Sunday, August 25, 2019

"The Most Dangerous Game" (1924)

I recall Richard Connell's chestnut as being taught in high school. I wonder if that wasn't how the Zodiac serial killer was exposed to it, who made oblique references to it in one letter to Bay Area newspapers. Operating just behind the Zodiac in the '70s and '80s, in Alaska, was Robert Hansen, who kidnapped women, raped them, flew them to remote wilderness areas, and hunted them. "The Most Dangerous Game," alas quaint now at best after such true-crime episodes, is further weakened by being full of absurd convenience. A man falls off a yacht in the Caribbean and swims "the blood-warm water" to the nearest island. His name is Sanger Rainsford and he happens to be a big-game hunter. He also happens to be an author. The owner of the island happens to know his work. That owner is General Zaroff, a Czarist loyalist, who I imagine having a scar on the side of his face like Fearless Leader from Bullwinkle. It's a reasonably good idea, this horror of humans formally hunting one another (what next, cannibalism?!), but it's a little too impressed with its awesomeness to work out the details and make it credible. It's still fun to read as a sort of adventure story with a tang of existential dread. It's mostly setup and then the last third is a lot of chasing around the jungle making booby traps and/or avoiding them. It reads like a story that is still a little shell-shocked from the Great War. Indeed, our hero, besides being a big-game hunter and author, also happens to be a veteran of that war. His experience quickly digging trenches comes in handy. The story is haunted by human brutality even as it seems to have little idea how bad it can get. I appreciate the dark spirit but by the time I was reading it in high school movies like Night of the Living Dead and Last House on the Left were more the latest word in human brutality. Interesting that those movies are likely not yet taught in high school, and this Connell story might still be, but the reasons are obvious and understandable. An interesting curiosity but not that much to see here, folks.

In case it's not at the library.

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