Heart of the Stag

The following AHA film review was compiled from archival information and documentation and may not reflect AHA's current criteria for animal action review and rating procedures.

The chilling story of a farmhand who realizes his boss has an incestuous relationship with his daughter.

Peter Daley, a drifter, is hired as a temporary hand on the Jacksons' 4,000 acre sheep ranch. Peter is invited to dinner at the ranch house where Jackson introduces him to his invalid wife and his daughter, Cathy. He soon learns that Jackson is a fiercely possessive and aggressive man. He shows off his collection of firearms to Peter, and states that he is ready to "bag" the large stag that roams his ranch. "Always aim for the heart. It doesn't spoil the trophy," he tells him. Peter, a non-hunter, is sickened by this cruelty.

Peter tries in vain to befriend the aloof and frightened Cathy. In time, she tells him about her father's incestuous affair of many years with her. Peter is appalled and convinces Cathy to run away with him. Inevitably, Jackson hunts them down, as he would the stag, with ruthless possessiveness.

  • Starring: Bruno Lawrence, Terence Cooper and Mary Regan
  • Director(s): Michael Firth
  • Producer(s): Southern Cross Feature Film Company
  • Screenwriter(s): Michael Firth, Neil Illingworth
  • Distributor: New World Pictures
  • Release Date: Sunday, April 01, 1984
  • Rating: Unacceptable

Featured Animal Action

Heart of the Stag was filmed in New Zealand by a local film company. AHA had no involvement; however, we have learned through the New Zealand RSPCA that a stag died of stress during the filming of a scene that required the lead actor (Terence Cooper) to wrestle with the animal. According to a letter from the RSPCA, "as the stag had died before the scene was shot, the dead animal was decapitated and the scene was achieved with close-ups of the actor wrestling with the head."

AHA rated this film Unacceptable due to the death of an animal through improper and stressful handling during production.

The ongoing expansion of the AHA Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media has raised the standard of care for animal actors worldwide. In addition, technological advancements have created safe alternatives to risky action, enabling filmmakers to maintain their creative vision without compromising the welfare of animal actors. AHA continues to be a vigilant watchdog for animals in film and television and acknowledges the groundbreaking history of this program while expanding and refining procedures to reflect increased knowledge and new challenges.