Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Southern Comfort

Film ReelCinema Monolith: 8/10
IMDb: 7.2/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: ** out of 4

Released on September 25, 1981
Rated R
106 minutes

Directed by Walter Hill

Written by Michael Kane, Walter Hill, and David Giler

Cast: Keith Carradine, Powers Booth, Fred Ward, Franklyn Seales, T.K. Carter, Lewis Smith, Les Lannom, Peter Coyote, Brion James, Alan Autry, Ned Dowd, Alan Graf, Rob Ryder, Billy C. Chandler

The Video Store Action Heroes—Mike at Mike’s Take on the Movies, Greg at Destroy All Fanboys, Mikey at Wolfmans Cult Film Club, and myself here at Cinema Monolith—are back to kick off our 2020 season with another collection of reviews with a ’70s and ’80s action-adventure slant. Our topic this time around was chosen by Mike, and spotlights the films of director Walter Hill, who between 1976 and 2016 helmed twenty-one theatrical releases, a good portion of which were of the action-adventure variety, the genre I most associate him with.

And my pick for this VSAH outing is Southern Comfort, a 1981 adventure thriller set in the Louisiana bayous, where military reservists do battle with revenge-minded Cajuns, and find out they’re definitely outmatched. I’d turned 17 the year before, and was now free to see R-rated movies on my own…but looking back, I was surprised to discover those movies consisted mainly of horror and comedy offerings, and very little else. That is, until I saw the trailer for Southern Comfort, and immediately added action-adventure yarns to my ‘restricted’ cinema-going itinerary.

The film stars Keith Carradine and Powers Booth as members of a nine-man squad of National Guardsman, who journey into Louisiana’s swamp country on an ‘overnight recon and patrol’ that will take them through the mud, water, and muck of unfamiliar and foreboding terrain. After borrowing three canoes from an empty Cajun camp, one of the soldiers opens fire—with blanks—on the unsuspecting Cajuns upon their return, who return fire—not with blanks—on the soldiers, killing one and sending the others into a confused disarray. The story takes off from there, as the remaining squad must now slog their way to safety—minus map, compass, and radio—while being hunted by the angry locals.

While the blueprint of the story has been used many times before (men out of their element fighting to survive), and the plot and tone are very much similar to that of Deliverance (and Hill’s own The Warriors, made two years earlier), what Hill delivers in spades with Southern Comfort—along with an engaging collection of characters and immersive location shooting—is a heightened feeling of tension and dread, that continues to build throughout the film after you realize…you never see the enemy! These weekend warriors, who are not elite killing machines but just everyday guys with everyday jobs, must not only deal with unseen dangers (like underwater bear traps), but unseen killers as well.

And it’s this tension that really sets Southern Comfort apart, and which was best exemplified by what I consider the hands-down high point of the film: its final fifteen minutes. For me, a tour de force bit of filmmaking from Hill that ratcheted the tension up to its highest level, a sequence that thankfully I’d forgotten about over the past four decades, and was now able to enjoy through virgin eyes again. And no, I’m not going to tell you a thing about it, except for this: it was simply outstanding, an unexpected but necessary coda—which plays out over the repetitive, nerve-wracking beat of a Cajun song—that drives you to the very edge of your seat, and then satisfactorily up and out of it.

This was my first time seeing Southern Comfort in nearly forty years, and yes, I loved it as much now as I did then; watching it again, I noticed it was more character-driven than action-oriented, and though it took its time getting from scene to scene, it still supplied enough thrilling moments—and the aforementioned suspense—to satisfy any action-adventure connoisseur. But what puzzles me is why it received such lukewarm and disappointing reviews back during its initial run, and why it seemed to disappear off the face of the cinematic map afterwards. For me, this is a well-made and entertaining movie that doesn’t get the credit it deserves…especially for that masterful ending.  (8/10)

*
This review was part of the Video Store Action Heroes blogathon!

And don’t forget to check out:

Red Heat (1988) at Mike’s Take on the Movies

Streets of Fire (1984) at Destroy All Fanboys

The Warriors (1979) at Wolfman’s Cult Film Club

 

22 comments on “Southern Comfort

  1. (Blanket message to all three reviews.) Can’t wait to read and comment but it will have to be tomorrow. Burnt me self out and gonna see the sun for a bit. Great to see a unison on 4 x VSAH all on top of each other in the feed. See you tomorrow guys.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Todd B
      4/11/20

      Man, look at you going rogue on us! Or should I say, going ‘lone wolf’! Enjoy the sun at Durley Chine Beach, and we’ll see you tomorrow!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Haha Durley Chine Beach. Can’t wait to have a walk down there when the lock down is lifted. Saying that, I’ll be so fat that I’d be embarrassed to roll myself down there!

        Like

      • Todd B
        4/12/20

        Hey, don’t be embarrassed…just go at night!

