Straw Dogs, remakes and the perils of torture porn

Like nearly all of his films, Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” is hyper violent, disturbing and cerebral as an examination of violence in culture.

But “Straw Dogs” was not a box office success. According to imdb.com, the film only grossed just over $11 million worldwide. In its first weekend of release in the United States, it was beaten at the box office by another exceptionally violent film, Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry.”

Reviews at the time were critical of the violence. Roger Ebert said the film “was totally committed to the pornography of violence.” So why remake a movie that wasn’t successful at the box office, never gained a large cult following and was seen as controversial at the time?

The easy answer is money, but a lack of star power in both acting and directing could hinder this idea.

The remake is directed by Rod Lurie, whose largest box office draw was 2001’s “The Last Castle,” at $18 million. Its lead actor is James Marsden, best known for playing Cyclops in the “X-Men” franchise.

“Straw Dogs” would fit comfortably in the genre we now call “torture porn,” with extreme amounts of violence that may not have a ultimate point other than to show more violence.

In the original, an American man named David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his English wife (Susan George) move to her hometown in southwest England. Sumner is an intellectual, and the natives of the town distrust and dislike him, doing various deeds that attempt to scare him off. The most controversial scene of the film is a rape scene that Sumner’s wife endures, which could easily be interpreted as her enjoying the assault.

Ultimately, this leads to a disturbing and violent final half-hour of the film that may bring one question to the viewer’s mind: What was the point of all this?

It’s possible the remake will answer this question in a convincing fashion, but it’s not likely. Hollywood’s fascination with remakes of horror films is not hard to understand. Updating Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers for the 21st century makes some sense. These characters are popular enough to be brought forward without losing much of their original charm.

David Sumner isn’t a household name for famous movie characters. Is Hollywood that creatively bankrupt that it jumps on a not-very-popular film to make a quick buck?

Based on box office results, the answer is probably yes. Over the past ten years, only once has the highest grossing film in a year been an original screenplay that was not a sequel: “Avatar,” in 2009. A remake of “Straw Dogs” proves Hollywood doesn’t care much about artistry or creativity: they want your money, not your brain. This doesn’t mean the new “Straw Dogs” will be bad. It does mean there is little hope for original screenplays, when anything can be remade.