The Naked Prey (Spotlight Review)

4 Stars


“Stripped, weaponless, alone and only ten desperate seconds ahead of the killers…” When a group of elephant hunters encounters a dangerous South African tribe, Cornel Wilde finds himself fighting for his life in the exceptionally bare-bones The Naked Prey (1965). Based on the actual historical incident surrounding a fur trapper named John Colter who was stripped by Blackfoot Indians, and given a short amount of time to run away before being relentlessly hunted. Long before the infamous italian cannibal films would shock and exploit the cinematic landscape, The Naked Prey did the unthinkable in the mid sixties.

Written for the screen by Clint Johnston and Don Peters, the film functions as both an exotic adventure and a meditation on man vs. nature. Still, it’s troubling to me that this film was almost all but ignored during awards season; garnering a Best Screenplay nomination and nothing more. Perhaps it was Wilde’s public image as an actor that managed to overshadow his reserved yet palpable sense of direction. Each set piece in the film is crafted with extreme authenticity. So authentic in fact, that he ended up being evacuated to a hospital after handling a real python and monitor lizard for a scene. The first act which involves the elephant hunters being mercilessly tortured and murdered by the tribe is also disturbing; another reason this may have been alienating at the time. Indeed, The Naked Prey has the distinct pleasure of being the most violent adventure film I’ve ever seen from the sixties.

When I mentioned that the film was “bare-bones”, I truly meant that in technical terms. Here is a great example of a film that does not need a large orchestral score, dialogue, or thematic intrigue to keep you engaged. It’s held together by Wilde’s physical lead performance, the texture of the 35mm film stock, and an unsettling tribal drum score which rises and falls like a wave of terror whenever danger is approaching. I love films that give the audience a sense of atmosphere they cannot ignore. You can actually feel the sweat and dirt on the performers when you watch this. Multiple times I found myself reaching for my water bottle because the character’s dehydration was becoming my own.

There are few films that exist within the same realm as The Naked Prey. Ones that strike a unique balance between quality entertainment and barbaric thrills. An exotic adventure with sprinkles of tribal horror that makes for an exceptional summer movie night. Clocking in at a breezy 96 minutes, this is one that almost anyone could enjoy. If you are interested in watching The Naked Prey, it is available to stream on platforms such as Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes, and Vudu (starting at $2.99). You can also purchase it on Blu-ray/DVD through The Criterion Collection.


By |2020-05-02T15:33:52+00:0005/02/2020|16 Comments

About the Author:

Jake O'Brien is an independent film director and screenwriter who specializes in cult and classic cinema.


  1. Brian Bellant 05/02/2020 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    This is one of the most breathtaking and craziest movies I ever saw. Great review!

  2. Ryan 05/02/2020 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    Classic film.

  3. Carol 05/03/2020 at 3:07 am - Reply

    I actually saw this movie at the drive-in when I was a young girl, my father took me to see it and to this date I remember so many of the scenes in such great detail. Now I want to watch this again.

  4. Dan Millmine 05/03/2020 at 4:45 am - Reply

    Oh man! I totally dig this movie!

  5. Dan F. 05/03/2020 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    I think this movie is what defines “Jawdropping”

  6. Barry Germansky 05/03/2020 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    Love it, too! 🙂 Have you seen LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN? It’s my favorite Cornel Wilde film. It also features amazing color cinematography by my favorite DP, Leon Shamroy.

  7. Mike Sneed 05/04/2020 at 1:58 am - Reply

    This film is truly speculator. The film features footage from real elephant hunts, but Wilde’s contempt for the “sport” is clear in his editing as one giant creature’s demise is zoomed in on and repeated with gunfire. “Wilde the filmmaker aimed not to harm any of the animals he encountered during production.

  8. Jerry 05/04/2020 at 2:18 am - Reply

    Yes! The Naked Prey is one of my all-time faves.

  9. Kat 05/05/2020 at 12:43 am - Reply

    Sounds great! I just looked up this film and I just added it to watch list.

  10. Dave 05/05/2020 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    I love It, this movie is a timeless classic.

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