather commit suicide than participate. These different facets of humanity at play with each other make a heartbreaking and fascinating blend of behavior backed by a killer soundtrack and knock out performances by the likes of legendary Beat Takeshi.
The extended cut only adds to the masterwork by giving us deeper scenes of characterization for some otherwise one dimensional players, and more insight into who these kids were before they were chosen as a sacrifice to social order. It’s a fantastic film, and one that I feel will be relevant, unfortunately, forever.
John Rieber — COUNTESS PERVERSE (1974)
Only Director Jess Franco would come up with this twist on “The Most Dangerous Game”—his Hunter was female who hunted her prey with a bow and arrow – oh, and they were both naked!
COUNTESS PERVERSE‘s setup is similar to the original story: the wealthy Aristocrats Count and Countess Zarcoff lure young women to their private Spanish island for a night of sex, death and cannibalism. After making love to them, they strip their guests naked and send them out on the grounds to be hunted, “Most Dangerous Game”-style. If the guests survive long enough, the Count sets them free. If the Countess kills them, then he cooks them for dinner.
The film begins when a couple notice a naked young woman on the beach—as they nurse her to health, she relates the shocking ordeal she endured at the hands of the Count and Countess. She was lucky enough to escape and swim back to safety. Unfortunately, the couple who rescue her are the ones who actually procure women for the Countess, so they take her back to be hunted again!
The next young woman to be taken to the island is played by Lina Romay, Director Franco’s lifelong partner and star of many of his films. She plays the role as an innocent virgin who becomes mesmerized with the Countess. She has an erotic interlude with them before discovering what they have in store for her. The Countess is played by Alice Arno, and she likes to hunt her prey naked, save for a quiver of arrows —she gives her prey a head start and then the hunt is on—her goal is to hunt down her prey, then roast her…and serve her for dinner!
Jess Franco made hundreds of films, and his directorial style consists of shaky pans and zooms. While they can be very distracting, his films do have a unique rhythm as well. As he was prone to do throughout his career, Franco released a different cut of COUNTESS PERVERSE called SEXY NATURE with hardcore footage included, and a radically different edit of the film as well. Both are now available on a special blu-ray release.
J. Tonzelli — HARD TARGET (1993)
In Crescent City, men of little means are hunted for sport, arranged by sociopath Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen). For the right price, the willing prey is given ten thousand dollars and ordered to follow only one guideline: run. Should the prey make it to the designated endpoint, he shall win the game and the cash, and all he has to risk is…his life. There’s only one righteous man who can put an end to this murder game: a poorly dressed, extremely mulleted, and nearly indecipherable local named Chance Boudreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Some men are sitting ducks; others are a HARD TARGET.
HARD TARGET wasn’t so much directed by John Woo as it was dynamited into existence by Woo strategically placing bombs across the entire world, and when the smoke finally cleared, HARD TARGET was all that remained. Even though it’s a direct riff on “The Most Dangerous Game,” the plot of HARD TARGET is the most inconsequential thing about it. Upon its initial theatrical release, even the most discerning critics and harshest reviews had no choice but to acknowledge the sheer spectacle of the film and the magnitude of the stunts, dismissive of the overall plot though they may have been.
And, in all honesty, had Van Damme, Henriksen, and these same gun battles and motorcycle stunts and explosions been surgically removed and implanted into an entirely different plot, it wouldn’t have mattered. Nothing is really gained from the “man is the most dangerous game” concept beyond motivations for both our hero and our villain to eventually come head-to-head while taking a hundred lives in the process. That a group of rich men are selling organized murders of the poor eventually becomes nothing more than window dressing: Van Damme letting loose kicks and punches and gunshots and explosions would have sold any film in 1993. This time, it just so happened to be selling HARD TARGET.
A parody of HARD TARGET would look exactly like HARD TARGET, and that’s why it rules as hard as it does. What may not have been ludicrous in 1993 is very ludicrous now, but there’s no denying it’s a full-on bull’s-eye.
