Humans love to stalk, to hunt, to devour. Many of the advancements humanity has found in the world have their roots in the desire to overpower another: weaponry, medicine, knowledge, these are all achievements which place humanity at the top of a quickly narrowing pyramid of superiority. We want nothing more than to know that we are at the top of the food chain.
But with that dominance comes a level of complacency. The dark beating heart of the hunter resides in some of modern man still, not satisfied to follow the unnecessary parts of ancient man’s psyche into the rubbish bin of evolution. Their very instincts were for survival and dominance, and they are not so easily quelled. The boredom and listlessness of modern life, the lack of challenge to simply stay alive, pushes people to pursue socially acceptable pastimes such as game hunting, martial arts, and paintball battles.
But the true center of what they’re striving for in those activities, the thrill of possible injury or death, the true and total domination of another creature, are hampered by things like safety gear, rules and regulations, and weaponry that takes the challenge of survival away.
The only true challenge to the cunning of a human is the cunning of another human. Often in horror stories, the struggle exists between two individuals. That is further sharpened in the humans hunting humans sub-genre, because roles are assigned by the hunter, not by nature itself. The hunter, often a wealthy person or a domineering social structure, makes the decision and the boundaries for the competition, often with seemingly insurmountable odds.
This dynamic, of the wealthy hunters who have achieved, acquired, or consumed everything legal and reasonable to that point and needing to venture into the realm of human hunting to quench a darker need, creates a class of haves versus have-nots, a story as old as the class system itself.
And therein lies the true desire of the hunter: not to be back in his savage state, spending his days trying to survive by killing when he has to; but to be strong enough and cunning enough that you stand even outside your own species. That you, as a human, have achieved something more than the rest of your species, that you have combined the savagery of ancient man and the technology, cunning, and intelligence of modern man to create something more than man itself.
The genre has been alive and well (so to speak) since the adaptation of the book “The Most Dangerous Game” (mentioned below as the Classic for the week), and has popped up in places as varied and unusual as the futuristic Ray Liotta film “No Escape” and the John Leguizamo comedy “The Pest”. Here are four recommendations for further exploration into the sub-genre.
NOTE: This is the entire film
The film that started it all, this film was written and directed by “King Kong” creators Ernest Shoedsack and James Ashmore Creelman. Starring “Sullivan’s Travels” actor Joel McCrea and the original scream queen Fay Wray, the film was shocking in its day and still holds up for classically-minded viewers.
A frightening dystopian vision from director Kinji Fukasaku, based on the novel by Koushun Takami, “Battle Royale” tells the story of a competition where the government forces a class of ninth-grade students to fight to the death on a small island. Highly influential on Quentin Tarantino, and credited with being the inspiration for “The Hunger Games”.
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In the typical Roger Corman attempt to cash in on a popular craze, director Allan Arkush brought to screen “Deathsport”, a blatant knock-off of “Death Race 2000” (for once, Corman was stealing from himself) that featured David Carradine as a competitor in a futuristic death sport that uses destructocycles.
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Framed as a marathon of episodes of a very popular reality television in the near future where regular people are given the chance to win money by killing off their competitors, “Series 7” is both satirical and touching in its portrayal of America’s obsession with violence and media, and the lives that are ruined in the wake of that pursuit. A clever conceit and an incredibly strong central performance from Brooke Smith as a pregnant returning champion make this an absolute essential in the sub-genre.
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