Straw Dogs

USA, 1971, R, 113 min. Director: Sam Peckinpah. Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan.

Before the bloodbath which was 1980s cinema, hyperrealistic and gory action had one name: Sam Peckinpah. Peckinpah made his reputation with The Wild Bunch, the Western equivalent of the frog-in-the-blender joke. Straw Dogs was his next movie of note, and I preferred it: yes, it's violent too, but the overall effect is less gratuitous and much more scary.

Dustin Hoffman (in a classic early role) plays a mathematician who moves to a cosy English village with his wife (Susan George, playing a typical early-'70s-movies helpless blonde). He's a quiet, peace-loving, non-violent type, as a point of principle. But his principles take a severe battering when the local lads start moving in on his house, his wife and his sanity, turning his English country cottage into a fortress and a battleground.

Straw Dogs isn't some meaningless binge of gratuitous violence. Its simple premise provokes some searching questions about just where the line is drawn between civilisation and chaos, and just how much it would take to turn any one of us into the kind of person we flinch from watching on the big screen.


First published in a reviews booklet of the ANU Film Group.
This page: 31 January 2000; last modified 16 February 2001.

©1995, 2000 Rory Ewins