Friday, December 30, 2016

Open Season (1974)

Filmed in Spain, Italy, and England’s Pinewood Studios, this frustrating Spanish production is yet another riff on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME. It’s skillfully made by director Peter Collinson (THE ITALIAN JOB) and there’s no doubting the cast’s exploitation credentials, but OPEN SEASON never really comes together.

A major flaw is William Holden’s brief scene near the beginning. You know perfectly well Collinson didn’t fly in Holden for a minor role any actor could have played, so a part of your brain is constantly distracted “when is Holden coming back.” When he does return in what’s supposed to be a plot twist, you aren’t surprised at all.

Also known as THE RECON GAME, Collinson’s thriller stars Peter Fonda (EASY RIDER), John Philip Law (DANGER: DIABOLIK), and Richard Lynch (THE SEVEN-UPS) as childhood buddies and ‘Nam vets who get away from their suburban homes, families, and lifestyles for two weeks every year by taking a hunting trip deep into the Canadian forest. As younger men, they escaped prosecution on a gang rape and, ever since, have used their annual getaways to overindulge in liquor, women, and debauchery.

More disturbingly, these perpetually giggling sociopaths have become bored with hunting regular game, so have spiced up the sport by tracking people instead. This year’s victims are Cornelia Sharpe (BUSTING) and Alberto de Mendoza (HORROR EXPRESS), a couple cheating on their respective spouses. To its credit, OPEN SEASON portrays sadism in an interesting manner, casually and understated. While the kidnappers are cruel murderers, they aren’t slobbering monsters or bug-eyed psychos, which makes the quiet psychological terror they inflict on Sharpe and de Mendoza more chilling.

Too lethargic and chatty to work as proper exploitation, however, OPEN SEASON offers fine work by Lynch, who would tumble into heavy roles in low-budget pictures and episodic television that were below him, though he always gave his all. Writers Liz Charles-Williams and David Osborn, who adapted Osborn’s novel THE ALL-AMERICANS, also penned two ‘60s Bulldog Drummond thrillers. Their screenplay serves up too many questions that go unanswered, and the tacked-on finale (apparently only seen in some prints) is a cop out.

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