August 16, 2013

Southern Comfort (1981)
Starring Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, and Dexter from Silver Spoons

Comments:   Southern Comfort is the perfect choice for a countdown like this because it is one of those movies that is completely unknown to most people.  Seriously, most people have never even heard of it.  And I know that because, up until about a couple of years ago, I was also one of the people who had never heard of it.  Yes, even I, a huge movie nerd who has entire catalogs of movies that most people have never heard of before, had never heard of Southern Comfort until my friend Jeff Forst tipped me off about it.  

This is the exact type of movie I wanted to spotlight when I came up with this countdown.

So what is Southern Comfort about?  Well I guess the best way to describe it to you is the exact same way that my friend first described it to me.  Because he knew that I was a fan of movies.  And he knew that I liked creepy movies.  And he knew that I liked obscure movies.

So one day at work, he came over to my desk and he had a special recommendation for me.

"Hey Mario," he said, "Have you ever seen Deliverance?"

Well of course.  Everyone has seen Deliverance.  Right?   If not, hint, you should really go out and see Deliverance.

"Well there's this movie that is JUST like Deliverance," Jeff told me.  "Only instead of a river in Georgia, it is set in the bayous of Louisiana.  And instead of being chased by hillbillies, they are hunted by Cajuns.  See if you can find a copy of it, you are going to love it."

And I was like, wait, what?  Deliverance in a Louisiana bayou?  Angry river trappers hunting down city folk and ass-raping them, only this time it's all Cajun and spicy-like?

Cajun Deliverance?  That sounds awesome!  Where do I see that?

We're Cajuns.  Don't fok wit us.

Okay, so Southern Comfort isn't EXACTLY like Deliverance.  But it's pretty close.  And it's pretty good.  And god damn, it sure as hell better have been good, because I spent SIX YEARS OF MY LIFE trying to find a copy of it.  

What it feels like to search for a movie for six years

Seriously, flash back to the first time my friend told me about Southern Comfort.  That would have been, oh, I would say about June of the year 2000.  He told me about Southern Comfort, and I thought hey, that actually sounds pretty good.  Maybe I better track down a copy of it.

So I went out to the local Blockbuster.  I asked the clerk there if they had it.  The guy working there had never even heard of it before.

Hmm, okay.  So let's try Hollywood Video.  No luck there either.

Okay, so let's go to a different city.  In fact, let's go to any city.  Let's go to any video store in the year 2000, in any city in America, and let's ask them if they have a copy of Southern Comfort on VHS.  That's right, let's not even bother with DVD because I am pretty sure they are just going to laugh at me.  DVD?  For a forgotten little survival movie from 1981?   Yeah whatever buddy, keep dreaming.  You're lucky we don't only have it on laserdisc.

Re-enactment of any clerk at any Blockbuster when you asked if they had a copy of Southern Comfort

Well I finally tracked down a copy of Southern Comfort in the summer of 2006.  SIX YEARS LATER.  And after all that time, after all that looking, I can't even tell you how close I was to just taking it and bringing it home and never returning it.  Oh I'm sorry?  Did I "lose" the copy?  Well I guess I better pay for it.  Sorry about that.  I don't know what I was thinking.  I can be so forgetful sometimes.

I finally got to watch it my wife in the summer of 2006.  And we both agreed that it was a pretty good movie.

It's not -quite- as good as Deliverance, of course.  No, if it was as good as Deliverance then everyone would know about it.  But it is still well worth seeing if you can track down a copy of it.  There is a creepy mood and ambience in Southern Comfort that will get under your skin.  In fact, there is enough creepy atmosphere and music in this movie (especially towards the end) that I eventually put it on my list of "Ten Great Horror Movies That Most People Have Never Seen."

Hey look, guys!  Bear traps!

As for storyline, well let's just say this movie doesn't need a super intricate writeup.  It doesn't need one because it doesn't have a very complicated storyline.

Southern Comfort is the story of a group of National Guardsman who are in the swamps of Louisiana one weekend, and who are doing a training mission.   Their job is to do an overnight recon from one base camp to another.  They are supposed to travel through the swamps from Point A from Point B, and they are supposed to do it in full military gear with a real military leader, as if what they are doing is an actual military maneuver.

Our intrepid heroes, ready to begin their swamp maneuvers

Naturally, since this is a training mission, the Guardsmen aren't allowed to carry any ammo.  All they have are guns that are loaded with blanks.  This will become important in a minute.

Off into the swamps of Louisiana

Okay, so our weekend warriors head off into the swamps.  And at first they are having fun.  They are having fun pretending that they are soldiers, and that their guns are real and that they are loaded with ammo.  At first, they treat this mission like it is all a big joke.

