Classic Intel: Straw Dogs (1971) - Blu-ray Review

'As David and Amy sip scotch and soda from Schweppes fountains, Charlie and his ilk cause trouble with pints in the local ale house. For Peckinpah, culture is king, and the backwoods beasts who seek only to rape and destroy are worthy of little'

Perhaps it is testament to Sam Peckinpah that his 1971 film still feels shocking in many ways, though none of them pleasant. This is a film which doesn't creep under your skin via atmosphere or tension, but which tries to illicit a response based on outrage and shock. The latter tactics may work, eventually, but the film rarely does, sacrificing the better pursuits of Horror for the seventies equivalent of torture porn, cheap parlour tricks which last for moments of distaste rather than the advanced development of fear and dread.

Key to these elements is the rape of Amy (Susan George) at the hands of two of the locals from the village where her and husband David (Dustin Hoffman) have made their home. If Peckinpah had presented this merely as a tool for outrage and the incitement of David to action then maybe it would have worked, but his well-documented misogyny rises sickeningly here, as he clearly suggests that Amy, at least initially, welcomes the experience. As Charlie (Del Henney) appears, like a vampire at the door, Amy welcomes him and he crosses a threshold from which there is no return. Perhaps Peckinpah's intention here is to suggest that, already over-whelmed, Amy has no alternative but to give in, but the presentation is distinctly murky and the inclusion of earlier scenes, notably one in which Amy bares her breasts to Charlie and his friends, do not help his case.

This scene also marks the culmination of the build-up of a xenophobic exploration of the 'local', a reductive myth played on in numerous US explorations of the 'redneck', here transposed to the English rurality. As David and Amy sip scotch and soda from Schweppes fountains, Charlie and his ilk cause trouble with pints in the local ale house. For Peckinpah, culture is king, and the backwoods beasts who seek only to rape and destroy are worthy of little, certainly not characterisation.

There are no larger problems than the rape of Amy but overall there are elements to Straw Dogs which cause it greater trouble than that one scene. There's hardly any pace to speak of, for a start, the whole thing grinding along in a turgid two hours. Peckinpah's reliance on Amy to shock also means he neglects the development of Horror or Drama elsewhere, leaving the whole thing feeling curiously flat. There's also the finale, where the director appears to think it is a good idea, poignant even, to have his lead man leave his wife and head off on road trip to God knows where, in the company of a child murderer and possible paedophile. Perhaps that's part of the point; the film does explore the violent nature of a relationship in breakdown and this could represent the finality of it; David forced into a car with the sole surviving personification of evil the film has left. By that point though, it is difficult to care and impossible to invest.



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