Blu-ray Review: Straw Dogs (1971)

Forty years have hardly put a dent in Straw Dogs, the controversial 1971 film by director Sam Peckinpah (which spawned the faithful remake now showing in theaters). With its graphic depiction of violence, the movie remains as disturbing as ever.

It’s not the onscreen mayhem that gives Straw Dogs its strange power over audiences. Rather, it blurs the line between victim and aggressor, suggesting that each of us is culpable when savagery occurs. And then there’s the purely subjective experience of watching it all: If tension and dread were nickels and dimes, this film would be the Bank of America. You may not actually enjoy watching it, but you’ll probably never forget it.

For the uninitiated,Straw Dogs follows a young married couple, David and Amy (Dustin Hoffman and Susan George), as they begin a year in the rural English village where Amy grew up. The plan is for David to do academic research in the quiet and peaceful countryside. Tensions with the locals escalate quickly, especially concerning an old flame of Amy’s — whom David unfortunately hires, along with his cronies, to work on the house. Although predictable, the ensuing violence seems very real because the small events leading up to it unfold in a believable way. There’s no one to root for as the battle heats up. But that, of course, is the point.

It can be a shock to see a vintage movie on a well-made Blu-ray Disc, and Straw Dogs is no exception. The limitations of early-1970s film stock are more obvious than ever in the 1.85:1 picture here, with softness and graininess creeping in at irregular intervals. But the overall depth and detail of the images will absolutely transport you to another time and place. When a story like this one relies heavily on those particulars, the time-machine effect carries transformative power. Straw Dogs may not be a place we really want to go, but the disc takes us all the way there.

Unfortunately, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is a major disappointment. The audio remains concentrated in the center channel, and the surrounds are virtually mute throughout. True, this movie doesn’t need new aural fireworks, but it’s hard to imagine how the remix improves on the original mono, which has its own historical value and should have been included here as an option.

The theatrical trailer and three TV spots are the only extras.