The Naked Prey (1966)
“Stripped, turned loose like a wild beast … a manhunt of indescribable terror and screaming suspense!”
Director: Cornel Wilde
Cast: Cornel Wilde, Gert van den Bergh, Ken Gampu
Synopsis: A group of men are on safari. One of the party refuses to give a gift to a tribe they encounter. The tribe is offended, seizes the party, and one-by-one, kills all but one of them.
There’s a moment in The Naked Prey which has remained with me since the day I first saw it on TV when I was about fourteen years old. Having been captured by a native tribe in Africa a group of safari hunters find themselves put to death in a variety of interesting and unusual ways. In between shots of terrified European men being clubbed to death by gleeful African tribeswomen, or staked face down in front of a semi-circle of fire into which is flung an angry cobra, we see a few shots of one poor chap who’s tied to a pole and smothered in clay by the few women who aren’t interested in clubbing his mate to death. The man has reed pipes protruding from his ears and nostrils. Later, we see him slowly being rotated over an open fire like some monstrous hog roast. It perhaps isn’t as graphic as the kind of horror we see in torture porn movies like Hostel, but it’s no less shocking thanks to the fact that it’s shown in a movie that is more than forty years old and gives no indication of containing such an atrocity. One thing’s for sure, though — it means The Naked Prey will linger long in the memory of many who watch it.
The unlucky party that finds itself at the mercy of this tribe are led by a man who is somewhat pretentiously introduced as ‘Man’ in the opening titles. He’s played by Cornel Wilde who, when the movie was made, was still in pretty good shape for a man of 54. But Man isn’t to blame for the predicament in which the group find themselves, that’s down to Man no.2 (Gert van den Bergh), the bellicose financier of the Safari who offends the tribal king’s son by rudely refusing to offer a small gift in return for hunting on their homeland. Man no.2 is the one who finds himself face to face with that unhappy cobra, leaving Man alone to face the wrath of the tribe. Presumably because he argued on their behalf when Man no.2 refused to give them a token, the tribe go a little easier on Man. After stripping him naked, one of the natives shoots an arrow into the distance and prompts Man to make a run for it. Once Man runs past the arrow, the first tribesman sets off after him, and once he reaches the arrow the second one sets off, and so on.
Man finds himself involved in a deadly chase, but manages to at least give himself a fighting chance of survival by killing his first pursuer and relieving him of his clothes, sandals and weapons. From his position ahead of the other tribesmen he might have been able to pick each them off in turn, but once they realise they’re not dealing with any normal white boy they decide to stick together and hunt him as a pack.
Once the pursuit begins much of The Naked Prey plays out without dialogue — English dialogue, at least — and makes good use of African tribal music. Wilde endures the usual hardships — thirst, hunger and weariness — while attempting to remain one step ahead of his pursuers and make it back to a fortified camp. Unusually, perhaps, for this type of movie, much is made of the physical toll of the hardship Man endures. This guy doesn’t wake up and spring into action. He wakes up and climbs gingerly to his feet before stretching and groaning, the way that you or I would. He makes a comical hash of catching food to eat, and is lucky to have an edible snake pop out of the eye socket of an animal skull right where he’s sleeping. Man is no more resourceful than the average man in such a position; he’d prefer to hide rather than fight and has no qualms about sneaking up on one of his pursuers and spearing him through the back.
The Naked Prey is based on a true incident, although it actually took place in Wyoming, where a fur trapper was subjected to a similar ordeal by Blackfoot Indians. Wilde also produced and directed as well as starring, although it has to be said that he was no great shakes as a director and fails to generate the level of tension inherent to the story that unfolds. Nevertheless, The Naked Prey makes for a grimly fascinating adventure movie.
(Reviewed 30th June 2013)