Scream and Shout: Quint takes a look at Walter Hill's SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981)!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here introducing a brand spankin' new column. Don't you love that new column smell? I'm calling it Scream and Shout because it'll be a regular look at the genre titles being put out by Shout Factory and its awesome horror division Scream Factory. Obviously, I'm not a very inventive person, so Scream and Shout it is!
Harry has his DVD column going strong, but because he covers every weekly release I thought it might be nice to take the concept of profiling a single Blu-Ray and mix it with a little of the feeling of that run of A Movie A Day I did a while back. This column won't be nearly as regular, but you should see at least one a week.
In these columns I'll be reviewing the movie, putting some thoughts down on the extra features (including commentaries and documentaries) and letting you know how the transfers are.
Shout is putting out some amazing titles and I'll be using this column to not only spotlight their current releases but also dipping back into their previous titles from time to time. I hope you enjoy it! Now let's get onto the introductory title...
You know those movies you saw once a decade or more back that can say you've seen, but you might as well not have because you remember fuck all about it? Southern Comfort was one of those movies for me. When it was brought up in geek conversation, usually by my ruggedly handsome pal AJ Bowen, I'd just nod along and although I had seen the movie I totally felt like a phony by scraping by on a technicality.
Well, phony no more! I have refreshed the movie thanks to this Tuesday's release of the super pretty HD transfer put out by Shout and can say with all certainty that the movie is fuckin' rad. (Put that quote on the next release, I dare ya'!)
The only thing I really remembered from my 13 year old viewing of the movie was brutal headshot and creepy mountain man Brion James, so I was ready for this viewing. If you're unfamiliar with the flick, it's about a bunch of macho National Guardsmen on a training exercise through Louisiana swampland when they do something stupid and incur the wrath of a bunch of pissed off backwoods Cajun trappers.
There's a little Deliverance in there (a connection that was abundantly underlined in the marketing upon release), a little bit of Walter Hill's previous film, The Warriors, in there and a whole lot of southern flavor.
Even though Deliverance is the most obvious pairing for a sweet double feature, the one I'd actually go for is Predator. Both are movies in jungle settings about macho men being hunted and hunted successfully. Plus, they both share a cast member (Sonny Landham). The other men's men in this movie include Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, Fred Ward, Peter Coyote, Lewis Smith and TK Carter.
While most of those guys are people you wouldn't want to mess with, they totally feel like the National Guard version of the elite squad seen in Predator. Tough, but not really all that serious and therein lies the great secret to this movie's success. These guys are all bark and no bite. Hell, their guns don't even have real ammo, just blanks. As poor and dirty and uneducated as the hunters are they clearly have the upper hand from their first encounter and that never changes, even when they capture one.
Walter Hill's choice to shoot entirely on location in the Louisiana swamps makes for a unique visual identity that's matched only by the growing sense of dread as the group of National Guardsmen gets whittled down to its final survivors. Hill doesn't show them until the very end, so the swamp itself is the villain for the majority of the movie... or at the very least a willing accomplice, hiding the hillbilly predators from their prey.
That dread is ratcheted up big time in the last act when two of our survivors make their way into a Cajun camp. The visual poetry here is outstanding and possibly overlooked by the majority of viewers. Carradine and Boothe are brought into the town by a friendly couple, but have to ride in the back with two pigs who we later see slaughtered (animal lovers beware, that looked like real animal death). Two unsuspecting pigs to the slaughter, that's exactly what we have with our human survivors.
The slaughter and the dawning realization that they're not as safe as they thought are scored to some upbeat local flavor southern gypsy-style music that is so happy and energetic it somehow makes the dread all that more intense and palpable.
The whole movie is damn good, but the final act is straight up masterful storytelling.
Pair that with the perfectly drawn flawed characters and you get a film that is a must-own for any self-respecting cinephile.
THE SPECIAL FEATURES:
The disc is light on special features. No commentary track this time around and a simple documentary that looked like it was done on the cheap. There are some Skype interviews sprinkled throughout, most notably director Walter Hill. I'm not sure why they had to do it that way, but while it is a little on the ghetto side the doc is cut together very well. Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe in particular share some great stories from the hellish shoot, but the best part was the contradictions from person to person.
For instance, the actors were sure the film was intended as a direct commentary on Vietnam and Walter Hill immediately says there were no intended parallels between the story of these weekend warriors being hunted through the Louisiana swamps and the Vietnam war.
It's not just one strict PR controlled narrative and I love that because that's how every movie really is. The actors find their own motivations, the writer has their own movie and the director his or her vision. The great directors get everybody close to the same mark, but I doubt there's been one film in the history of movie-making that has been exactly what everybody involved thought it was going to be when they set out to make it.
The doc isn't feature length, but it's substantial enough at nearly 30 minutes to paint a picture of the production.
There's also a very, very low def (looks like VHS quality) theatrical trailer and a still gallery. That's about it.
Last year, when Scream Factory was hitting its stride with the Carpenter Blus, I branded them the Criterion of Genre Films. I had to dethrone Anchor Bay for that honor, sadly, but it's true. These high def restorations are my favorite kind of home video transfers. They clean up the original 35mm negative, make it sharp, but not at the expense of that beautiful film grain. In short, they make amazing transfers that get as close to a perfect 35mm experience most of us can get at home.
Southern Comfort's transfer is no exception to the Shout/Scream legacy. It's easily the best the film has looked since those very first prints were struck back in 1981. That uniquely grainy early '80s film stock is on full display without getting in the way of the image. Achieving that is such a delicate balance that we should applaud the successes, so everybody put your hands together for Southern Comfort!
The reason to pick up this disc is the transfer and the transfer alone. The doc is fun, but nothing earth shattering, so you're picking this one up for the title. The movie's great, under-appreciated and shows us that the '80s was pretty rough on poor TK Carter. First it was revenge-seeking backwoods trappers and then it was John Carpenter's The Thing.
NEXT TITLE WILL BE...
Hope you dug the new column. If you did, come on back for a trip to serene Lake Placid, will ya'? Look for that article this weekend.
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