Open Season (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Humans are their prey.

This is the type of film that has a really great concept, but ends up being ruined with its poor execution. It is based on the novel ‘The All-Americans’ by David D. Osborn, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The story involves three ‘All-American’ suburban family men (Peter Fonda, Richard Lynch, and John Phillip Law) who once year go on a ‘hunting trip’ except here they hunt people. They typically pick their victims up at random and then drive them to their isolated hunting lodge in the woods. They feed and entertain them for a week and then give them a few supplies as well as a compass and tell them that the highway is twenty-five miles north.  If they are able to make it to the highway they are free and if not the three men will hunt them down like animals. The victims are always given a thirty minute head start, but none of them ever make it. The movie focuses on a man and woman (Alberto de Mendoza, Cornelia Sharpe) that are having an affair and are kidnapped by the three outside of a truck stop.

The beginning is well-done and quite easily the best part of the whole film. It goes back in time to when the three men where in college and accused of gang raping a young lady.  To the shock of the girl’s mother the prosecuting attorney tells them they have no case because these boys are great athletes with stellar reputations and nobody would believe they would do something like that. I liked this part for two reasons. One is the fact that at least we are given some sort of history to these culprits. A lot of movies never do this and you always wonder how these psychos where able to get away with it for so long. At least here we are given a backstory and somewhat plausible one at that.  Many sociopaths have been able to fool people for years simply because they smart enough to play the respectable role in society and bring out their deviance only when it is completely safe to do so. Also, athletes, especially in the past, where given much more leeway and many of their transgressions would get over-looked. So to me this made a lot sense and helped get me into the movie right away. I also liked the imagery used over the opening credits as well as the very haunting music score.

I also liked how the film then cuts to the present day showing the men at a neighborhood block party and interacting with their wives and kids. The three actors are perfect for their parts.  They were all B-actors who’ve made a career playing sleazy characters and fall into the roles easily. Richard Lynch is especially good. In real life he once set himself on fire in 1967 while taking LSD and his scarred, pale, and rough looking face always makes a creepy impression. Director Peter Collinson does some good camera work with detailed bird’s-eye view shots that show how sprawling the forest is and indeed gives the viewer a very remote feeling.

Unfortunately the rest of the film goes downhill. Part of the problem is that there is just too much talking.  In fact the whole middle section is spent with a lot of drawn out conversations that aren’t interesting, or well-written. It saps the tension out of the film until there isn’t any left.  It isn’t until the very end that they finally get around to letting the victims go out into the woods and then tracking them down. However, this too is poorly handled. The action is limited and not well choreographed. The whole sequence goes by too quickly and comes off like it was nothing more than an after-thought that fails to take advantage of its immense forest setting.  In fact for a film with such a sadistic and exploitive theme there is actually very little violence to speak of and no gore at all. The three bad guys also end up becoming quite banal and one-dimensional. They show no distinctive personalities whatsoever as they agree with each other on everything and seem to do nothing more than laugh and guffaw and each other’s juvenile jokes and antics.

If you are interested in watching this film then please don’t read any further as it may be considered a spoiler:

The film’s twist ending is weak as well. It features actor William Holden (a very accomplished actor and why he took this role, which amounts to nothing more than a cameo, I will never know) playing the father of the girl that the three men raped in college. He secretly followed the men on their hunting trip and decides to have his revenge by gunning them down just like they had done to all their victims. Again, the action here is handled in an unexciting and unimaginative way. I couldn’t buy into the fact that these men, who supposedly fought in Vietnam, would panic so quickly and act like a bunch of scared children the minute they found out that they were being shot at. They show no savvy or survival skills and allow themselves to be easily picked-off in an uninspired fashion.

I have always enjoyed Deliverance and I liked how this film used a variation of that theme where instead of the civilized man going out and coming to terms with the savage of the wilderness they instead go into the wilderness to come to terms with their own, inner savage. More action, better tweaking of the characters, and a faster pace and this film could’ve been a cult classic as the ingredients are all there. As it is now though I think it is much too bland to interest or intrigue anybody.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Collinson

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS

7 responses to “Open Season (1974)

  1. Great Review!! I remember the part where, I think it was the Richard Lynch character, takes a piece of gum out of his mouth and then shoves it into the male victims mouth and forces him to chew on it. That was a classic scene! I wish they would release this on DVD. It is long overdue!

  2. I saw this in 1974 and ever since I have acted as if it was just a bad dream. It may have been the worst movie I saw in the decade and I watched a lot of crap. The characters were loathsome and the scenario felt dirty, even though it is ripped off from earlier great films like “The Most Dangerous Game”. Holden was in the movie very briefly and he was the only thing about it I liked. If it comes up on the satellite, I might watch it to see if my memory was accurate, but I think I would tell anyone who asked, that it was a film I hated, and that was a rare accomplishment.

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