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Southern Comfort (Vinegar Syndrome) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • Southern Comfort (Vinegar Syndrome) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: February 27th, 2024.
    Director: Walter Hill
    Cast: Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Fred Ward
    Year: 1981
    Purchase From Amazon

    Southern Comfort– Movie Review:

    Directed by Walter Hill who co-wrote with David Giler and Michael Kane, 1981's Southern Comfort takes place in Louisiana in 1973. Here, nine National Guardsmen are on a weekend training mission in the backwoods swamps. The trainees are comprised of Spencer (Keith Carradine), Hardin (Powers Boothe), Reece (Fred Ward), Simms (Franklyn Seales), Cribbs (T. K. Carter), Stuckey (Lewis Smith), Casper (Les Lannom), and Poole (Peter Coyote) and none of the men really anticipate any issues here, particularly as since they're training there's no live ammunition to worry about.

    As they head deeper into the swamp, however, things quickly take a dangerous turn after they steal some canoes that belong to a tribe of local Cajuns, and those Cajuns retaliate. Soon enough, the soldiers are being hunted in the swamps by men who know the area far better than they and who have not only laid some clever traps, but who have loaded their firearms with live rounds. They draw first blood and Poole goes down, setting into action a manhunt of sorts that takes the troop deep into the heart of the swamp.

    A ridiculously tense look at the lengths men will go to not only to survive but to outdo one another in conflict, Southern Comfort owes a nod to Boorman's Deliverance made almost ten years before but it is certainly its own cinematic beast. The film is often discussed as an allegory for American intervention in Vietnam and it's easy to see why as the soldier literally walk almost blindly into unfamiliar territory only to bump right into a hornet's nest of retaliation from the locals but it also succeeds as a simple backwoods thriller as well. Understandably, much of the tension comes from within the group of soldiers themselves. The whole thing really is set off by a misunderstanding, a joke turned bad, and as their situation becomes increasingly more hostile and therefore dangerous, their bad sides start to show. The bicker and they fight and they begin to mistrust one another, as humans are wont to do, but they know that in this particular environment that no matter how well trained they may have been by Uncle Sam, the locals have the upper hand. Breakdowns occur and the psychological affect that the Cajun attacks bring to the table are explored in interesting ways.

    Much like Hill's best known film, The Warriors, the core of the story here follows a small group of men racing to get out of ‘enemy territory' while they still can. There's a race against time element here that keeps things tense while the film's sense of the unknown really works in its favor as well. The Cajuns are seen often more as shadowy figures than as clear cut men, they move quickly and don't need to jump up and get in the faces of their opponents, rather, they use stealth tactics here in much the same way they would were they hunting animals for food. The location photography here is excellent, the swamp almost becomes a character unto itself and as things go from bad to worse it all starts to feel extremely claustrophobic.

    Smack dab in the middle of all of this are some great performances as well. Powers Boothe and Keith Carradine dominate the film as their characters have more dialogue than most of the other participants and they both deliver excellent work. The supporting players here are strong as well, however, with Fred Ward and Peter Coyote each turning in memorable work as soldiers and Brian Jameson and Sonny Landham both delivering eerily bizarre turns as their foes.

    Southern Comfort – UHD Review:

    The HEVC encoded 2160p transfer, framed at 1.85.1 and featuring HDR10 looks excellent. Restored in 4k from its original 35mm interpositive, the transfer is a strong one. This has always looked very grainy on home video and that doesn’t change with this latest release but the whole presentation looks like a proper film scan, with plenty of depth, detail and texture. The film is heavy on Earth tones, lots of greens and browns, so it doesn’t ‘pop’ the way a more colorful offering might but color reproduction looks nice and natural, skin tones as well. Black levels also look good, they’re nice and deep, while the picture shows no obvious noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression problems.

    Audio chores are handled by an English language track in 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono format, while optional subtitles are offered up in English only. No problems to note with the audio, the track is clean, clear and properly balanced with a decent amount of depth to it. There are no problems to note with any hiss, distortion or sibilance.

