Navigating the Cruel World of Straw Dogs

Controversial for its disturbing depiction of male aggression and sexual violence, Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 suspense film Straw Dogs plays out with all the brutality of the westerns for which the director is most famous, though it takes place very far from the frontier. Set in Cornwall, England, the film tells the story of a noncommittal American mathematician (Dustin Hoffman) who has just moved with his wife (Susan George) back to the town where she grew up—a place where they fail to find the peace and quiet they seek, as they both face increasingly menacing threats from a number of men working on their property. In the clip below, taken from a supplemental piece on our new edition of the movie, film scholar Linda Williams examines how Alfred Hitchcock’s horror landmark Psycho paved the way for Straw Dogs’ intermingling of sex and violence, and discusses her own “conflicted response” to Peckinpah’s masterful and discomfiting work.

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