The Most Dangerous Game
Widely anthologized, and the author's best-known work, "The Most Dangerous Game" features as its main character a big-game hunter from New York, who falls off a yacht and swims to an isolated island in the Caribbean, where he is hunted by a Cossack aristocrat. The story is an inversion of the big-game hunting safaris in Africa and South America that were fashionable among wealthy Americans in the 1920s. It is considered by many to be the paragon example for the man vs man plot archetype.
Sanger Rainsford and his friend Whitney are traveling speedily to Rio de Janeiro to hunt the big cat of that region, the jaguar. After a discussion about how they are the hunters instead of the hunted, Whitney decides to go to bed, but Rainsford remains on deck to smoke. While Whitney goes back to his quarters, Rainsford hears gun shots in the night, drops his pipe, and falls off their boat and into the Caribbean Sea while trying to retrieve it. After he realizes he cannot swim back to the boat, he swims to the nearby Ship-Trap Island, which was notorious for shipwrecks. He finds a palatial chateau inhabited by two Cossacks: the owner, General Zaroff, and his gigantic deaf-mute servant Ivan. The General, another big-game hunter, has heard of Rainsford from the book Rainsford wrote about hunting snow leopards in Tibet. After inviting him to dinner, General Zaroff tells Rainsford of how he became bored with hunting because it no longer challenged him. Thus, Zaroff says, he decided to live on an island where he could capture shipwrecked sailors to send them into the jungle supplied with food, a knife, and hunting clothes to be his quarry. After a three-hour head start, he would follow them to hunt and kill them. If the captives eluded him, Ivan, and a pack of hunting dogs for three days, General Zaroff would let the man go, but no one had eluded him that long thus far. Zaroff invites Rainsford to join him in his hunt, but Rainsford refuses upon being appalled by Zaroff's motives. Zaroff then tells Rainsford that he can choose whether he will be the next person to be hunted or be whipped to death by Ivan. Rainsford chooses the former.
Rainsford, upon the commencement of his three hour head start, begins to lay an intricate trail in the forest and then climbs a tree. Zaroff finds him easily, but decides to play with him like a "cat would a mouse". After the failed attempt at eluding the General, Rainsford builds a "Malay man catcher", a weighted log attached to a trigger, which injures Zaroff's shoulder causing him to return home for the night. Next, he sets a Burmese tiger pit which kills one of Zaroff's hounds. Finally, he sets a native Ugandan knife trap, which impales and kills Ivan, but costs him his knife. To escape the General and his approaching hounds, Rainsford dives off a cliff and into the sea. Zaroff returns home.
Zaroff locks himself in his bedroom and turns on the lights revealing Rainsford who had hidden by the bed curtains after having swum around the island. Zaroff congratulates him on winning the "game" but Rainsford decides to fight him calling himself "a beast at bay." The General accepts the challenge saying that the loser will be fed to the dogs and the winner will sleep in his bed. Though the ensuing fight is not described, the story ends with Rainsford observing that "he had never slept in a better bed," implying that he defeated and killed Zaroff.
The story has been adapted for film numerous times. The most significant of these adaptations (and the only one to use the original characters) was RKO's The Most Dangerous Game, released in 1932, having been shot (mostly at night) on sets used during the day for the "Skull Island" sequences of King Kong. The movie starred Joel McCrea as Rainsford (renamed "Robert" instead of "Sanger") and Leslie Banks as Zaroff (given the title of Count instead of General), and added two other principal characters: brother and sister pair Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and Martin Trowbridge (Robert Armstrong) (Wray and Armstrong were also filming King Kong on the same sets during the day). Zaroff, the owner of the island, shares with Rainsford that he got bored of hunting and discovered the "most dangerous game," which Rainsford assumes is hunting tigers. Eve is suspicious of Zaroff and tells the doubtful Rainsford. A short time after Martin goes missing with Zaroff and his henchmen and during this time Eve and Rainsford go into Zaroff's trophy room to discover a human head. Then Zaroff comes back with the dead Martin and challenges Rainsford and Eve to the game in order to keep their lives. After a series of events including eluding Zaroff and faking Rainsford's own death, Eve and Rainsford escape as Zaroff falls to his death.
The story was adapted three times as a radio play for the series Suspense, on September 23, 1943 with Orson Welles as Zaroff and Keenan Wynn as Rainsford, on February 1, 1945 with frequent Welles collaborator Joseph Cotten portraying Rainsford, and on October 1, 1947 for the CBS radio program Escape. In the first two of these productions, Rainsford narrates the story in retrospect as he waits in Zaroff's bedroom for the final confrontation.
A second movie adaptation, a remake of the 1932 movie and also produced by RKO, was A Game of Death, released in 1945. Directed by Robert Wise at the very beginning of his long and distinguished directing career, the movie was regarded poorly. Footage from the original was recycled, and one actor from the original, Noble Johnson, was cast in the remake. In keeping with events of the time, A Game of Death changed Zaroff into "Erich Kreiger", a Nazi, and was set in the aftermath of the Second World War.
John Woo's first Hollywood directorial effort, the Jean-Claude Van Damme thriller Hard Target (1993) was loosely based on the story, with the locale being shifted to 1990's New Orleans and homeless Vietnam war veterans voluntarily serving (in return for potential payment from a shady businessman) as human prey.
Surviving the Game - A homeless man is hired as a survival guide for a group of wealthy businessmen on a hunting trip in the mountains, unaware that they are killers who hunt humans for sport, and that he is their new prey.Director: Ernest R. Dickerson; Writer: Eric Bernt; Stars: Rutger Hauer, Ice-T, Charles S. Dutton
The story has also been the basis for plots for several television series, such as the Supernatural episode "The Benders," Xena Warrior Princess episode 6.11 "Dangerous Prey" and the Criminal Minds episode "Open Season". In season 3 of Archer it was used in the episode "El Contador"
In "Get Smart" episode "Island of the Darned" Agents 86 and 99 are trapped on an island with a mad KAOS Killer Hans Hunter.
The John Leguizamo comedy The Pest was loosely based on the story.
In the 2004 video game Hitman: Contracts, the mission Beldingford Manor takes inspiration from this story.
In 2001, the Canadian show Relic Hunter had an episode called "Run Sydney Run" that was very closely based on the same story as The Most Dangerous Game, with Peter Stebbings acting as General Tsarlov.
Robert Hansen, a serial killer who was active in the early 1980s, would kidnap women and then release them in the Knik River Valley in Alaska. He would then hunt them, armed with a knife and a Ruger Mini-14 rifle.
In 1976, Hayes Noel, a stock trader, Bob Gurnsey, and author Charles Gaines were discussing Gaines' recent trip to Africa and his experiences hunting buffalo. Inspired in part by The Most Dangerous Game, they created paintball in 1981, a game where they would stalk and hunt each other; recreating the same adrenaline rush that came with animal hunting.
The Zodiac Killer
There is a reference to "The Most Dangerous Game" in letters the Zodiac Killer wrote to San Francisco Bay Area newspapers in his three-part cipher. "Man is the most dangerous animal of all to kill. " The film The Most Dangerous Game is also mentioned a number of times in the context of the Zodiac Killer in the 2007 film Zodiac.
- Lohr, David. "Hunting Humans". truTV Crime Library. Retrieved 2010-07-12.
- "ExploreNorth – Robert Hansen, A Serial Killer in Alaska". Explorenorth.com. Retrieved 2010-07-12.
- Davidson, Steve, et al. The Complete Guide to Paintball, 4–12. Hatherleigh Press, New York. 1999