"Embraces forcible and foul," a lacerating grindhouse distillate. The infamous title is stamped in red block letters on a profile shot of Camille Keaton, a Modigliani willow in an unforgettable silent-film performance. Out of New York and into the backwoods cabin for the young literary conscience, the maiden novel about a woman starting a new life is interrupted until a different narrative becomes the goal, apes in hell shall lead her. Thuggish yahoos populate the area, four of them (Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols and Gunter Kleemann) terrorize and rape the heroine. Mist creeps over the river, the torn page is taped back together, nothing left to do but do them in. "You wanted total submission, you got it." The tale is bluntly divided into violation and retribution, more medieval than Last House on the Left even—all the drama and psychology have been taken out of it, so that only terror and trauma are left. Meir Zarchi remembers the village simpleton's distorted close-up in Straw Dogs, he favors a nightmarishly clear, sunlit image for the ordeal's real-time excruciation. (A bruising cut sums up the aftermath with the writer bent in the bathtub, a trembling nude painted with blood and mud, cf. Klimov's Come and See.) The second half proceeds to wipe off "those handsome, ladykiller smiles," dangling noose and castrating knife and axe and canoe propeller in quick succession. A high angle for supplication in the church and a low angle for infernal flames in the fireplace, a throb of Puccini pierces the severe soundscape of wind, crickets, harmonica and wailing. "Aw, that's so sweet it's painful." Ferrara (Ms. 45) and Eastwood (Sudden Impact) have the more artful investigations, though there's no denying Zarchi's barbaric force as Keaton's raging blankness fills the screen.
--- Fernando F. Croce