And then?  Oh poopy.  They get lost.

Unfortunately, the Guardsmen get lost in the swamps.  And they find a giant river between them and the point where they are supposed to be.  

And when there is a river between you and your destination, what you really need at that point is to borrow a boat.  Right?

Well hey, look at that.  Over there on the shore, there are three canoes that they can borrow that probably belong to the local Cajun fishermen.  We can borrow those, right?  We will just borrow the boats from the fishermen.  And then on the other side, we will leave a note explaining why we had to do it.  Sounds like a perfectly mature solution to a crappy situation, correct?

No.  Don't steal boats.  Because this is how people turn up dead.

So anyway, yadda yadda, the soldiers take the boats.  And the Cajuns don't like it.  And when the two sides meet up on the other side of the river, one of the soldiers decides to... ha ha...well I guess I will play a little joke.  He raises his gun full of blanks and he fires it at the fishermen.

Ha ha!  Eat shit, hillbillies!

And, well, the rest of the movie is the Cajuns getting their revenge by stalking the soldiers through the swamps of Louisiana.  And by setting traps for them.  

I'm sorry, men.  Shit just got real.

Again, this movie is a lot like Deliverance in that you have city people wandering through the backwoods, picking a fight with an enemy that they underestimated, and that they probably shouldn't have messed with.  Only in this case instead of dudes in a canoe, you have soldiers firing blanks.  And instead of  hillbillies you have Cajuns.  And instead of Ned Beatty being ass-raped, you have Dexter Stuffins from Silver Spoons.

Dexter (top left) in his happier days

Dexter about to be pan fried and smothered like an étouffée

Southern Comfort is nowhere near as shocking as Deliverance, and is nowhere near as scary, because this situation is far less likely to happen to a person in real life.  I mean, when are you seriously ever going to be tangling with Cajuns in a bayou?   But still.  There is just something about this movie that gets under your skin.  There is something unsettling about the location, and the music, and the ambience in general, and it almost makes the entire movie come off like a documentary.  At times it feels like this is actual footage and we just sort of stumbled onto it.

Plus shots like this are just creepy.  Guess where the next trap is going to come from?

Southern Comfort is an excellent little revenge/survival flick, and I would recommend to anyone just for the story alone.  It is a memorable movie.  However there is one part of the movie that is just AMAZING, and that I have to point out in my writeup.  Because if there is one reason that everyone should see Southern Comfort at least once, it is the ending.  The last twenty minutes of this movie are just a masterpiece of atmosphere and creepiness.

It all starts when Powers Boothe and Keith Carradine hitch a ride into a Cajun village

Seriously, if you want to see what a really creepy movie looks like, watch the last twenty minutes of Southern Comfort.  Watch the village scene.  Listen to the happy Cajun music playing in the background, while trappers are stealthily stalking the soldiers in the foreground.  Oh, and watch how the editor superimposes shots of a pig being slaughtered (from an actual boucherie) over the action with the trappers.  Because you are pretty sure that exactly is what is going to happen to these guy if the trappers get their hands on them.  They are going to be shot in the head and their entrails will be spilled all over a truck.

Actual pigs being slaughtered, shots of which are interspersed throughout the end of the movie

Honestly, I can't say enough about the final twenty minutes of this movie.  It is so tense and so eerie and so creepy that it is almost exhausting to sit through.  In fact the only horror movie I can compare to the final twenty minutes of Southern Comfort is the ending of The Wicker Man, which uses a similar tactic of playing happy upbeat dance music over raw brutal horrible suspense scenes.  It is a really effective tactic.  I wish more movies did that.  It is just really unnerving.

Boy, vous avez vraiment une jolie bouche.

In any case, there you go.  Southern Comfort.  A long lost masterpiece of a suspense movie that took me years to track down a copy of.  And despite its storyline, isn't really all that gory or unpleasant to watch.  Well, okay, I guess unless you count the scenes with the pigs.  Don't see this movie if you have a thing for pigs.  Let's just say that.  I am pretty sure that animals WERE harmed during the making of this motion picture.  Shh, don't tell Betty White, she is going to have a shit fit.

Oh, and if you like seeing Cajuns get punched, this is your Citizen Kane

Oh yeah, and before I sign off, I have to point out that this movie has an all-star cast. Besides Powers Boothe and Keith Carradine (the leads) and Dexter Stuffins from Silver Spoons, there is also Fred Ward, who is best known as "the other guy" in Tremors...

Running's not a plan.  Running's what you do once a plan fails.

.. there is Brion James, a character actor who was in approximately a kajillion movies during the 80's...

