It may now be no more than a hastily written cliché, but The Naked Prey is a film “of a time”. Largely ignored when released in 1965, it is today perhaps more notable for the kind of themes and contrivances that would cause moral indignation among those who still believe some films should be banned. That focus, though, detracts from a film that while occasionally tedious and often preposterous contains a raw energy that makes it worthy of attention.
An ivory hunting party are captured by an African tribe after refusing to offer gifts to the chief as payment for safe passage across his lands. The party are then subjected to various cruelties and punishments that would make Eli Roth proud, including one that involves a man being encased alive in clay and then roasted on a spit with two breathing straws fitted to ensure maximum suffering. The final entertainment for the cackling tribe is to release the leader of the group Man (never named and portrayed by Cornel Wilde, who also produced and directed) and after an appropriate head start pursue him across the plains.
Effectively an elongated chase movie, The Naked Prey switches between a blinkered Westernised view of Africa and tongue-in-cheek moments that make you wonder whether intentional or by accident. Prior to the party’s capture, there is a very open discussion about moving from the ivory business into the slave trade as it’s far more profitable, and in the later pursuit the Man easily outsmarts the dull-witted “savages” on more than one occasion. There are then scenes where he comedically pursues a “savannah chicken” and picks his teeth with a thorn after nibbling on an easier to catch snail. The balance between what are now considered abhorrent political views and almost slapstick humour isn’t entirely successful, failing as it does to generate empathy or understanding in its main protagonist. What saves the film is the conviction of Wilde as a filmmaker, misguided at times perhaps but never lacking in the conviction to make the best and most striking film he could.
Despite its subject matter, and claims from some parties to the contrary, The Naked Prey is not a racist film. While there is no message or subtext condemning the bigoted white man, although the majority do get their comeuppance, there also isn’t one condoning the controversial views. Rightly or wrongly these are just opinions that were prevalent, and however strange they might be The Naked Prey can be enjoyed simply for what it is: a bizarrely entertaining chase across a beautiful landscape.
Certainly of a time, just a time sadly not that long ago.
Special Features: New video interview with film historian Sheldon Hall / Trailer / Booklet
THE NAKED PREY / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: CORNEL WILDE / SCREENPLAY: CLINT JOHNSTON, DON PETERS / STARRING: CORNEL WILDE, GERT VAN DEN BERGH, KEN GAMPU, PATRICK MYNHARDT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW