In light of B&S Movies Post-Apoc Week coinciding with the recent controversy surrounding the Hillary Swank-fronted post-apoc flick The Hunt (Wikipedia link), it’s time to take another look at Elio Petri’s influential sci-fi/pop-art “human death sport” romp. (The film was previous reviewed as part of B&S Movies Deadly Game Shows week).
While the first wheat grains of the ’80s spaghetti apocalypse were planted with 1979’s Mad Max out of Australia, those stalks blossomed in 1981 with the cinematic one-two-punch of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York and George Miller’s Mad Max sequel, The Road Warrior.
However, the inspiration for several Italian-Euro apocalyptic films began with a film based on a 1924 short-story by Richard Connell: 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game — a story that inspired novelist Robert Sheckley to compose his sci-fi variations of “human death sports” that, in turn, begat the American-made Rollerball (1975), Death Race 2000 (1975), Deathsport (1978), and the later (excellent!) pasta variants of Endgame (1983) and Rome 2072 (1984). Even Ground Rules (1997), the kinda sorta post-apocalyptic romp with a bit of fake sport and some generous helpings of Richard Lynch thrown in, applies. Another variant of Connell’s novel is 1994’s Surviving the Game, a present-day variant starring Ice-T as a kidnapped homeless man hunted on preserve by Gary Busey and the late Rutger Hauer. One can also consider Eli Roth’s 2005’s Hostel as a “death vacation” horror variant of the material.
Sheckley’s grandfather of sci-fi “death sport” films came courtesy of the Italian-made The 10th Victim (1965) based on his 1953 short story, The Seventh Victim. Sheckley’s literary inspirations about humanity’s future psych-condition continued with the 1958 short story, The Prize of Peril, first adapted as the German television film, Das Millionenspeil (The Millions Game; 1970), then as the French film, Le Prix du Danger (The Price of Danger; 1983). Both films’ predictions of today’s reality television programs so influenced Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man (1987) that it resulted in a (well justified) copyright infringement lawsuit.
So the next time you pop in a copy of Kinji and Kenta Fukasaku’s Battle Royal (2000; 2010 in the U.S when Anchor Bay issued it direct-to-video; the film is based on the 1999 novel by Koushun Takami), Suzanne Collins’s teen-dystopia Hunger Games series (that ripped off Battle Royal), and the dark satire twist on the Reality TV genre with Series 7: The Contenders (2001), and (maybe?) the eventual DVD/VOD release of the controversial “political satire” variant, The Hunt — just remember that it all comes courtesy of the mind of Robert Sheckley.
The eventual 1965 film born from Sheckley’s 1953 short story was directed by Italian politician-psychologist-film maker Elio Petri. The film stars Marcello Mastroianni (La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2) as Marcello Polletti and Ursula Andress (Honey Rider in Dr. No) as Caroline Meredith — both are the top assassins-contestants who have scored the most kills in a government-sanctioned reality television series. As with William Harrison’s 1973 short story, Roller Ball Murder, and its eventual 1975 film adaptation, in Sheckley and Petri’s future, wars are avoided and tendencies for aggression are channeled through a violent sport—The Big Hunt. As with Rollerball, it’s the most popular form of entertainment in the world (just like 1987’s The Running Man; born from Stephen King’s 1982 Richard Bachman pseudonym-novel of the same name).
Unlike in Universal’s controversial The Hunt (rumored—and denied—as originally being titled Red State vs. Blue State), where the “red state deplorable” contestants are kidnapped, or in The Running Man, where desirable “contestants” that are “good for ratings” are framed into playing the game, the contestants in The Big Hunt — as in Rollerball — are willing participants who desire fame and fortune by surviving the game.
You’ve got to love a film where two civilians are running through the city shooting at each other . . . and a police officer stops “The Hunter” to check his “credentials” before he allows him continue his pursuit. The rules are simple: Five Hunters and Five Victims play ten rounds. As you kill (as in Death Race 2000), you win “points” in the form of financial gains. The sole survivor of the ten rounds wins and retires to a life of wealth and luxury. Of course, there is something more deadly afoot than bullets: love.
Mastroianni’s Poletti enters the game to get himself out of debt: he’s on the hook with a mistress and ex-wife who’s already spent the winnings from his six kills. Then he falls in love with Andress’s Meredith who’s just killed her ninth victim and she intends to make Poletti her tenth victim — and his “perfect kill” in front of the camera will maximize her royalties via her sponsorship by the Ming Tea Company. Meanwhile, Poletti gets wise to Meredith’s scheme and arranges for her spectacular death with a competing television network: death by crocodile. The cat and mouse game between the two lover-assassins (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s 2005 film Mr. & Mrs. Smith, anyone?) is on — with one double-crossing the other.
While Petri incorporated Italian satire and Totalitarianism and fascism symbolism into his film version with the two assassins escaping the game and getting married, Sheckley’s original short story was much darker: the Meredith character’s “love” was nothing more than a ploy: she kills Poletti and wins the game. (I’ve been there and done that . . . without the death part . . . more than a few times!)
While The 10th Victim is gaining renewed interest in the wake of the controversy surrounding The Hunt, many have not heard of the film or seen it. But you have seen it, indirectly, via the patronage of Mike Myers. He paid homage to the film (such as Ursula Andress’s bullet-spraying bra and his faux-band Ming Tea) with his Austin Powers series of films. You can watch the full Italian, subtitled version of The 10th Victim on You Tube and TubiTv.