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How 'The Hunt' borrowed from horror classics in plotting early, shocking death scenes (spoilers!)

Kevin Polowy
·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
·3 min read
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Warning: Major spoilers ahead

Alfred Hitchcock's slasher touchstone Psycho shocked audiences in 1960 when the story's protagonist, on-the-run real-estate secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), is stabbed to death by knife-plunging motel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) only 45 minutes into the film.

Scream, Wes Craven's film that helped return the genre to glory in 1996, pulled a similar ruse by stunt-casting A-lister Drew Barrymore and killing her off a brisk six minutes into the franchise starter.

The Hunt, the controversial thriller whose September release was delayed after late-summer mass shootings and political backlash only to open this weekend amid the coronavirus pandemic, borrows from both those films in its perspective-shifting first act — and then takes it to a level all its own.

"You're programmed to [think], the first woman that you meet in the movie, she's going overcome the psycho that's trying to kill her and she will somehow survive until the very end," explained co-writer and producer Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers) to Yahoo Entertainment while talking spoilers during the film's Los Angeles press day (watch above).

In The Hunt, that first woman is Emma Roberts, who plays a character simply known as Yoga Pants — one of a dozen so-called "deplorables" dropped into what they believe is rural Arkansas (it’s actually rural Croatia) in a sick-and-twisted game of survival where they're targeted by liberal elites armed with shotguns. Roberts, an actress recognizable for her roles in American Horror Story and as Julia Roberts's niece, is only on the screen for a few minutes before she catches a sniper bullet to the dome.

"And if you kill her, OK, gotcha, very clever, Psycho did it," Lindelof continued. "But now here's the handsome guy from This Is Us, and he's certainly gonna be the hero."

Justin Hartley and Emma Roberts in 'The Hunt' (Universal)
Justin Hartley and Emma Roberts in 'The Hunt' (Universal)

The action then follows Trucker (Justin Hartley, heartthrob of the NBC tearjerker), who indeed shows off his hero qualities by pulling a trapped woman out of spike pit… only to be blown to smithereens moments later when he steps on a land mine.

"We just wanted to disappoint different fanbases," laughed costar Ike Barinholtz.

There are seven different characters killed off before Betty Gilpin "comes striding into that gas station," as Lindlelof puts it — and ultimately proves the real hero of the bloody mayhem, stealing the whole film in the process.

Though Roberts and Hartley are equally if not better known, the most shocking death for those who have been following the film is Barinholtz's Staten Island, who is killed alongside a few more minor characters by a harmless-looking older couple in the aforementioned faux gas station. It's shocking, for one, because there was Barinholtz (Blockers, The Mindy Project) lined up to do press for the film.

Does that mean that of all The Hunt's early casualties, he's the film’s Janet Leigh?

"I've been saying this for years," Barinholtz smiled.

The Hunt is now playing.

Watch the cast and creators talk about the controversy of the film:

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