Mary Beth McAndrews — READY OR NOT (2019)
The innocuous game of hide-and-seek has been rendered deadly in Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet’s READY OR NOT. That fun thrill of hiding in a closet or behind furniture has been twisted in a fight for survival as newlywed Grace (a phenomenal Samara Weaving) must avoid the knives, swords, and crossbows of her new in-laws, the Le Domas family. It is not just the increasing insanity of the kills that make READY OR NOT such an impressive film. This is also a scathing indictment of the rich who see the poor as expendable resources that guarantee their continued wealth.
Grace is from nothing so she is worth nothing, which makes their hunt easier — or so they think. This bloody bride is not willing to die so easily and works to take down the family one by one. It is a classic example of the hunter becoming the hunted. READY OR NOT is a perfect example of what I’m calling one-percenter horror, films where the monsters are the rich and the horror they are capable of in the name of greed. It is a wild, entertaining ride that features a stellar lead performance and the important message of massacre the rich.
Justin Yandell — T.A.G. THE ASSASSINATION GAME (1982)
T.A.G. THE ASSASSINATION GAME is a strange little movie. It’s directed by Nick Castle—yes the one in the Captain Kirk mask—features a pre-TERMINATOR Linda Hamilton, and is about a college-age game of ‘T.A.G.’ or ‘The Assassination Game,’ so-called because students sign up, are assigned other players as targets and loosed upon campus with toy suction-dart guns. Last assassin standing wins. Then someone brings a real gun into play.
The film itself is a fine movie, but what I love about it is the very real-life version of ‘T.A.G.’ it inspired, for – as you can see by my ludicrous safari hat, oversized bubble-pipe and monocle—I myself have hunted “the world’s most dangerous game.”
I went to school at the University of North Texas and spent most of my time living on campus at Bruce Hall, home of Wanda the Ghost, The Royal Order of the Army of the Roach (ROAR with me, Brucelings) and, at one point, Norah Jones. I don’t know if this still the case, but in those days Bruce was creative-centric. Musicians, film students… And back back then a large percentage of the dorm played a staff-organized game of T.A.G. once per semester, though of course we didn’t all use toy guns. That would be ridiculous. You didn’t unlock access to toy guns as a weapon until you had a certain number of assassinations under your belt. They came after Poisoned Strips of Paper and Origami Throwing Stars.
There are two big takeaways here: Number one, sometimes life does imitate art and it’s one of the coolest things you ever did in college.
Number two, there’s a non-zero chance Norah Jones hasn’t also hunted the world’s most dangerous game. It’s taken me a lot longer than Seven Years to realize that, and I Don’t Know Why.
Paul Freitag-Fey — THE 10TH VICTIM (1965)
If you were put into a “most dangerous game” situation where you had to hunt other human beings—I mean, the ones you wouldn’t necessarily want to hunt—wouldn’t you want to do it in as fabulous a way as possible? I know I would, and that’s why I love Elio Petri’s THE 10TH VICTIM, a pop-art futuristic tale of human hunting from 1960s Italy. And if you get Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress along for the ride, too? THE 10TH VICTIM is hunting at its most fashionable.
The prototype of plenty of movies that came in its wake (even beating the excellent PUNISHMENT PARK to the punch), THE 10TH VICTIM exhibits the now-familiar circumstance of a television show in which folks with predilection towards fame, fortune and violence kill each other off for the benefit of the audience. Bonus cash is awarded based on the situation in which the kill takes place, and even more money can be warranted with the sponsorships that the competitors can procure.
What the producers of this deadly event never planned for, however, is its two primary assassins falling in love, so when they do, it becomes a fascinating game of cat and mouse with both each other, the cameras, and the Ming Tea company that’s signed on Andress as their spokeskiller.
Deftly combining the “hunting humans” motif with the ahead-of-its-time satire of watching violence as entertainment on television, THE 10TH VICTIM is a showcase for ideas that would be repeated in plenty of subsequent films, but rarely equaled with the same stylish pop art-influenced panache that Petri gives them. Sure, the dubbing on the more commonly-available version is a dud (try to get the subtitled Blu-ray) and it sometimes borders on the ridiculous in a way that makes the narrative feel a bit disjointed, but in the right mindset, it’s a blast of pure psychotronic joy.
