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Straw Dogs

Definitely brutal, but kind of boring.

Rod Lott September 8th, 2011

Before Rod Lurie's remake opens in theaters, see the original "Straw Dogs," Sam Peckinpah's controversial study in violence from 1971. Or at least see its second hour, as the quasi-Western is far from perfect, contrary to what its cult rep may say otherwise. (Heck, spot the camera twice clearly reflected in our lead couple's car windows in the opening scenes.)


Dustin Hoffman is American mathematician David Sumner, with his English wife, Amy (Susan George, "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry"), at his side in their rural home in her native Cornwall. He's working on a big, taxing project; she doesn't have anything to do but flirt with the men working on their roof (one of whom is an old boyfriend) and complain about her husband's devotion to his intellectual pursuits.

Not much happens in that first hour other than to demonstrate over and over what an outcast David is among the locals. We don't quite need that much setup, as the viewer is just as outcast; this village looks so alien to us, even we don't feel the least bit comfortable in the surroundings, no matter how pretty the scenery.

Get used to it, because once things do happen, they're not pleasant. Atop that list is Amy's double rape, a scene made all the more disturbing by her apparent like of the horrific act. "Straw Dogs"' final half hour is the most intense, with the cowardly pacifist David famously forced into protecting his house (no longer a home) and a wife who now rejects that role. Enough unflinching gore is included that the film may as well be titled "Last Farmhouse on the Left." Peckinpah even trots out the unimaginative "he's dead — wait, no he's not!" stinger just as David thinks he has dispatched all his foes.

Definitely brutal, but kind of boring, "Straw Dogs" contains dynamic work from Hoffman, as was his wont in that era. I'm just disappointed the rest of the film can't match his brilliance. This Blu-ray unrated edition — also essentially a 40th-anniversary edition, although it's not labeled as such — includes only three TV spots and one trailer. The disc misses the boat by not including the UK's "Mantrap" documentary floating around out there.    —Rod Lott

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