The Film (4/5)
The films of Walter Hill during his earlier period of the 70's and 80's are some of the greatest action films of that time frame. They are not straight up action fare, and on more than a few occasions he uses the same basic template to tell his story, but overall the man during this period could not help, but create a kickass action yarn.
Hill's 1981 film Southern Comfort takes his frequently used template of a bunch of guys in unfamiliar territory trying to get out, before it's too late for them, and transposes it to the swamps of Louisiana in 1973. A group of Louisiana National Guardsmen are on a weekend training exercise that they expect to be routine. It becomes anything but routine, however, when the group steal some canoes from some local Cajuns. The Cajuns, of course, retaliate against the guardsmen and begin to take them out one by one. With limited knowledge of the land, and no live ammunition they attempt to escape the swampland, but with the Cajun locals following them every step of the way there is no guarantee any of them will survive.
Walter Hill's Southern Comfort is one of those lightning in a bottle films. The film has a cast that could not be matched today anchored by Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe amongst others. The cast work extremely well together, and have a sort of group charisma that exudes from the screen.
Southern Comfort was actually greenlit in the same package with Alien. Another film that Hill is known for, and it is no surprise as both films harbor similar themes of a group of people being taken out by an unknown shadowy force. Obviously in Alien it's the titular creature, and in Southern Comfort it's the cajuns, who while not faceless, are more of an entity than a group of 3-Dimensional characters.
Southern Comfort also offers a great deal of suspense courtesy of Hill. Even though Carradine and Boothe are obviously the leads, the film never feels less than an ensemble piece, and the atmosphere is one where anyone can die at anytime. Cajuns killing soldiers, soldiers killing cajuns, or the soldiers killing each other.
Between his debut Hard Times and (my personal favorite of his) Streets of Fire, Hill did not have a genre misfire. He would create a variety of wonderful action and dramatic fare from a series of interesting perspectives. These films would go onto to be classics in their own rights. Southern Comfort is oft compared to 1973's John Boorman film Deliverance, and while comparisons are certainly valid, I have always found Hill's film stands quite well on it's own, and deserves every bit of it's status it's earned over the last 3 decades.
Shout! Factory have presented Walter Hill's Southern Comfort in a very nice 1:78:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The transfer is quite sharp at times, and looks quite natural for the most part. The detail present is excellent, and blacks are fairly deep, flesh tones are also accurate. There is a nice grain structure present throughout as well that appears quite natural for the most part, but a bit noisy at times, and I did notice some minor issues with compression during some of these moments.
The audio is a DTS-HD 2.0 track in English with optional subtitles. The track is solid, and the dialogue, effects, and Ry Cooder's score comes through nice and clearly.
The most substantial extra on this disc is a 27 minute behind the scenes pieces that features Hill and the cast. There is also a trailer and a stills gallery.
Southern Comfort is one of Walter Hill's greatest films, from a period where Walter Hill was making nothing but great films. The A/V restoration from Shout is quite good, and the extras are limited but fun and informative. RECOMMENDED.