        Like

  2. Everytime I drive by a local paint ball set up where I can see forts and tanks I think of this movie. I too haven’t seen it in many years but recently picked up the new blu ray release AND scored a one sheet! Guess I’ll be paying a revisit to Keith and the boys in due time. I recall it being almost a horror film in tone but it’s been years. Great pick!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Todd B
      4/11/20

      Yes, it could very well be classified as ‘action-horror’, and I’ve read a few other reviews that have mentioned the same thing. And that swampland in the film would be a VERY interesting place to play paintball! Cool you picked up the Blu-ray…over the past four decades I was never able to find that film on VHS, Beta, or even DVD, so I was lucky to find an HD copy on-line recently that I could watch. Nice choice of theme for this VSAH go-around, Mike!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. CATZONA!
    4/11/20

    Well at a minimum I’m going to check out the last 15 minutes just to see what all the fuss is about! I was familiar with the title but didn’t realize it was considered horror and as such – now has my interest. Excellent review TRB!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Todd B
      4/11/20

      Thanks, Julie! And if you’re NOT going to watch the whole movie, call me before you watch those 15 minutes, so I can at least give you a quick recap, so you know what’s going on. But…you should really watch the entire movie!

      Like

  4. geelw
    4/11/20

    I do need to see this again, but check out Nico Mastarakis’ Zero Boys for a film that also does the action/horror thing (but I think less successfully). The dang film kicks off with a paintball match, and zips into the “scary” stuff as it goes on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Todd B
      4/11/20

      At first I thought you said, “I DON’T need to see this again,” and I wondered what the hate towards the film was all about! I think I remember The Zero Boys from way back when…never saw it, but just now looked it up, and…Kelli Maroney, from Night of the Comet! Dare I give The Zero Boys a look? Hmmm…

      Liked by 1 person

      • geelw
        4/13/20

        Duh, I forgot I wrote a Zero Boys review two years back: https://fanboydestroy.com/2018/08/18/not-so-random-film-of-the-weekend-the-zero-boys/ – it’s worth a look as a film to see where things go well and where they don’t, and there’s definitely a Southern Comfort vibe going if you compare the two films.

        Like

      • Todd B
        4/13/20

        Damn, I was wondering about that! The title sounded familiar, but the story did not…I figured it might’ve been Mike or Mikey who reviewed, but nope, he was right in front of me! I won’t be able to afford that Arrow version, but if I find it on DVD, I’ll risk the $2!

        Like

  5. Love this one so much. The tension and the fear when these guys realise they are completely out of their depth. The swamps, trees, mud and water of the open country really add to the suspense. They could as well of been in Vietnam. Such a brilliant cast. Interesting that there are 9 in the squad, the same as The Warriors.

    Massive bonus points for seeing it on the big screen back in the day. I think I first saw it about 30 years ago on the telly. Such a great film. If I had been asked 5 minutes ago who was in it I’d of said Stacy Keach. But of course it was his brother from another mother, Powers Booth.

    I’m so pleased you didn’t say about the last 15 minutes because I can’t quite recall what happened. And you know what that means, YEAH! time to re-watch this superb film. Great review bro.

    PS In cockney “Not a lotta people know that” it’s joint written by none other than Sir Michael Caine! “What’s that you say?” “OH Michael Kane! DOH!” hehe

    Like

    • Todd B
      4/12/20

      I wanted SO BAD to talk about those final fifteen minutes, but a) I didn’t want to spoil anything for anyone who hadn’t seen the film, and b) I was already at my limit of six paragraphs…I didn’t want to add another six! If you do re-watch this, and don’t review it, let me know what you thought!

      And before our day of posting on Saturday, I checked out a couple of clips for The Warriors, and at one point one of the gang mentions there are nine of them, and I thought, waaaaaait a minute! That sounds like the number of soldiers in Southern Comfort!

      I’ve heard Vietnam mentioned as a metaphor quite a few times while reading up on the film, and yeah, it does kinda make sense, but apparently Walter Hill denies that it was ever his intention to make that parallel. But jeez, seeing soldiers tramping through the watery muck with unknown enemies firing at them…you couldn’t help but be reminded of Vietnam!

      And D’OH, indeed! If Michael Caine HAD co-written this, it would’ve included a shark seeking revenge on a police chief’s wife. Wait…d’oh!

      Liked by 1 person

      • HAHA brilliant reference to that revenging fang toothed fishy nuisance! No not Sir Michael munching on a tin of pilchards in his Halloween Dracula costume, of course I meant Jaws.

        I will certainly pop back and let you know what I thought of the end of Southern Comfort. My brain keeps trying to trick me into remembering but a quick sharp dunk of my head into a bucket of home made swamp water stops it!

        Like

      • Todd B
        4/13/20

        Wait, Michael Caine played a vampire? This I GOTTA see! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Dracula
    4/12/20

    And I thought you were going to review the whiskey! I was getting ready to head on down to BevMo to get a copy of this.

    Like

    • Todd B
      4/12/20

      In the end credits, the filmmakers actually thank the makers of Southern Comfort for letting them use the name as their movie title. But that would be funny if BevMo rented movies, but only movies that had alcohol in the title! Cocktail, Sam Whiskey, Beer League, Days of Wine and Roses, Air Bud

      Like

  7. Dracula
    4/12/20

    Jack Daniels protested of course! And don’t forget the classic Driving Drunken Ms. Daisy.

    Like

  8. CATZONA!
    5/26/20

    A good reminder for me to add Southern Comfort to my list! 🙂

    Like

    • Todd B
      5/26/20

      I’ve got a hi-def version on digital…just let me know!

      Like

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