Deep South Movies

Ashley Clark

Lee Daniels’ lurid, sweaty Florida-set crime thriller The Paperboy stars Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron and John Cusack, and is out now in the US. It divided audiences sharply following its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, but whatever its merits, it’s the latest in a long line of films to have made great use of the uniquely humid conditions of America’s Deep South. For some reason, this location seems to attract filmmakers who want to tell sleazy stories about lust and crime (though this isn’t always the case). To celebrate this, we’ve put together some of our favourites. But what did we miss?

1. Southern Comfort (Walter Hill, 1981)

Walter Hill’s unbearably tense bayou thriller follows a group of inept, leaderless National Guardsmen getting way out of their depth on what should be a routine Louisiana jaunt.  When one of the group enrages a local Cajun backwoodsmen, things get nasty quickly in the unfamiliar swamplands. Ry Cooder’s slide guitar score is just stunning, and guess what else? It’s better than Deliverance - yeah, I said it.

2. In The Heat of the Night (Norman Jewison, 1967)

Based on the 1965 novel of the same name, Jewison’s ace thriller tells the story of a black Philadelphia cop named Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), who travels down to Mississippi to investigate a racist murder. It’s a sweltering snapshot of shameful period in American history, with style and attitude to burn.

3. Angel Heart (Alan Parker, 1987)

This might well be the most lurid film on our list. Bedraggled ‘tec Harry Angel (an excellent Mickey Rourke) travels down to steamy New Orleans to investigate some serious voodoo s***. Lisa Bonet was smoking hot as love (well, hot sex) interest Epiphany Proudfoot, while Robert de Niro popped up as the bearded, egg-stroking uber-villain Louis Cyphre (geddit?)

4. A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951)

It’s New Orleans again for Kazan’s sultry adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play. Starring Vivian Leigh as classic faded Southern belle Blanche DuBois opposite the brutishly sensual Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski, Streetcar is sexy, histrionic and hot-tempered entertainment at its finest.

5. Body Heat (Lawrence Kasdan, 1981)

Inspired by noir classic Double Indemnity, this slick, sweaty thriller - set amid an intense Florida heatwave - made a star of Kathleen Turner. Her vampish Matty Walker ran rings around nice-but-dim lawyer Ned Racine in a twisted tale of lust and physical corruption. The film also earns major bonus points for Ted Danson’s amazing lego-inspired hairstyle.

6. Wise Blood (John Huston, 1979)

Largely filmed in and around Macon, Georgia, and boasting a cracking bluegrass banjo score, this darkly funny adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s debut novel is an exemplary slice of Southern Gothic. Brad Dourif stars as young zealot Hazel Motes.

7. To Kill A Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962)

Starring Gregory Peck as principled lawyer Atticus Finch, this gripping adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic novel nails the supercharged atmosphere of a racially segregated Alabama in the 1930s.

8. Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg, 1967)

Despite the stifling heat of the Florida prison camp in which its set, cinema doesn’t get much cooler than this. As minor crim, serial non-conformist and nerveless egg-muncher Lucas Jackson, Paul Newman burns a hole through the screen.

9. Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons, 1997)

Lemmons’ hugely underrated directorial debut makes startling use of its Louisiana locations. A simmering family drama starring Samuel L. Jackson as a philandering doctor, this Southern gem is well worth seeking out.

10. Down By Law (Jim Jarmusch, 1986)

Film portraits of the Deep South needn’t always be terribly overheated, and Jim Jarmusch’s laconic indie comedy proves that point. This low-key treat focuses on a motley trio of men (John Lurie, Roberto Benigni and Tom Waits) who are arrested and thrown into a New Orleans jail. Their eventual escape sees them head across some amazing Southern locations.

Follow Ashley on Twitter: @_Ash_Clark

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