One of the most vicious movies I’ve ever seen—which is saying a lot, believe me—this grisly British flick opens by introducing Brandt Ruger (Gene Hackman), a wealthy rancher who gets off on beating his wife, Melissa (Candice Bergen), during sex. When this charmer and his sleazy buddies take off on a luxurious hunting trip, Melissa wanders over to a small schoolhouse to keep herself occupied. Along comes rough-ridin' outlaw Frank Calder (British madman Oliver Reed) and his gang, who kidnap Melissa and head off toward the frontier. Frank keeps his cronies from raping Melissa because he wants her to teach him to read. Meanwhile, Brandt hears what happened and enlists his hunting buddies to help track down the scoundrels. Thing is, Brandt figures Melissa's been tarnished, so he decides to take her out with one of the fancy rifles he uses to bag prey from a safe distance. As Hackman’s character devolves from meanie to monster, Frank evolves from scummy to sensitive. Sort of. Because, see, he wins Melissa's heart by raping her, which she secretly enjoys because it's the first time she’s ever been with a real man.
But wait—there’s more! The movie was shot in Spain, which allows the picture to inexplicably shift from palm-tree-dotted plains to high desert, and in true spaghetti-Western style, The Hunting Party features a faux-Morricone score that’s beyond overbearing. During this bizarre picture’s goofiest sequence, Frank taunts a starving Bergen by eating peaches obscenely in front of her, all to the strains of cringe-worthy "comical" music. Plus, as was the cinematic fashion of the time, Brandt turns totally psychotic about halfway through the picture, leading to endless slow-mo bloodbaths. The Hunting Party is unconscionably mean-spirited, but it’s not boring. Quite to the contrary, it’s arresting in a nauseating sort of way, offering prime evidence of Hackman’s disturbing ability to incarnate unstable sons of bitches, and equally telling images of Reed portraying animalistic charisma. So if sadism is your bag, then The Hunting Party is your movie.
The Hunting Party: LAME