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Rainsford is a big-game hunter (think elephants and tigers) who basically couldn’t give a hoot about his prey. It’s all about the hunt, kill, and impressive skins. After he falls from his Brazil-bound yacht, Sanger Rainsford makes it to the rocky shore of “Ship-Trap” Island. Safe at last! Those jaguars in the Amazon will just have to wait for their day of reckoning.
He crawls through the gnarled jungle growth and along the shore until he makes it to a fortress/chateau managed under the watchful eye of the gun-toting butler/in-house torture specialist, Ivan. There he meets his host, a shady character named General Zaroff. This elegant man is a member of the Russian nobility who had to get out of town when the Communists took over Russia in 1917.
Initially, Zaroff is the perfect host. But then the truth comes out: he's actually the perfect psychopath. After getting bored hunting animals, he's begun luring people to his island with a cute little trick involving misleading ships into thinking there’s a channel where there isn’t one. Voila! Fresh prey. But this guy’s no bully. He gives people the choice: be hunted for three days and go free if you survive, or be whipped to death by Ivan, who used to be the Czar’s designated sadist.
Hm, that's not exactly a "cake or death" choice.
And then, surprise! He offers Rainsford the exact same choice. Out the chateau gates for old Rainsford, who pulls out all the stops: the Malay mancatcher (sounds like character from The Hangover VIII), a Burmese Tiger pit, and a tricky little mechanism using a sapling and a knife.
This last one takes out Ivan, and Raisnford also manages to kill one of Zaroff’s precious hounds. But then, with nowhere left to go, Rainsford hurls himself over a cliff into the stormy waters below. Zaroff figures that’s the end of that and goes home to bed.
And then, double-surprise! Rainsford is in his bedroom. He’s alive, he's mad, and he's out for revenge, Zaroff concedes that Rainsford has won and tries to let him go free—but that’s not good enough for this American hunter. He feeds his host to the hounds and hits the hay for a good night's sleep.