In ‘The Naked Prey’ the hunter becomes the hunted after politics between a party of visiting big game hunters on safari in Southern Africa and a local tribe turn sour. Made by Cornel Wilde, a Hungarian American actor turned director the film has over time matured into a respected cult classic. Certain critics seem to regard Wilde as something of an auteur, a director with a unique personal film-making language. I cannot comment, this being the only film of his I have seen.
Set sometime in the mid to late nineteenth century, this impeccably crafted ‘boys’ adventure film follows a party of three hunters into darkest untamed Africa. An American (Cornel Wilde), a Dutchman and an Englishman.
On an elephant hunt, we see the hunting party in their safari suits, mercilessly killing a herd of elephants with rifles. The Dutchman, despite the American (Wilde) cautioning him against it, tries to force some kind of unsavory arrangement with the natives, deeply offending a higher member of the tribe.
After the hunt Wilde and the Dutchman are seated around a folding table at the campsite. The Dutchman is boasting about his fourteen kills. Wilde points out that five of his kills were senseless, as they were elephants without Ivory. In the background we see a band of natives armed with spears and bows, closing in on the campsite. They pillage the campsite, slaughtering most of the party except for the three foreign hunters whom they take hostage.
The natives take the three hostages back to their kraal, along with numerous possessions they have stolen from the campsite. The hostages are presented before their king who conducts the proceedings. They are tortured in various horrifying ways. The Englishman is tied up in a bundle, attached to a skewer and coated in a thick cocoon of mud. They turn him over a fire, roasting him in his jacket of mud. The Dutchman is tormented by a group of native woman who poke him with sticks. He is then restrained in a harness and put before a spitting Cobra, which bites him in the face.
Finally they come to the American. They strip Wilde naked and tell him to run out into the feld. They intend to hunt him. Now unclothed, we see Wilde’s tanned glistening muscles as he runs off into the bush, his privates tactfully obscured by foliage. To top it off he is actually wearing a tan coloured thong made to look like his flesh. Luckily this doesn’t go on too long, as Wilde kills one of the native hunters, taking his sandals, loincloth and weapons. Armed with a spear and a bush knife, he now resembles a veritable blueprint for Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo.
Wilde eludes his pursuers. Scrambling through the under brush. Traversing harsh semi-desert landscapes. Eating whatever he can find. In one scene he comically eats a large snail. He kills more of his pursuers along the way, as he fights for survival in the wilderness, his tan growing deeper under the brutal African sun. We see little inserted vignettes of reptiles and mammals fighting it out on the plains. Magnificent cinematography. Wilde spears in hand, a small vulnerable figure, in wide panoramic shots of the African bush.
After setting the bushfeld ablaze, nearly drowning in a river but rescued by a cute little African girl who he befriends, at one point putting a pink flower behind her ear, Wilde finally makes it back to the safety of the colonial fortress with the remaining natives in hot pursuit. Wilde kills one more as the remainder of the party retreat as the colonial forces advance from the castle firing guns. He collapses on the ground, waving a salute to the leader of the hunters as they retreat into the bush; he smiles back at Wilde before disappearing into the undergrowth.