The History That Inspired Movies About Humans Hunting Humans

Movies like 'The Hunt' have been churned out regularly since 1932's 'The Most Dangerous Game,' but their concepts aren't entirely far-fetched.

The Hunt

Humans have been hunting since the birth of the species. At one point it was necessary for survival, and while there are those who still prefer to hunt for their own food, some people just seek the thrill of the kill. Slaughtering defenseless animals for sport is a favorite pastime among some members of society, and often it’s connected to class.

Unsurprisingly, then, genre films have explored the concept of hunting to comment on social upheaval, class divisions, and wealth disparity. As such, the prey in these movies tends to be human. The Most Dangerous Game, which follows a big game hunter being hunted by an aristocrat, established the format for these movies in 1932 (though the novel it’s based on goes back even further), setting the precedent for films of this ilk.

Since then, countless movies have reapplied and reimagined the concept, and many of them have focused on the sociopolitical divides between the hunters and the hunted. Whether that’s rich people chasing down the homeless (Surviving the Game), rednecks targeting city slickers (Deliverance), or people hunting criminals (Turkey Shoot), human hunting has made for some effective social commentary in the context of genre films. The Hunt is the latest movie to adopt the formula, as rich liberals set out to kill rural conservatives.

However, as history has shown, humans hunted for sport isn’t exactly a fictitious idea. For example, in Ancient Greece, the upper class of Sparta hunted members of their servile helot population as a means of keeping them under control. The slaughter was primarily carried out by a secret police force, but Spartan youths also participated in the sport while undergoing their military training. During nightfall, the young warriors would sneak around and kill those who traveled the roads, but they were also known to pursue farmers because of the men’s strength.

The practice was also commonplace during the conquering of the New World as Europeans made their way to the Americas. During this time, natives were hunted down, either to be killed or brought into slavery as it proved to be a solid source of income. In Grégoire Chamayou’s Manhunts: A Philosophical History, he notes that the main purpose behind these hunts was to capture slaves and rule their territories, though it wasn’t uncommon for some participants to take pleasure in the act and treat it like a sport.

One of the earliest examples of the “sporting” aspect of the hunts was rumored to have happened in France during the 15th century, on the grounds of the royal chateau Amboise. As the story goes, King Louis XI went after a convicted convict who wore the skin of a freshly killed stag. The target was then caught by a pack of dogs and torn to shreds.

During the Spanish Civil War and subsequent Francisco Franco regime, human hunting was popular among wealthy pro-fascist landowners and their families. The hunts took place on horseback and targeted peasants, who were referred to as “reforma agraria,” jokingly referencing their desire for land reforms and informing them that their graves would be dumped into quarries. This was an extension of the “White Terror” campaign, a holocaust that involved fascist factions purging leftists, peasants, homosexuals, and anyone else who didn’t align with their values.

One thing that’s been common throughout all of these dark periods of human history is the attitudes held by the hunters. They didn’t view their prey as human beings with rights, simply because they were of a lower social class, held criminal convictions, or had a different skin color. Basically, they viewed people they considered lesser as being akin to animals, and in some societies, it was acceptable behavior for centuries.

Of course, society has progressed and attitudes have changed. In most countries, people are protected by human rights laws that prohibit killing. While there are deranged individuals out there who will likely participate in these practices again, some experts believe that they will be propagated by the state in the future. A 2016 report by Daniel Wright, senior lecturer in tourism at the University of Central Lancashire, posited the idea of the rich hunting the poor in the future in order to control overpopulation and prevent economic and ecological disasters. Maybe that thought seems far-fetched at the moment, but history has shown that human beings are more than capable of committing atrocities.

Kieran is a Daily Curator for the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.