Friday FabOoolousness – Knocking Down Straw Dogs

I love scary movies, including honest to goodness horror and slashers, as well as suspenseful, psychological thrillers.  That’s why when I saw the trailer for Straw Dogs (2011) last year, I felt chills run down my spine.  I would watch this movie.

It didn’t hurt that the trailer for the film was full of eye-candy: Alexander Skarsgard (Vampire Eric Northman from True Blood); James Marsden (Cyclops from the X-Men movies); and for the men, Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush).

Immediately, I reached out to my writing and movie friend, Catie Rhodes, who has introduced me to many great crime films – some even inspired by actual events.  But, I digress.

During our chat, Catie mentioned that Straw Dogs (2011) is a remake to the 1971 Sam Peckinpah film starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George.  Once again, Catie was educating me on an older movie that I wasn’t familiar with (travesty, I know).

After renting Straw Dogs (2011) via my favorite vending machine (Redbox), I contacted Catie again.  Following a brief conversation, we decided to team up and provide a review of the original movie and the remake.

Hollywood always seems to remake movies, almost to the point to where we might think all originality is gone.  But I like to think that it is because there are so many great older films that the newer generations aren’t familiar with, and the remake introduces them to the story.

The general definition of the term straw dog means something that is made to only be knocked down, or when someone is referring to raping or pillaging someone.

In Catie’s post, she mentioned the Chinese tradition of using straw dogs (dolls) as sacrifices.  According to the Tao Te Ching, a straw dog was dressed up and honored at the altar only to be discarded in the streets at the end of the ceremony.

Honestly, all three of these explanations are applicable in the 2011 remake by Rod Lurie.

The movie follows David Sumner (Marsden) and his wife, Amy (Bosworth), as they return to her small hometown in Mississippi.  The young couple recently inherits her family home following her father’s death, and David feels the wide open space and the peace and quiet will be exactly what he needs to finish his current movie script.

They’re not in town long before David meets the town’s characters, including: Amy’s former classmate and ex-boyfriend, Charlie Venner (Skarsgard); the previous high school football coach (Emmy winning and Academy Award nominated actor, James Woods) and his teenage daughter (Willa Holland, The O.C.);   Daniel Niles (Walton Goggins, Boyd Crowder from Justified) and his mentally handicapped brother, Jeremy (Dominic Purcell, Prison Break); and Charlie’s “boys” – Norman (Rhys Coiro, Entourage), Chris (Billy Lush, The Black Donnellys), and Bic (Drew Powell, Leverage).

Trying to win over the home crowd, David hires Charlie and his “boys” to fix the barn’s roof across from the couple’s new home.  The “boys” take advantage of the situation by showing up for work according to their own schedule and working only a few hours per day.  Matters intensify as the “boys” taunt David, making Amy feel she’s married to a coward, and they constantly gawk at Amy and her short shorts and braless breasts (although flashing her bare breasts while the “boys” are working doesn’t help the situation).

One thing leads to another, and before we know it the Sumner family pet is murdered, Amy is brutally attacked, and David snaps.

Everyone has a breaking point (the logline for the 2011 remake).

To what extent will Charlie's "Boys" follow the leader?

The closing scenes of Straw Dogs reminds me of one of my favorite all-time movies (Fear starring Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon and William Peterson) when the “boys” and their coach viciously attack the impenetrable Sumner home from the outside, while the Sumners (particularly David) put up the fight of their lives protecting one another and distraught Jeremy, who sits in the corner rocking back and forth yelling over the commotion trying to ease himself.

Sounds like Fear, doesn’t it?

In her blog post reviewing the 1971 movie, Catie writes “the tension is like a character in the film.”  That’s also true of the 2011 version, but probably the largest similarity between the two Straw Dogs is the ambiguity of the stories – we don’t get a ton of answers.

We never know the story behind Amy and Charlie, other than it seems extremely awkward when she returns.  We never know who murders the Sumner pet; we only assume it’s one of the “boys” at Charlie’s orders.  We never know why the former football coach’s teenage daughter continuously bates poor Jeremy, knowing that her father will kill the poor boy the next time he catches Jeremy near her.

Mainly, we just never know many things behind the why.

But we do know that the so-called coward transforms into a hero at the end, and all the straw dogs are knocked down.

“He’s got some man in him after all.”

