[Reprinted from Hey, Did You Ever See the Movie...? The best non-porn blog ever deleted by Blogger.]
Open Season, aka Recon Game. Ken, Greg and Art (Peter Fonda, John Phillip Law and Richard Lynch), best buddies and war vets, spend one weekend per year at their woodland cabin, kicking back, drinking beer and hunting people for sport. This year, a couple sneaking away to have an affair are “invited” by the trio to join them at their retreat. And our three good buddies never lose their smiles, never lose their sense of humor, all the while mentally and emotionally torturing the pair of victims until it’s time for the hunt to begin.
Up until a few weeks ago, I never even knew this movie existed. I stumbled across the title by accident while looking up something else. It was referred to, in an online guide, as “classic ‘70s sleaze” but there’s much more to it than that. Calling it sleaze is too dismissive. There’s a great deal going on in this ostensible umpteenth remake of The Most Dangerous Game. First and foremost is the way the movie takes its time unfolding the plot. It opens strangely—a rape victim is told by a lawyer that her alleged rapists have ironclad alibis, they were never there, she has no proof to back up her claim. The credits roll, we meet Ken, Greg and Art, get to know them, see them with their families, see that they like each other, that others like them. We get to like them (despite they’re being played by Fonda, Law and Lynch). We watch them blow off steam during the first leg of their journey by parlaying with some local gals—not the classiest of moves for the family guys, but not the worst sin for the swingin’ ‘70s. Then comes the roadside abduction, the couple held at gunpoint, the inevitable, vicious hunt. And the trio never changes. They remain the same three guys throughout the whole movie; it’s only our perspective that changes. They delight in the torment. And we’re never told why.
Sure, there are allusions that the Viet Nam war changed them, but what were they before the war that they make a yearly game out of casual murder? For “classic ‘70s sleaze”, it sure raises a lot of questions. But the questions are never really answered, for just as suddenly, the trio find themselves being hunted and shot by another assailant—one they don’t know, one they can’t see. And the parallel to the war is redrawn. And another question raised: why doesn’t the final assailant intervene earlier? Why doesn’t he help the victims? You’re left to draw your own conclusions at the end. One SPOILER: most interestingly, when the final assailant is revealed, and reveals his own motivations, he turns himself in to the authorities—in what seems like an agreed-upon move, considering his personal banter with police—taking responsibility for his actions and not allowing civilization to look the other way. In some prints, this ending is excised, but it is a coda that, instead of feeling “tacked on for the liberals” as one IMDb reviewer put it, adds a sense of dignity and closure to the senselessness of it all.
Directed by Peter Collinson (The Earthling), the script was adapted by David D. Osborn from his own novel (known in some circles as “The All Americans”) and shot with the violence contrasting the beautiful vistas surrounding the cabin. Maybe it wants to be deeper than it really is, but Open Season certainly holds your attention. The three leads are fantastic and they’re supported by the venerable William Holden (in what amounts to an extended cameo, truth be told), so there’s some pedigree here.
This odd, disturbing and satisfying movie is difficult to come by. For all intents and purposes, it’s only officially available in PAL format and hasn’t seen an official release in the U.S. aside from very, very occasional late-night cable runs. It played fairly regularly on Canadian television in the ‘80s, then seemed to just disappear. If you can find an overseas print, apparently there are multiple endings as well—some including the ultimate surrender, some not—so there’s another caveat for you. But if you do get the opportunity to check this one out, do so. I’d be interested in hearing what you think.