The first film I’d ever seen by Sam Peckinpah was 1971’s Straw Dogs. I chose to view no other Peckinpah films before it because the director (who’s notorious for violent, allegedly misogynistic films) seemed to receive the most negative feedback on this particular picture. As a result, I didn’t want to taint my eyes with the other “violent” films in Peckinpah’s oeuvre, until I’d had the visceral initiation without any prior knowledge of his style. I now know that I probably should have started with The Wild Bunch or at least Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia.
Actually, I say that last bit in jest more than with sincerity, since I’d wager that Straw Dogs, while maybe not as obviously blood splatteringly violent, is likely the cruelest look at gender, marriage and small town society ever burned into celluloid.
What came of this initial viewing was the subsequent scraping of my lower jaw from off the floor. The exhausting film stars a post-Graduate Dustin Hoffman as David, a seemingly brilliant mathematician (who I speculate suffered from A.D.D. before it was so easily diagnosed). David moves to rural England with his gorgeous wife Amy (Susan George). This presents an immediate feeling of foreignness for him and his Einstein mind cannot deal with both the social ramifications of the move and the next Nobel prizing winning problem he is computing. What stood out about this movie above many other things, is how it basically built on the premise of a horror film (or thriller even), yet was thematically structured and filmed like a Western.
Self-assurance is a defining character trait for all the characters in the story, and it is reflected in various degrees; this is what makes the plot fit the horror genre so well. No one thinks twice before they act. The “monsters” are inherently confident and are seen as reacting to both social unacceptability and foreignness. Their “victims” exhibit the two most genre specific emotional traits in horror films: superficiality and carelessness, while the “hero/heroine” displays two more: discontent and (one or more) redeemable qualities of which they are ashamed.
Most impressive? The fact that every main character on screen is monster and victim and hero or heroine.