• Southern Comfort

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: July 8th, 2014.
    Director: Walter Hill
    Cast: Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, Peter Coyote, Fred Ward
    Year: 1981
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Just don't call it Vietnam.

    Peter coyote has seen men shot. Under precisely what circumstances we don't really know, but this horror apparently made enough of an indelible impression on the actor that it led to some pretty intense arguments with director Walter Hill on the set of SOUTHERN COMFORT. Coyote was convinced that Hill had never witnessed this particular violence. Walter made it "Too pretty - there's nothing pretty about it."

    Coyote, in Shout Factory's new featurette on the making of the film fires off this first shot in the discussion and it's an interesting gambit. I beg to differ however. I find nothing "pretty" about SOUTHERN COMFORT. it's brutal - an almost existentialist nightmare about the harsh realities of men outgunned, out maneuvered and outclassed on every level that counts in an environment they are poorly adapted for. And unlike its blood brother DELIVERANCE, which has some beautiful river sequences, SOUTHERN COMFORT is set in the Louisiana swamp. It may be green but that's about it for eye candy. The bayou is one nasty beast of a training ground for these national guardsmen on patrol with blanks. It's hot and wet as hell, there's plenty of toothy wildlife around and the locals are the worst kind of inhospitable. French speaking Cajuns who like to illegally trap and hunt they're about as friendly with strangers as the natives in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.

    With admirably minimalist precision, the film kicks off with the simplest setup imaginable. Eight national guardsmen are on a routine weekend training patrol in the swamp. It's a simple point A to point B exercise. Testosterone is high but nobody is all that enthused either. Leader Sergeant Poole (Coyote) seems levelheaded enough. But the rest vary from a reluctant Texas chemical engineer transplant played by Powers Boothe named Hardin to class clown jokester Spencer (Keith Carradine). Things go from disorganized and poorly planned to deadly bad when the weakest links in the group make one dumb decision after another. The first - the match that sets off the fire so to speak - is the "borrowing" of some Cajun canoes. The second is a prank involving firing blanks at innocent locals who reply with some real hot lead. Soon after, first blood is drawn and these weekend warriors become the target of real killers.

    SOUTHERN COMFORT is about bad decisions, lousy planning and the painful fallout of letting stupid machismo take over one's critical thinking. As the Cajuns start thinning the guardsmen's herd with a series of natural traps that Johnny Rambo would be proud of, the hotheads of the pack start flexing their muscles. The most dangerous of these is Reece - played to perfection by a glowering Fred Ward. Boothe's Hardin is a much smarter cat but when he and Reece disagree over the handling of a captured Cajun trapper (character actor legend Brion James in a standout turn), knives get pulled. And someone's going to die. There is also the matter of the group's religious fundamentalist nut who thinks dynamiting people's homes is justice - so long as you paint a cross on your bare chest.

    There's very little humor in SOUTHERN COMFORT but it is blackly amusing to watch the guardsman with "the stripes and bars" pompously declaring himself in charge due to the vaunted chain of command - and then promptly run everyone in a circle because he doesn't know the difference between north and south. The real emotional core of the movie is Carradine and Boothe however. Boothe remains today one of the most compelling character actors working. His natural authority and authentic masculine aura make him both a stalwart god guy and a menacing baddie. Here he's on the side if the angels but he's intimidating when he needs to be. When him and Spencer wind up alone in a Cajun village it's Boothe's character that has the watchful smarts necessary to possibly survive this mess, not the more amiable Spencer.

    Is SOUTHERN COMFORT about Vietnam? Is it a metaphor? The screenwriter says one thing and director Hill vehemently takes another, but the viewer will draw their own conclusions. When I see a story that involves a quagmire in the classical sense of the word, set in a hot and sticky environment, with US quasi-military personnel getting their asses handed to them by locals with a gift for guerrilla warfare I tend to get APOCALYPSE NOW flashbacks. Your mileage may vary however.


    SOUTHERN COMFORT was shot under the most arduous of conditions in a highly adverse environment utilizing mostly natural light. What that means, in terms of image quality, is that Shout Factory's 1.78:1 framed 1080p AVC encoded transfer is unlikely to set your home theatre on fire. It looks... adequate but with some issues. Color is the strongest aspect here. Trees, vegetation and may not "pop" but they look quite nice with terrific detail. The other parts of the transfer suffer from a series of minor issues. The first is grain management which tends towards the iffy - there is some mild digital scanner noise visible as well as some "clumping". Digital artifacts are present at times. Flesh tones and black levels are good and DNR is not obviously evident. I'd rank this presentation as a vast improvement over the previous DVD and marginally better than Second Sight's UK Blu ray (though they may be the same transfer, Shout! May have a superior encode). SOUTHERN COMFORT wasn't blowing anyone away with its visual panache in 1981 either though folks. Keep that in mind.

    Audio? The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track has surprisingly lively LFE action (listen for those gunshots!) and is quite strong overall. Dialog is always clear and centered. And that's about that for the audio - it has its source limitations but works well. And Ry Cooder's evocative and regionally authentic score sounds dandy.

    The sole extra of real note is the almost half hour documentary on the making of the film. Most of the key players get their say and the only odd thing is that director Hill had to be filmed via Skype - which is a little disconcerting. Boothe and Carradine and Coyote make particularly engaging interview subjects as well as Hill and the screenwriter. And yes indeed Vietnam comes up. This is a very nice addition to the release. The movie's theatrical trailer and a still gallery that runs for 5 1/2 minutes is also included.

    The Final Word:

    Often overshadowed by its more famous cousin John Boorman's DELIVERANCE, SOUTHERN COMFORT is a great film in its own right. Primal and unforgiving, it possesses the strengths of the great Westerns and war films that stretch back to the golden age of Hollywood. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Andrew Monroe's Avatar
      Andrew Monroe -
      Just watched this at the weekend, this one gets better with each revisit for me. There's layers to be discovered and you come to appreciate the overall talent of the ensemble cast. I even thought the cover art was better than usual - still turned it inside out though. Deeper meanings aside, this subgenre (backwoods horror) is one of my favorites. Now if we could just get HUNTER'S BLOOD on BD. Nice review.