Open Season is a 1974 thriller film with horror elements directed by Peter Collinson (Fright, Straight on Till Morning). It stars Peter Fonda, John Phillip Law, William Holden and Cornelia Sharpe. The screenplay was by David Osborn and Liz Charles Williams, based on Osborn’s novel. It was issued in several different cuts according to the territory of release and appeared in the UK as Recon Game.
Three veterans of the Vietnam War, Ken, Greg and Art, played by Fonda, Law and Lynch respectively, have struggled to reintegrate back into society after their experiences and though furnished with the trappings of a middle-class family life, they take an annual trip into the woods to take out their aggression on the local wildlife.
Tiring of their haul of deer and squirrels, they turn their attention to human prey, specifically a holidaying couple (actually having an affair), young Nancy (Cornelia Sharpe) and not-so-young Martin (Alberto de Mendoza, best remembered from Horror Express).
What follows is a decidedly brutal game of cat and mouse, complete with rape, beatings, humiliation and torture. Taking its cue from as far back as The Most Dangerous Game (1932), this is far more than a traditional ‘hunting humans’ suspense tale, featuring relentlessly unhinged performances from the three ‘bad guys’ and an oddly unique couple as the victims.
The real hook to the film is the direction by Collinson, more famous as the director of the decidedly more respectable The Italian Job, throwing the viewer right into the midst of the action, showing much of the action from the perspective of the hunted, meaning that the traps and mistreatment come as both a complete surprise and are therefore even more shocking. Freeze-frames mid-action also adds to the jarring, unusual set-up.
Fonda delivers an utterly gripping performance, his ‘casual evil’ a constant threat. Law’s clean-cut accomplice a massive departure from his other roles (the likes of Danger Diabolik! and Barbarella) and future genre star (God Told Me To, Cut and Run) Richard Lynch’s nerdy runt of the litter, are both excellent foils. Somewhat sandwiched in tone and theme between Deliverance and Rituals, the film delivers more evil sadism than both combined.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES & MANIA
The film was shot in both Spain and in England with parts of both countries used as the American backwoods.