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Part survival adventure, part art-film, The Naked Prey is deservedly regarded as Cornel Wilde’s best movie – working as director and producer and starring in this deliberately minimalistic movie.
Wilde stars as an unnamed man who leads a safari party into Savannah to hunt elephants for ivory. However, the Second Man (Gert van den Bergh) insults a local tribe when travelling to the hunt and the whole party are captured because of it. Man is the only one left alive and a group of warriors are allowed to hunt him down. Man has to use all his survival and hunting skills and his wits to fight of the warriors and the hostile terrain.
The Naked Prey is a unique little movie that is mostly silent. Apart from the first ten minutes, there are barely any words spoken in English, otherwise the majority of the language when used is African dialects with no subtitles. The first ten minutes was used to set up the character of Man, someone who respected the African tribes, showing his world view in comparison to his less enlightened colleagues and only killed out of necessity, not pleasure. There were small hints to his background, like having a wedding ring, and before and during the hunt, Man and the Hunting Party leader (Ken Gampu) share a mutual respect for each other. The ending is similar to Zulu‘s because of it.
Despite the majority of the movie being silent or in a foreign language, the simple narrative ensures that it was not an issue. This is a movie about the actions – about how Man can survive by using all his skills to hunt, find food, run and fight off warriors. It did not require much explanation. When we see the African Hunters we still understand what is happening – whether they are arguing or suffering grief. The Naked Pray is seen through Man’s eye, observing the horrors of the ritual killings, the horrors of slavers attacking a village and the efforts of man trying to communicate with a young child.
The Naked Prey does share a premise with the classic short story The Most Dangerous Game and the subsequent movie adaptation where man is hunting man – though in The Most Dangerous Game it’s one man hunting a group of men. The Naked Prey is about a man being hunted by a group. Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto borrows heavily from The Naked Prey, having similar scenes of human sacrifices, the hunt with Man having to use his skills and knowledge to set up traps and kill the hunters and a scene where slavers attack a village and capture the villagers. Apocalypto even lifts some small scenes from The Naked Prey. Fans of the Mel Gibson movie should appreciate The Naked Prey.
The Naked Prey also acts as a proto-Terrence Malick film, intercutting nature footage of African animals hunting at the same time as Man being hunted. However the movie had to use archived footage and there is a clear downgrade in quality when showing big cats and snakes attacking their prey.
The Naked Prey was originally meant to be an adaptation of the story of John Colter, an American explorer who was captured and then hunted by Blackfoot warriors in Wyoming, but was changed to colonial Africa because of the success of Zulu; also the Apartheid South African government wanted to encourage more overseas productions to their shores. Partly because of this, The Naked Man has been accused of racism, particularly for scenes like the ritual where the safari party is humiliated and killed, including one man getting cooked (tasty) and for the reason that it takes a white man to try and protect a village from the slavers. Yet, the counter argument is that the head of the Hunting Party is treated as a noble character who takes no pleasure from the task; the most horrible character in the movie was the Second Man – someone who killed for fun, insulted Africans and planned to move into the slave trade after murdering the local wildlife. Wilde also made a point in using traditional African music throughout the movie; it provided a great percussion heavy soundtrack.
Because of the movie’s origins as a frontier western, it did not even attempt to be historically accurate, depicting the slave trade happening in South Africa when it actually happened in West Africa and the slave trade ended in the beginning of the 19th Century. It is a fable that is just using the setting for a story then trying to be an accurate representative of the period.
Wilde was 52 when he made The Naked Prey and was in great shape for the role, looking about 10 years younger. It is even more remarkable because Wilde did get sick during the shoot. He had both the physicality for the role and the worldly experience to portray the role. As a fan of Zulu, it is quite funny to see Van den Bergh who played the Boar officer Adendoff and who respected the Zulus, to be playing someone who had the opposite attitude to the African population.
For a movie made in 1965, The Naked Prey was very violent. The ritual killings could easily have fitted in a horror movie like Cannibal Holocaust or The Green Inferno. The violence is not the most realistic ever depicted, blood is unnaturally bright, but the intensity is there – skulls are crushed, machetes are used and people are stabbed. The scene of the man being roasted alive was originally cut by the British censors – it was not the most violent death in the movie but it is the most horrific concept wise. The movie has earned a 15 rating in the UK.
The Naked Prey is a well told survival tale of a man battling nature and his fellow man. It supplies plenty of thrills and does it with a natural setting and sparse dialogue.
Special Features: For a Masters of Cinema Blu-ray re-release the special features were very disappointing. There was a 30 minute long interview with Sheffield Hallam University Film Studies Lecturer, Dr. Sheldon Hall talking about Cornel Wilde’s career and the production of The Naked Prey. Also included is the Theatrical Trailer. The re-release comes with a 28 page booklet about the movie.