Death Hunt Review

From its high-pitched wails as the opening credits crawl over some uninspired background shots of mountains, audiences will have no choice but to stare and clutch at their ears as Death Hunt opens. Its score is poor and that should not matter to any action feature until it becomes an unavoidable focus. But what else would there be to focus on in the great Canadian outback, eh? Just like the score gives way to bold and recognisable actors, the direction of Peter Dick eventually secedes away from snowy background shots and into the real meat and bones of this early-1980s action flick. Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson are steady hands to have on board, but from Death Hunt, it would seem their days in the spotlight are numbered.

It is not through the wasted potential but through the handling of the anti-hero styling of Bronson’s leading man, Albert Johnson. Not entirely the most interesting of leads, but his good deeds and honest intentions are choreographed well in some brutal, quick-cut scenes of dog-fighting and intervention. Dick’s work feels oddly cheap and lacking in the key moments, but he focuses on the key moments. When he needs to inflict some sincere thrills out of nowhere, he can rely on a coonskin cap-wearing Bronson channelling his best Clint Eastwood impersonation. Chilling men of few words that splatter cash on grovelling locals. It is tried, tested and fairly good for Death Hunt to lay its hat on.

But the path Johnson takes from local hero to man on the run is far too brief and cut up to make much sense. Later moments are admirable in their collection of Marvin and Carl Weathers, but by then stalking Bronson through the woods in a style similar to that of First Blood or The Park is Mine is not as rewarding or interesting as these actors try to make it. Weathers and Marvin teaming together is rather interesting and while Dick makes room for plenty of explosions and rewarding spectacles of violence, he never quite gets to grips with the characters, their desires or their motivation. It is the gang of armed thugs that aren’t all that thuggish hunting down their prey who turns the tables on them with his knowledge of the land and environment. He is a trapper, after all, a presumably noble profession in 1930s Canada, which is where Death Hunt takes place. An odd period of choice, but one Dick uses fairly well.

His reveals are obvious but needed, his characters simple but paced thoroughly well. Death Hunt was never going to set the world ablaze with its crippling reliance on stars of old, but it does have an innate charm to it that would soon be replaced by the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone films to come. The sharper touch, the commentary on warfare and hired hands. Death Hunt does not have any of that, not just because the period extracts Marvin and Bronson from it, but also because it wouldn’t have much to say if it did. Sometimes an airheaded piece of explosive behaviour is a well-needed break. A light and forgettable romp through the forest, blowing up cabins and shooting potential villains on sight.

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