Brion James after ripping a juicy one

... and this is my favorite cameo of all, we also get Punky Brewster's teacher Mr. Fulton as one of the soldiers.

Mr. Fulton (T.K. Carter) lecturing Punky about life

T.K. Carter on the left

Oh, and I guess I better wrap up this entry by telling you my favorite Southern Comfort story.

About four months ago, in April of 2013, a Blockbuster Video store near us was going out of business.  And like most video stories that go out of business (aka pretty much every video store nowadays), they were having a big clearance sale to get rid of all their old merchandise.  So one day on a lark, I went over there to see if I could find anything.  Because, you know, sometimes you can actually find treasures that way.

So there I was, browsing through Blockbuster's giant box of "please buy these, we are selling them for 99 cents" used DVDs, and lo and behold, what do I see but a copy of Southern Comfort.  And on DVD too!  I had never actually seen a copy of it on DVD before.  I opened it up to see if there was anything wrong with the disc and I couldn't believe it, it was perfect!

Well you better believe I ran it up to the counter.  Because aint no one getting this movie before I can get out of there with it.  And this was the best part.  Not only do I now own a copy of Southern Comfort on DVD, I actually got it for free.  Since I was buying a couple of other movies at the same time, the girl at the desk said she would throw in "the 99 cent one" for free because they were going out of business in two days and it was never going to sell.  I told her, "Yeah it looks stupid.  I guess I'll give it a chance though, you never know."  She just smiled and nodded her head at me sympathetically, since clearly she had no idea what a fucking hard movie this is to find and how much of a score this was.

So anyway, yes. I do own a copy of Southern Comfort now.  And I got it for free.

And I'm not letting it out of my sight, so don't even ask.

We deal in gumbo, friend.

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Southern Comfort:

Southern Greetings - 29 November 2008
Now this is a atmospheric survival action film and Walter Hill at his peak. Love it! It's so simple (although streaming through it is a biting allegory about the Vietnam War), but nonetheless exhilarating, tense and raw film-making. Sure the acting and dialogues aren't master-class, but however they're commendably pulled off. In which case Powers Boothe (whose booming voice takes charge) and Keith Carradine (excellently pitched as the guy of reasoning) are terrific leads, and the support Fred Ward (a memorably hot-head and tooting turn), T.K Carter, Lewis Smith, Franklyn Seales, Peter Coyote and Brion James are also quite compelling. Tough, authentic and a real sense of claustrophobic tension stems from the actor's rapport and cynical script. This blends well with the brutal bloody violence (like the barnstorming climax with the powerful freeze frame closing) and the dank, devouring swamp terrain that ultimately swallows them up. But where I think it's at its most effective is during the interludes of Ry Cooder's fascinatingly folksy music score. Each time it creeps in, it demonstrates the right illustrations to the striking visuals and harrowing moods. Cooder's handling is multi-layered and truly echoing. From a relaxing southern flavour, to a haunting stillness and a punishing sting. It's cohesively perfect in it's random shifts. Hill's bravura direction holds up tautly, as the well-used slow motion is suitably done and the highly measured suspense piercingly infused. I liked how the hunters are kept as void-like background figures, because towards the end it makes the whole paranoid feeling and unease thrillingly justified.

Like "Deliverance" with Cajuns instead. Decent film throughout, with an ending elevating it to greatness. - 10 June 2012
As a Frenchman I've long been fascinated with Cajun culture, surviving against all odds, so when I learned "Southern Comfort" was like "Deliverance" with Cajuns I figured it had to be fun and that I should check it out. I wasn't disappointed.

The plot is pretty simple. A National Guard squad gets stranded in Cajun country swamps, and are victim to attacks from the locals who consider that it's their land, and the film predictably proceeds in having the soldiers killed one at a time while they also destroy each-other because of their increasing paranoia.

The score and cinematography are great, as is the acting. However I must say that ultimately most of the movie with the soldiers stranded in the swamps isn't as intense as it could have been. It's surely entertaining, but pretty basic, and for that only I would have given "Southern Comfort" a 7. However, the last 20 minutes of the movie are absolutely fantastic, elevating the film to something highly satisfying. I don't want to spoil anything, and anyway I probably couldn't accurately describe how superbly cut the climatic ending of "Southern Comfort" is. If most of the film is just above average, the ending makes sitting through it even more worthwhile, as it all builds up to those last scenes.

The theme of the film obviously borrows from the Vietnam war, and the film itself inspired later films. Just a little trivia for you, I actually first learned about "Southern Comfort" from reading about the film "Aliens". "Southern Comfort" producer David Giler convinced the studio to make an "Alien" sequel by making the sequel like "Southern Comfort" in space. And it's true that "Aliens" does have a similar Vietnam war theme.

