By DAVID OSBORN
(The Dial Press; 1974)
Hereís a perfect case study in how a bad movie adaptation can tarnish the
reputation of a really good book. This isnít the only such occasion by any
means (anyone out there reading Marc Behmís stunning EYE OF THE BEHOLDER in
light of the shitty Isabelle Adjani and Ashley Judd flicks made from it? How
about the old HOWARD THE DUCK comics?), but this particular case is especially
grievous, since I consider David Osbornís OPEN SEASON one of the absolute
finest, not to mention darkest, suspense novels Iíve ever read.
To be fair, the movie made from this book, a cheap Spanish lensed affair
with Peter Fonda and William Holden, is quite obscure in its own right. It
definitely hasnít helped matters, though, that the book has become inexorably
tied to it. Apparently the screen rights were snapped up before the novel was
even published, precipitating a title change from its original moniker THE
ALL-AMERICANS, and packaging (in the paperback edition) that made it seem like a
tawdry novelization. Nor has it been reprinted; once the movie faded from view
so too did the book.
OPEN SEASON centers on three well-to-do businessmen embarking on an annual
hunting trip. Ingeniously constructed, the narrative parlays the details of the
Each year the men commence their trip by
stopping off at a hotel and hiring a bunch of call girls. They then kidnap a
young couple and, once ensconced in their secluded hunting lodge, continue the
sex and sadism via a three-way orgy with the woman. After this the real portion
of the trip gets underway: the men hunt the couple MOST DANGEROUS GAME style
through the surrounding forest.
This is how itís gone for our ďheroesĒ on each trip for the past seven
years. This time around, though, thereís an added element: an unidentified man
is hunting the hunters. Heís got a beef with them, the particulars of which we
donít find out until late in the book.
The story is unfailingly exciting and suspenseful, and quite plausible to
boot. If there were any major plot holes I missed them, and the
characterizations are all quite solid for a novel of this type.
But the book also contains a deeper, more resonant dimension. It doesnít
begin like your standard revenge thriller, but with a young woman recovering
from a vicious gang rape. The description of her suffering is hard-hitting and
realistic, and suffuses the remainder of this bleak tale, in which the violence
is unusually strong and graphic. Yes, the girl and the rape have a definite
connection with the three businessmen and their deranged hunting trip, but Iíll
leave that for you to discover on your own.
Be advised that OPEN SEASON is very much a product of its time. Moral
ambiguity was all the rage during the early seventies, and positively suffuses
this novel. Nearly all the characters are amoral scumbags, from the three
businessmen (who come off like the evil flipside of the protagonists of
DELIVERANCE) to the couple they victimize (both of whom reveal themselves as
self-centered opportunists before the hunt is over) to the guy hunting the
hunters (who callously waits until his charges have committed their deadly
crimes before taking his revenge).
Thus we have a thriller that really thrills, but with an added dimension
worthy of most ďseriousĒ literature--not to mention a profoundly dark,
disturbing angle that nearly edges it into horror territory. I urge you to
track it down, though by all means skip the movie!