What do you think?  Have you seen the original 1971 Straw Dogs film or 2011 remake?  Were you satisfied or left wishing for a bit more? Is there a remake that you feel is actually better than the original?  I’d love to hear from you.

Be sure and click over to Catie’s review if you haven’t already!

14 Replies to “Friday FabOoolousness – Knocking Down Straw Dogs”

  1. As you know, I’ve seen the original. My post on it interested my husband so much that I’m waiting until this weekend to watch the remake with him. Judging only from the previews, the remake looks less stilted than the original. IMHO, the original implied a lot of things and often left me wondering if I was “getting it.” I am looking forward to the remake, if for no other reason than Erik from True Blood.

    I haven’t seen Fear since it first came out at the video store. We rented it, watched it once, returned it, and I never thought about it again. I’m going to see if I can find it to re-watch. I do like Marky-Mark.

    There are many remakes that I think are just as good as the original. Cape Fear is one of them. Both movies are fantastic in their own way. I thought the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was not all that bad. Against all Odds, which was a remake of Out of the Past, is a favorite of mine. Don’t get me wrong, though. I love Out of the Past.

    One remake I’d love to see: Eli Roth was going to do a remake of The Bad Seed. I’ve never heard any more, but I *really* want to see his version of that wicked old movie.

    Good work. I enjoyed reading what you had to say.

    1. Cape Fear is a fantastic remake, Catie! Robert De Niro and Juliette Lewis were both wonderful in this movie. I haven’t seen this in years…now I want to watch it again! I remember I was a little girl when it came out and I watched with my mom and dad, scared out of my mind! But in a good way. Perhaps this is one of the first psychological thrillers that hooked me? Could be…

      I hope you watch Fear again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched it. David (aka Marky Mark) is so darn hot in this movie, I don’t care if he’s a bit off-balance. 🙂

      I hope we can do this again someday soon!

  2. I’m a big fan of the original Straw Dogs (and Peckinpah films in general), and while I’ve yet to see the remake, I really like James Mardsen (and James Woods…I had no idea he was in this), so I’ll undoubtedly see it at some point.

    Peckinpah was obsessed with the notion of man finding his identity through the expression of violence. His films often revolved around men trying to find other ways to deal with their problems, only to discover/revert to more brutal methods. The “why” never seemed as important to him as the “what” or the “how”, and that glaring ambiguity in his films is often what made them so fascinating.

    On the top of remakes…I thought “The Departed” was better than the Chinese film “Internal Affairs” that it was based on. The 2007 “3:10 to Yuma” was excellent (at least as good as the original, and better in other ways.) And I am JAZZED to see David Fincher’s “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, based on his talent alone. (I could go on…I’ll stop now…)

    Great write-up!

    1. Hi, Steven! Thank you so much for stopping by today! Yay 🙂

      Let me just say that I was THRILLED to see James Woods in another a-hole type movie role. He is always brilliant as “that guy” – isn’t he?

      Since deciding to write this conjoined blog project with Catie, I am really interested in watching the original. I googled some of the 1971 images, and I can see where this movie had to be very controversial for its time. Not to mention, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything with Susan George, and I’d like to compare/contrast her daughter’s skills today (Melissa George; I’m weird like that).

      I also can’t wait to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’ve heard wonderful things about the new Mora portrayal.

      You’ve given me some good food for thought…

  3. I haven’t seen either version, but this one appeals to be because it’s got some strong actors in it, eye-candy aside. Fear is one of Mark Wahlberg’s better movies, IMO. Sometime I forget that he’s a good actor (he was amazing in The Lovely Bones) because he does action movies that don’t appeal to me. But he made a creepy stalker.

    1. Stacy, I still walk around the house and will sporadically shout, “So, let me the F*** in the house!” Mark is S.E.X.Y., even as a crazy person. He only wanted her to love him….I even made sure to visit the famous Fear Roller Coaster during my one trip to Seattle. That scene is still one of the hottest, IMO.

      All crushing aside on one of my favorite ’90s movies, Mark is an amazing actor. Have you seen The Fighter?

  4. First, I love that you and Catie did this as a joint effort. I posted on hers that I saw the original when I was way to young to see/comprehend the subject material so it left a bad memory. When the remake was advertised I shunned away, given technology and lax censorship, I figured it may be more graphic. I’m sorry to hear the new version didn’t insert any deeper layers into the story. Lots of unanswered questions. Great post ladies!

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