STRAW DOGS. 1971. BASED ON THE BOOK ‘THE SIEGE OF TRENCHER’S FARM’ BY GORDON M. WILLIAMS. DIRECTED BY SAM PECKINPAH. STARRING DUSTIN HOFFMAN AND SUSAN GEORGE.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘Jesus. I got ’em all.’
‘Rats is life, Mr. Sumner, sir.’
Every man has a breaking point.
‘They were practically licking my body.’
‘This is where I live. This is me. I will not allow violence against this house.’
This is the kind of film that has the power to disturb you long after you’ve watched it. It’s one of my all-time favourites. It was banned from home viewing for a time, it’s that controversial. David Sumner, masterfully played by Dustin Hoffman, is a mild-mannered American mathematician who relocates with his young wife Amy to the remote Cornish farmhouse near the village of Wakely where Amy grew up.
The secretive, close-mouthed and mysterious locals look askance on them from the get-go. Even though Amy was once one of their own, she went away to America to live and has now returned with a husband so alien to them that he might as well waggle his antennae at them and say ‘nanu-nanu.’
They laugh openly at everything he says and does, and they sneer at him behind his back too, while ‘sir-ring’ him to death in a pseudo-servile fashion to his face. You don’t belong here, they’re telling him with ever sneer, every snipe, every sarcastic remark.
Amy is beautiful, sexy, vibrant, the kind of woman whom mild-mannered mathematicians probably don’t end up with all that often. Unless you’re Professor Frink from THE SIMPSONS, lol. Hoyvin glayvin…!
From the moment she appears on screen, sashaying down the main street of the village, braless in a tight white top with her nipples making a guest appearance of their very own, it’s hard not to take your eyes off her. One immediately gets a strong sense that the weedy little David Sumner has his hands full with her.
Everything about Amy screams exaggerated sexuality. Every man in the village wants to have sex with her, even if they already have, back when she lived there before with her father. (Looking at no-one in particular, Charlie Venner…)
Janice Heddon, a teenage girl from the worst family in the village (her father Tom, played by the superb Peter Vaughan, is nothing but a lawless alcoholic thug), tries to ape Amy’s easy, overt sexuality and it later becomes her downfall.
Amy and David’s marriage is clearly a troubled one. She passive-aggressively tries to provoke him every day into being the kind of man she really wants him to be, ie, a brutal he-man like Charlie Venner, who’s not averse to using his fists on women as well as men, but David Sumner, mild-mannered astral mathematician, won’t rise to the bait, which makes her desperately unhappy.
She flirts with and prick-teases the locals to ease her boredom and her feelings of dissatisfaction with David, and then complains when they react by having a good old stare at her unfettered boobies. She has every man in the village in a right old tizzy over her lustrous blonde locks, huge eyes thickly fringed with dark lashes and slim, sexy figure in mini-skirts and boots.
David and Amy have hired a group of these locals to fix their garage roof for them. They are a motley crew of deviants and inbred-seeming undesirables, as indeed half the population of the village appears to be. Big, blond and brawny Charlie Venner seems to have a past sexual history with Amy. He looks at her as if he’d like to devour her whole. They have considerable chemistry together.
Norman Scutt is just plain sleazy. Chris Cawsey, the giggling rat-catcher, is probably the most repulsive of the bunch. (‘Don’t call me Len, you little prick! I’m a bishop!’) While working on the roof, all four men, including one of Tom Heddon’s sons, watch Amy’s comings and goings intently.
She says they make her uncomfortable but if she’s so uncomfortable, her hubby David points out, and as we mentioned ourselves before, why doesn’t she put on a bra…? You can’t go around without one, he says, and expect that kind not to stare. Hmmm. No comment from me here. I’m just the reviewer, I ain’t here to judge.
The air of threat and menace that underlies the whole first half of the film begins to manifest itself materially with the anonymous killing and stringing up of Amy’s cat. Then David is conned into going with Cawsey, Scutt, Venner and their gigantic friend Philip Riddaway on a duck-shooting expedition. While he’s off pumping our poor feathered friends full of lead, Charlie Venner pays Amy a clandestine visit back at the farmhouse.
He loses no time in exercising his physical and sexual mastery of her. He proceeds to slap her around the place and then rape her brutally. Or does he…? I mean, is it still rape when the woman is saying ‘no’ with her mouth but screaming ‘yes, yes, yeees…!’ with her body? Because that’s what Amy is doing. It’s a hard one to figure out. Is Amy being raped or are she and Charlie simply re-igniting old flames hot enough to barbecue steak on…? You’ll have to watch the film for yourself to decide that one.
What happens next is a lot less ambivalent. Charlie looks up from his sexual endeavours to find himself staring down the barrel of Norman Scutt’s shotgun. Scutt, who has doubled back from the shooting party, motions silently for Charlie to move over and let him, Scutt, have a go at Amy, as it were. The fear and disgust in Amy’s face and voice when she looks up and sees that it is Scutt and not Venner who is having sex with her from behind are undoubtedly genuine.
Hubby David doesn’t find out about the rapes but he fires the men, nonetheless, both for yanking his chain over the whole shooting-party thing and also because they’re just thoroughly unpleasant characters to have knocking around the place. No argument from me there.
We’re getting to end-game now. During the annual church social, local sex-offender Henry Niles accidentally kills a young girl, Janice Hedden, daughter of the friendly neighbourhood violent drunk, Tom Hedden. When David and Amy accidentally run over the fleeing Henry Niles in their car, David brings him back to Trencher’s Farm until he can get hold of the doctor.
An angry and liquored-up mob, led by Venner, Scutt and Cawsey, descend on the farmhouse, baying for the blood of Niles. David won’t hand Niles over to the angry mob. They’ll beat him to death, he tells Amy, who’s all in favour of giving Niles up to the self-styled vigilantes. But David has a conscience. This is not how civilised people behave. He refuses to let the other men dictate to him. When he makes his position clear to them, the gloves come off and the game is most definitely on.
What happens next has to be seen to be believed. Maybe if I tell you that the film is based on a book from 1969 called THE SIEGE OF TRENCHER’S FARM by Gordon M. Williams, you’ll get an idea of where things go from there. (Except for the siege, the film is nothing like the book. The film is a million times more exciting. The book never even had a rape in it!)
Suffice it to say that, after the most unimaginable bloodbath that leaves no fewer than six men dead, the lives of the people of Wakely village may never be the same again. It’s so weird, but Amy spends most of the film urging David to react to things like a man, ie, to lash out when people insult or offend him or his wife. When he finally does what she wants, it’s because he wants to, and for no other reason. Let’s hope she’s finally happy, the spoilt little hussy.
This is such a powerful film that no review could ever really do it justice. I just hope that you won’t take my word for it and that you’ll watch it for yourself as soon as you can. Believe me, it’ll be worth it. As for the whole is she, isn’t she…? question, answers on a postcard, please…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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