In the Louisiana swamps the national guard is involved in “recon and security,” which involves traipsing through gator country armed with blanks and fortified with resentment.
Southern Comfort (1981, directed by Walter Hill of The Warriors fame) follows Bravo Team, or as we’d called them, B-team, featuring a who’s who of second-tier 1970s talent. Deliverance (with which this is often compared) had Voight, Beatty and Reynolds (no first names required). Southern Comfort has Keith Carridine, Powers Boothe, Fred Ward and Peter Coyote. If you were to trade the former for the latter, you’d need to throw in a first round draft pick and a Cassavetes.
There’s group of disparate personalities (hey, it’s a kinda war film) and they clash; the Texan engineer from El Paso rails against the hayseeds in his company (“I’m not gonna ride shotgun with these dumb bells”) and there’s the odd racially-charged joke at the expense of you know who.
They come upon a Cajun camp, complete with dead goats, buzzing flies and a mise en scene that is plucked right out of Texas Chainsaw and dropped in the swamps. Looking to get out ASAP and not knowing exactly where the highway is (there’s a power struggle at the top) they decide to steal some of the backwoods folks’ canoes. This does not go over well and after shots ring out, the men go under.
When they scramble to shore, soaking wet, they realize that sergeant’s got a shotgun blast through the brain and that, not so much the hunter has become the hunted – they’re guardsmen after all and couldn’t even hunt if they tried since they have blanks and only one round of real ammo – but you get the general idea.
This is the greenest film ever; it’s more green than Soylent Green, more green than How Green is My Valley. The army fatigue green provides no visual contrast between clothing and swamp. But there’s atmosphere, even if there’s no tint.
Walter Hill knows how to generate suspense. He did it in the excellent The Warriors and is in fine form here.
Southern Comfort is fun hicksploitation, but nothing can touch the rush of Deliverance.
*** (out of 5)