Worse, the acting does absolutely nothing to liven up the bad writing, as Dustin Hoffman turns in what may well be his worst performance until the ridiculously bad Rain Man. As the story goes, Hoffman loathed Straw Dogs and took the part only for the money; that seems quite apparent on-screen. Susan George is just another blonde bimbo, despite some critics’ attempts to make her performance seem notable. While watching Straw Dogs, ask yourself this: Is there any scene in which George appears that one could not imagine any other actress doing as well or better?
The actual plot is quite slight: The Sumners have left the U.S. for Amy’s Cornish hometown, but he is resented by the xenophobic locals; the ostensible reason is that he is a nebbish American who has bagged a local goddess who had spurned a former beau, Charley Venner (Del Henney).
Amy is a terminal flirt who wears no bra, struts her stuff in front of the local troglodytes, going as far as flashing her lovely breasts out a window at Venner’s workmen pals. But since she is a local, should she not know that they are lustful monsters? Does this not suggest that she wants both their attention and the violence concomitant with it? Or is she really as dumb as she seems?
David seems to be a wimp who has no convictions on politics — such as the Civil Rights movement or the Vietnam War — which the locals query him on. Those locals include Venner’s cretinous pals Cawsey (Jim Norton), Riddaway (Donald Webster), and Norman Scutt (Ken Hutchison), in addition to the patriarch of a sick family, Tom Hedden (Peter Vaughan), whose teen son Bobby (Len Jones) and teen daughter Janice (Sally Thomsett) are incestuously involved and enjoy voyeuring on the Sumners.
Janice also apes Amy’s over-the-top sexuality by showing off her younger charms and trying to seduce the local idiot, Henry Niles (an unbilled David Warner), who was once guilty of molesting young girls, and whose brother John (Peter Arne) has avoided institutionalizing him.
Tom Hedden loathes the Niles clan, even though his family is just as sick. In fact, all of the English villagers, including Amy, are sick in some way. This fact shines through in her claims that she hates being ogled while doing everything to encourage it. The lone exception to this seemingly genetic inbreeding is the town constable, Major John Scott (T. P. McKenna).
Amy tries to spur David to act more manly; this is especially true after the locals kill the Sumners’ cat and hang it in their closet. Some critics claim David killed the cat, but it’s clear from his initial reaction to it that he is wholly unaware of what happened, for it is the same visceral reaction he had to earlier violence at the local bar.
Amy subverts his attempts to corner the workmen into admitting their deed, and in reaction he accepts their invitation to go bird hunting the next day. This is when Venner goes to the Sumner home and the infamous "rape scene" occurs. Actually, Venner does not rape Amy — just as Sean Connery doesn’t rape Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie.
It is a classic violent sex/seduction act. She says no, but her body says yes as she leans up against Venner, rubbing against him. When he rips her robe and tosses her to the couch, she simply lies there and makes pouty lips at him before writhing her body to accept his thrust — long before one could declare such an action a mere physical response to orgasm. She neither screams nor resists, getting even more passionate as the violence rises. (Feminists may not like it, but many women do get turned on by rough sex in which a man dominates them, especially after they’ve put up token resistance.)
When Venner penetrates Amy she has visions of sex with David; after he comes they lay side by side, cuddling. This is not a rape. She loved the sex, and only hated herself for loving it, considering that Venner is more overtly manly than David — right down to his brawny chest hair.
When Venner is done, however, he does indeed become an accessory to rape when his buddy Norman wields a gun and Venner holds Amy down as Norman sodomizes her. Only during this scene is she being fully resistant.
But we have seen Amy at her worst: the eternal cock tease and harridan who loves emasculating her husband; the faithless wife who invites violent sex to "get back" at David’s impotence (if not sexually, then emotionally); and then the bitch who gets her comeuppance when Venner assists his crony in sodomizing her. Of course, all the men in the film will get far worse than Amy does, but feminists apparently stopped watching the film at this point, content that they had "proof" of both the film’s and director’s intent.