    A commentary track with Walter Chaw, author of ‘A Walter Hill Film: Tragedy And Masculinity In The Films of Walter Hill’, is the only feature on the UHD. He talks about where Hill's career was at this time (right between The Long Riders and before 48 Hours), why he feels Southern Comfort is his darkest and most nihilistic film, the themes and tropes that the movie explores, Hill's interest in racial dynamics between men, loads of details about the different cast and crew members that worked on the picture, some of the recurring motifs that are used throughout Hill's filmography, how Hill's background and early life shaped his filmography, thoughts on the different characters in the movie, how the movie ties into the Vietnam conflict, where some of the inspiration for parts of the movie came from, the depiction of far right religious fanatics in the movie and how that ties into the current political spectrum, the use of violence in the movie, influences that worked their way into the movie, how the movie ties into The Odyssey towards the end and the film's finale and the impact that it carries. This is very well put together and quite insightful.

    The Blu-ray disc includes that same commentary as well as a host of featurettes starting with Battle In The Bayou which is a new seventeen minute interview with co-writer / director Walter Hill. The filmmaker notes that while he is a throwback in a lot of ways, he feels he would have rather worked in the forties and fifties, what it was like making films in the seventies and eighties, working with David Giler, making a deal with Fox, what lead to the making of Southern Comfort, rewrites that had to be done on the script, whether or not the movie was influenced by the Vietnam War, working with the cast and crew and how much he appreciated their efforts, Freeman Davis' talents as an editor, how the film was received upon release and how he feels about the movie overall.

    Behind Enemy Lines is a new twenty-six minute featurette with editor Freeman A. Davies and assistant editor Lisa Zeno Churgin. This covers how they came to work on the picture, editing work that they'd done before working on Southern Comfort, what they learned from earlier projects, the importance of being in the background when editing a movie, what it was like working together, what it was like working with Walter Hill, the impact of the union system, specific details of the machines that the film was edited on, dealing with the sheer volume of film that Hill shot, why it is important not to over-cut, how long it took to edit the film and other details around their work on the film and with Hill in general.

    The seventeen minute Soldiers, Not Mailmen is a new interview with costumer Dan Moore that goes over how he came to work in the industry, early productions he was involved in, getting his start as a production assistant and making his way to working in the costume department, how he came to work with Walter Hill, collaborating again on Southern Comfort, what it was like on set and working on location, dealing with different stunt performers, research that was needed to get the costumes right, how challenges arose when dealing with the intended color scheme for the movie and how much he loves Louisiana.

    Into the Unknown spends fifteen minutes with film historian Wayne Byrne on Southern Comfort and the legacy of Walter Hill. He talks about how he came to be aware of the movie and seeing it for the first time, the impact of the VHS cover art, why he considers the movie to be a southern gothic horror film, the evolution of the story and how a specific sequence on Hard Times was the genesis of the movie, how the film explores conflict on different levels, the importance of the swamp location, the importance of Hill's work and influence in action and western genres and his own experiences talking with Hill.

    Also included on the disc is a twenty-seven minute long archival ‘making of' featurette that includes new interviews with Hill, producer/writer David Giler and cast members Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Peter Coyote and Lewis Smith. This is a pretty interesting look back at the making of the movie that not only offers up some interesting stories about what it was like working on the shoot but about the film's maybe/maybe not metaphorical take on America's involvement in the Vietnam war. Some of the film's themes and ideas are also discussed in enough detail to make this well worth sitting through.

    Finishing up the extras on the disc are a still gallery, a two minute video trailer, menus and chapter selection options.

    As to the packaging, if purchased from the Vinegar Syndrome website, this set comes with special limited edition deluxe magnet box and slipcover set designed by Tony Stella and includes a forty-page perfect bound book and is limited to 8,000 units. That book contains an essay called ‘Weekend Warriors’ by Nicolas Rapold. Additionally, we get some reversible cover sleeve art and, inside the black keepcase, a second booklet containing an essay by Brian Brems titled ‘Swamp’

    Southern Comfort - The Final Word:

    Southern Comfort remains one of Walter Hill's best films, a gritty and tense thriller that mixes up action and backwoods horror in really effective ways. The cast shines and the location work and cinematography really help to build atmosphere and suspense while the director's steady hand controls the pacing to deliver a grim but exciting picture. The UHD/Blu-ray edition from Vinegar Syndrome offers up the film in an excellent presentation and with a nice selection of extra features as well. Highly recommended!



    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Southern Comfort Blu-ray screen caps!

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