Anyway, "Southern Comfort" is a good 80s film which truly did remind me of "Deliverance", so if you liked that film, you will like this one too. Recommended.

Relatively unknown classic - 21 October 2008
This taut, well-paced thriller has stood the test of time. I watched it recently (more than 25 years after it was made) and it is still filled with tension, creepiness and thinly-veiled commentary on the Vietnam War.

Southern Comfort tells the story of some National Guardsmen who are sent on a combat exercise marching across the swamps of Louisiana. The troops have a casual attitude (to say the least) and are certainly not ready for actual combat. Along the way they thoughtlessly cut fishing nets, "borrow" some canoes, and even taunt some local Cajun hunters by firing blanks in their direction. This is a classic case of messing with the wrong people in the wrong place. The Cajun hunters prove to be a murderous bunch and start picking off the inept soldiers one-by-one.

What makes the movie excellent is the interaction of the characters as the chain of command starts to break down. The soldiers realize they are in deep trouble and panic sets in almost instantly, their training quickly forgotten. The film offers rather obvious (but effective) commentary on the Vietnam War: The soldiers are not properly trained, not psychologically ready for combat, and they've been dropped into foreign terrain against a mysterious enemy. Needless to say, their chances of survival are minimal at best.

Fine film - 27 July 2001
This is a simple yet, wholly compelling story that focuses on a group of "weekend warriors" who set out for a routine weekend in the Louisiana Bayou. Things are going smooth until they decide to "borrow" a couple of boats, then things get really outta hand one of the guys fires off a round of blanks as a prank.

What may appear to be a Deliverance clone actually turns out to be one of Walter Hill's best films. The tension is sometimes smothering and the claustrophobia just as bad. It reminds me a lot of John Carpenter's "Assault on Precinct 13". Hill doesn't even bother to fully establish the characters. This, while normally considered a flaw, actually works here. While there are some familiar faces here, they are mostly on the same level of fame and you never know who is going to bite the dust next.

I must say that Mr. Ry Cooder has out done himself on the score. It goes hand in hand with the atmoshphere and sets the mood perfectly. He and Walter Hill work together a lot and they make a great team.

Now for the performances, Powers Boothe is excellent as the guy from El Paso who doesn't want to be in Louisiana and can't stand the rest of his group. Fred Ward is great as the paranoid redneck who certainly doesn't help the situation, and Keith Carradine does a fine job with the "alright guy/lead role".

It's quite a suprise that this movie has been so overlooked. If you can find a copy, it is well worth your time. I give Southern Comfort a 9/10 and reccommend it to anyone looking for a good action flick that is a little different from the pack.

Atmosphere-soaked action drama from genre maestro - 16 April 2006
Magnificent, atmosphere-soaked action drama from genre maestro Walter Hill. Andrew Laszlo's sullen images of the Louisiana bayou are hypnotic, and draw us into a tense situation that arises after National Guardsmen abscond with property -- a boat -- belonging to local Cajuns. A misunderstanding then triggers return fire that provokes a violent hunt. Assisted by Ry Cooder's superb, moody score, Hill focuses on the ragtag unit of weekend warriors as their considerable machismo is put to the test in a hostile land that is not their own. Powers Booth, Fred Ward, and Keith Carradine are stand-outs in this tense, tightly directed thriller that builds to a pumping climax. Brion James, the only Cajun who is not faceless, supplies a convincing turn, too. Hill and editor Freeman Davies keep the pacing realistic, and cut the action more for mood than kineticism. The climax, which takes place during a Cajun celebration, integrates memorable native music and has a "Straw Dogs" quality. The film is a very solid achievement.

Simply fantastic! - 9 January 2003
I love this film! It is creepy, scary and has an fantastic atmosphere. It is set in a fantastic environment, the Louisiana swaps, that gives it an outlandish, almost out of this world, kind of atmosphere. There is an almost colourless feel to the scenery and the anonymity of the pursuers make this an extremely suspenceful film.

But what really makes this film so fantastic is the incredible soundtrack signed Ry Cooder! Is the man a genius or what? He combines creol music and the violence in the film in a way that makes Bueno Vista Social Club seem dull. ¨ Ok, some of the acting is subpar and Walter Hill could have found some more charismatic actors, but still.

I own one DVD and this is it. Judge for yourself.


* My favorite scene in Southern Comfort:
The ending, of course.  So suspenseful, so creepy.  The music and pig slaughter overlays are just perfect.

Southern Comfort at the IMDB

Southern Comfort at Wikipedia

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