Saturday, 10 October 2015

The Naked Prey (1965)

An acknowledged classic of Extreme Cinema that was itself influenced by horror (1932‘s THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME) and undoubtedly went on to influence the cannibal movie subgenre of the 1970s and early 1980s, Cornel Wilde’s remarkable man vs nature picture comes to UK Blu-ray courtesy of Eureka.

Africa in the mid 1800s. Two men (called only ‘Man’ and ‘Man 2’) set out on a hunting expedition for ivory, armed with rifles and accompanied by bearers. When they encounter a tribe on their travels, Man 2 (Gert Van Der Berg) refuses to part with the trinkets that would maintain good relations. Insulted, the tribe capture the party and subject them to barbaric tortures. The last of these is reserved for Man 1 (Wilde) who is released into the jungle wearing only the briefest of loincloths to be hunted by a group of tribal warriors.

The by-then well-worn tale of hunter becomes the hunted is given a surprisingly brutal and gritty spin by Cornel Wilde, who also produces and directs as well as stars in this. Animal lovers should beware as the film includes footage of animals being killed by man (specifically elephants being shot in stock culling footage) as well as animals killing other animals (including some bizarre toad cannibalism). In fact, Wilde uses every possible opportunity to emphasise the dispassionate cruelty of the environment in which his character finds himself. At the same time, the hunters who pursue him are actually treated with respect, being given individual personalities and a sense of honour that’s quite exceptional for a ‘jungle potboiler’ of the period.

There’s very little dialogue in the film, and the music is entirely traditional African drums. If you have a surround sound system the constant chittering of insects and sounds of animals will make you admire sound design that was created before that term even existed. Possibly the only bit that in retrospect isn't quite right  is all the torture scenes, which feel much more Pan Book of Horror than genuine African practice. Mind you, they are extremely effective, which is undoubtedly what Wilde was striving for above all else. 

Eureka’s Blu-ray looks exceptional, with the widescreen landscape shots looking absolutely gorgeous. It does mean there’s a more obvious grating transition to the stock footage bits, but that’s not even a quibble, really. You also get a good half an hour talking head piece from Sheldon Hall where he discusses Wilde’s career up to THE NAKED PREY. 

A ruthless masterwork that still makes for affecting viewing over fifty years after it was made, THE NAKED PREY has finally been given the treatment it deserves in this excellent dual format uncut edition. Seriously excellent stuff. 

Cornel Wilde's THE NAKED PREY is being released on Dual Format Region 2 DVD & Region B Blu-ray on 19th October 2015

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