Jeremy Lowe — 31 (2016)
It’s almost as if writer/director Rob Zombie was trying to check all my horror nerd, fanboy boxes when he made 31. Clowns, check…takes place on Halloween, check…his signature gritty aesthetic…check, and most pertinent to this article, hunting humans…big check!
Up until 31, I had never helped crowdfund a movie, but goddamn I believed in this premise. A group of carnival workers kidnapped, and hunted by a psychotic gang of clowns and forced to participate in sadistic games (the most dangerous games?). Then having the whole thing being bet on by some aristocratic rich assholes is music to my ears. It touches on the subject of class war in a bloody and exciting way.
Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that 31 doesn’t have the best story, acting, or script…but it’s still amazing. Between the cast of cult icon stalwarts, impressive set design, and Rob Zombie’s uncanny way of dragging the audience along with the characters, 31 is a must watch film. It’s one of those genre films where you don’t have to think about it too much, just sit back with your friends and some popcorn and enjoy the carnage.
Jay Alary — THE RUNNING MAN (1987)
>Arnold Schwarzenegger had two big genre films in 1987—PREDATOR and THE RUNNING MAN—that are each notable for different reasons. PREDATOR was a box office success ($98 million), a deft blending of science fiction and action, delivered on a $8 million budget. THE RUNNING MAN was a $25 million dystopian action spectacle directed by former Starsky And Hutch heartthrob Paul Michael Glaser and was not a big success, grossing $38 million in North America. Watching the two films back-to-back, it’s hard to see why THE RUNNING MAN cost significantly more than PREDATOR, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to watch.
Set in the year 2017 (hey, that was three years ago!), the film is a big-budget, hyper-exaggerated American Gladiators episode, but with 100% more homicide! Schwarzenegger plays former police officer Ben Richards, a man who had refused to shoot innocents during a food riot and is now a “runner” on popular state-run TV show The Running Man, a lethal gameshow in which state prisoners navigate an urban wasteland, evading “stalkers” (hired killers who wear outlandish costumes while executing runners, often in cold blood) in a futile attempt to gain a pardon.
In a clever bit of casting, long-time Family Feud host and Hogan’s Heroes actor Richard Dawson plays Killian, The Running Man’s sleazy, corrupt host, and he’s the film’s highlight. Based on a novella by Stephen King (using his nom de plume, Richard Bachman), the satire isn’t substantive enough to make much of an impression (that year’s ROBOCOP would show audiences how satire is done effectively), but the action pieces will satisfy somewhat, with its colorful, brightly-lit stalkers.
Schwarzenegger has his signature lines (“Killian, here’s Subzero, now plain zero!”) and isn’t taxed acting wise, but it’s a shame to see Yaphet Kotto, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Jim Brown are wasted in thankless roles, but if you’re an ’80s wrestling fan, there’s always gum-snapping Jessie Ventura (and there’s a puzzling cameo by Mick Fleetwood as a resistance leader, but I digress). Despite Glaser’s leaden direction, THE RUNNING MAN is an ideal Sunday afternoon hangover movie—no brainpower required!
What about you, gentle reader?
What is YOUR favorite version of the Most Dangerous Game trope?
Please let us know in the comments below!
Tags: 31, arnold schwarzenegger, battle royale, Beat Takeshi, Charles S. Dutton, Countess Perverse, Elio Petri, Elizabeth Daily, Ernest Dickerson, Gary Busey, Hard Target, ice-t, jean claude van damme, jess franco, Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown, john woo, Ken Foree, Kinji Fukasaku, Lance Henriksen, Lina Romay, Linda Hamilton, Malcolm McDowell, Man is The Most Dangerous Game, Marcello Mastroianni, María Conchita Alonso, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Most Dangerous Game, Nick Castle, Norah Jones, Paul Michael Glaser, Professor Toru Tanaka, Ready Or Not, Richard Bachman, Richard Connell, Richard Dawson, Rob Zombie, Rutger Hauer, Samara Weaving, Sheri Moon Zombie, Stephen King, Surviving the Game, T.A.G. The Assassination Game, The 10th Victim, The Hunt, The Most Dangerous Game, The Running Man, Tyler Gillett, University of North Texas, Ursula Andress, Yancy Butler, Yaphet Kotto