She'd love to kill him—and kill…to love him.
To paraphrase comedian Lewis Black, the 21st century got here and we were screwed again. Why? No flying cars!
So imagine my disappointment when I began watching the low-budget futuristic thriller The 10th Victim when I saw there were no flying cars! None! The budget was apparently very small seeing as how they were also unable to afford undergarments for Ursula Andress' (Dr. No) wardrobe. Despite the budget issues, however, the filmmakers manage to get a few things right in this futuristic satire based on Robert Sheckley's novel "The Seventh Victim."
Facts of the Case
It's the 21st century, and murder has been legalized in the form of a game in which a participant alternates as hunter and victim. Surviving ten hunts by claiming your tenth victim allows you to claim a million dollar prize. The rules are laid out for us as a woman in a short skirt is chased by a gun-toting Japanese assassin who was clearly trained at the Imperial Stormtrooper School of Marksmanship. He chases his unarmed victim into a masochist's club where he encounters Caroline Meredith (Andress) whose brassiere is fully loaded—with bullets! (Andress' character was clearly Mike Myers' inspiration for the Fembots in Austin Powers—International Man of Mystery.) Everything is okay, though, because it's all in the rules of "The Big Hunt," a game that the governments claim prevents wars and other violence through the outlet of violence for those with violent or suicidal tendencies. Shortly after her kill (her ninth victim), Caroline is approached to do an endorsement for Ming Tea as long as she can kill her tenth victim on camera.
Meanwhile, we witness another Big Hunt contestant, Marcello Polletti (Marcello Mastroianni, who it would seem has a contract demanding he only portray characters with his name), finish off his ninth victim with a pair of exploding boots. Marcello is then informed that he will now become a victim to a hunter whose identity remains a mystery. By now it should be obvious to everyone except Marcello that Caroline will be hunting him.
We begin to learn more about Marcello's life. He's destitute since his ex-wife (Luce Bonifassy) has taken everything from him, he's been keeping a mistress (Elsa Martinelli), and he's a Sundown Worshipper, leading a funeral-like, hippie prayer as the sun sets every evening. Caroline approaches him in the guise of a reporter who wants to interview him in the hopes of luring him to a soundstage to film a commercial and his on-camera death, a plan so elaborate that it has absolutely no chance of working. Marcello begins to suspect that Caroline might be his hunter, but can't kill her unless he's sure since the punishment for killing the wrong person is thirty years in prison. He then plans her death while filming a commercial of his own in yet another plan (involving a "killer" crocodile that looked about as active as a sloth stuck in a tar pit and a spring-loaded chair) so elaborate it has absolutely no chance of working. A tangled web of intrigue, romance and mind-numbing boredom then begins and carries itself out to the end of the film.
Anchor Bay has done a marvelous job of bringing cult classics to DVD, giving solid anamorphic transfers to films that most people (and studios) have forgotten about. The 10th Victim is Anchor Bay's latest undertaking, and with good reason. The film works moderately well as a satire, presenting ideas that were developed into later films such as The Running Man, Robocop and Starship Troopers. The idea that violence has become acceptable enough in society to create an international, legalized version of The Most Dangerous Game hits the mark, as evidenced by reading the daily news or any number of television shows currently airing. Andress was off to a start as an international star after becoming the first "Bond Girl" in Dr. No and Mastroianni was already a bankable star in Europe, so the casting made sense. The idea of placing a woman in the role of hunter was a bit new, and Andress fills the role of femme fatale rather well, if not for the fact that she really isn't a very good actress. The central ideas of the film are carried through, and as we'll shortly see, thrown aside in an attempt to make a screwball comedy.
The video itself is about as clear as it's going to get. Anchor Bay has done a terrific job restoring the original print and presenting an anamorphic transfer, but is hugely limited from the fact that the film was made in the '60s. The audio, however, is vastly uneven and gunshots ring out with horrid tinny noises that made me cringe. Ditto with the blaring horn section during the love scene (which I'll point out was probably one of the dumbest, most incompetently filmed love scenes ever). There's not much point in talking about the special features of this DVD, since there are virtually none. A horrid and overly-noisy theatrical trailer billing this film as a brilliant comedy and talent bios on Andress and Mastroianni are included. The English subtitles (the film was originally filmed in Italian) are a bit of a mess in the sense that a blue bar covers half of the lettering any time the subtitles are on screen, making them unreadable. Fortunately I was able to switch over to a dubbed version of the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
To say that the plot has more holes than a sieve is a bit of an understatement. Random people with guns, also clearly trained at the aforementioned Imperial Stormtrooper School of Marksmanship, chase each other across just about every set used in the film. We get the idea that thousands of people are taking part in The Big Hunt, but why is it they all seem to be in one small geographic area? A later plot by Caroline to throw off Marcello's suspicions involves one of her hired goons performing a drive by, but missing in order to afford Caroline the kill later at the commercial set. After the attack, Marcello declares the gunman couldn't have been a hunter since a real hunter wouldn't have missed at that range, but at this point in the film we've seen a half dozen cross-eyed hunters shooting at ducks, clouds or imaginary goblins since they couldn't possibly have been shooting at their victims.
This is all on top of the "characters doing stupid things for no reason" problems that are encountered rather often in low-budget fair. We have a main character who, with one million dollars and her life at stake, decides to pick up an extra ten grand by luring her victim into an elaborate trap. Clearly she should have gone to the Scott Evil School of Evil and learned to kill her enemies when she has the chance. There's nothing worse than an incompetent murderer. My plan? Walk up to him and shoot him in the head. Easy, isn't it? This plan would have made this film at least an hour shorter and saved me from a lot of needless suffering.
On top of these issues, the largest problem with the film lies with the inability of director Elio Petri to fully explore the themes of violence in society and the fascination the modern media would have with this violence. Maybe it's the fact that The 10th Victim was made over 35 years ago that has caused it to lose its punch, but somehow I doubt this since more over-the-top satires such as Dr. Strangelove pre-date The 10th Victim. An opportunity to create a classic, timeless satire was squandered by going for a cheap attempt to soften the film into a screwball comedy, which The 10th Victim truly fails at as well. It's just not funny.
The 10th Victim is highly recommended only if you're already a fan of the film, since I seriously doubt we'll see any fancy special editions in the future. I'm assuming by calling this a "cult classic" that Anchor Bay is banking on the fact that there actually are fans of the film out there. Otherwise, this film is simply too watered down to have any relevance on today's audiences and curiosity seekers should look for more exciting ways to pass the time, like philately. As a side note, a script by Alex Proyas (Dark City) for a remake is floating around, and here's hoping this terrific concept gets a modern update.
Anchor Bay is acquitted of all charges. The film is acquitted on the grounds that it laid the basic groundwork for later, more daring filmmakers like Paul Verhoeven, but is found guilty on the charges of attempted humor and attempted edgy satire.
This court stands in recess so the judge can watch The Fifth Element. At least that movie has flying cars.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Theatrical Trailer
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