By C. Michael Forsyth
When I first read The Most Dangerous Game back in 7th grade, I was captivated by the classic 1922 short story about an rich maniac who hunts humans for sport on his private island. Many variations of the tale have surfaced over the years. These include the 1932 screen adaptation starring Joel McCrea (filmed on the Skull Island set of “King Kong”), “The Naked Prey,” in which African warriors strip and pursue a safari guide, “Surviving the Game,” in which Gary Busey and pals hunt homeless dudes, and “Predator,” in which a space alien sets his sights on mercenaries. In the pilot of “Fantasy Island,” a more-sinister-than-usual Mr. Roarke obliges a guest whose secret dream is to be hunted like an animal. There was even a “Get Smart” episode entitled “Island of the Darned,” in which Maxwell Smart is chased by a KAOS hunting aficionado.
“Naked Fear” is The Most Dangerous Game with strippers. A big game hunter kidnaps exotic dancers and hookers, flies them by private plane to the remote woods and releases them, stark naked. Then, giving them a sportsmanlike 15-minute head start, he tracks and kills them. When I stumbled upon this DVD release on Netflix at 2 a.m., I said “Jackpot.” One of my favorite action-adventure themes, with full frontal nudity!
To be fair, the film is not as exploitative as the premise suggests. You realize this right off the bat in the opening sequence, when we see a hapless victim being chased through the New Mexico wilds. You expect a 38DD-24-36 Playboy playmate type, bouncing along as she shrieks “Eek, eek!” Instead the victim is haggard, with what women like to call a “real woman’s” body. In fact, none of the strippers in the flick are Scores material. They’re more like the tragic trailer trash you’d see lethargically shuffling from foot to foot in a dive bar. Which is exactly where the main character Diana works.
Even the film’s star Danielle De Luca is no bombshell. I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating crackers, but with her mousy brown hair and modest endowments, she clearly was not cast for her looks. Initially, it doesn’t seem like she was chosen for her thespian skills either.
Her character was flown to a backwater New Mexico town by a strip club owner promising big pay and a glamorous lifestyle. But the club turns out to be a pit. The owner’s henchman sticks her in a hotel room with a heroin addict, confiscates her driver’s license and charges her for his expenses, saying she won’t be free until she pays the club back with interest. There’s nothing compelling about either the character or the performance — it’s all too reminiscent of Elizabeth Berkley as a similarly naïve airhead in the excruciating “Showgirls.”
But when Diana is kidnapped by hunting buff Colin Mandel (J.D. Garfield), the owner of a local greasy spoon and pal of the sheriff (Joe Montegna), the movie takes off. Diana wakes up in a field, bruised, bloody, naked, and disoriented. She soon finds herself being hunted by Mandel, who totes first a crossbow then a high-powered rifle.
Diana proves to be surprisingly plucky and resourceful as she fights to survive. De Luca’s acting in the chase is actually quite good. She effectively communicates the terror and physical pain the character endures in the nightmarish scenario.
In the prolonged chase that is the heart of the film, the action is suspenseful and believable. (Actually somewhat more believable than in the acclaimed “Naked Prey,” in which middle-aged Caucasian Cornell Wilde is able to beat a bunch of Africans in long distance running!)
A surprisingly poignant segment of the film occurs when Diana stumbles into the campsite of a father and his two young sons. The dad prays with his sons before leaving her under their protection while he hikes for help. The killer, watching all this from his hiding place, must now deal with a very unexpected turn of events.
Bottom line, while the movie’s setup leaves something desired, it delivers where it counts: an exciting chase through the great outdoors with plenty of narrow escapes and reversals.
As unbelievable as it may sound, the 2008 movie is inspired by a true story. Robert Hansen was a big game hunter who decided to liven up the sport by kidnapping, releasing and then hunting strippers in the wilds of Alaska. From 1971 to 1983, Hansen killed about two dozen women, before finally being snared and sentenced to 461 years in prison.
I find it odd that Hansen isn’t a household name, like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy. You’d think anyone who did something that spectacularly crazy would join our pantheon of sickest, most evil mother-humpers ever.
Hansen, whose story was told in the book Fair Game, may soon finally enjoy the infamy he deserves. Actor John Cusack will play the cowardly sicko in the upcoming big-budget film “The Frozen Ground,” opposite Nicolas Cage as an Alaska state trooper who hunts the hunter.
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