It’s all too easy to sneer at Hal Ashby’s melodramatic, sometimes earnest tale of a woman (Jane Fonda, whose controversial activism had made her a right-wing hate figure during the war) torn between loyalty to her conservative military captain husband (Bruce Dern) and her growing affection for a paraplegic Vietnam veteran (Jon Voight).Yet while the film’s vehement anti-war sentiment is hammered home with the occasional overwrought monologue and some heavy-handed use of 60s pop staples, there’s also a great deal to admire here.
While the likes of Dang Nhat Minh’s When the Tenth Month Comes (1984) and Ho Quang Minh’s Karma (1985) have screened internationally to general acclaim, and offer valuable insight into the war from a domestic perspective, neither is currently available on DVD in the UK. Jacobs’ 1902 short story ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, the film depicts a small-town family struggling to cope with the bizarre and erratic behaviour of their soldier son Andy (Richard Backus), who arrives home from Vietnam shortly after being declared missing in action and presumed dead.
This scuzzy 70s shocker is a bracingly inventive rumination on what would in years to come be recognised as combat-induced post-traumatic stress disorder. It soon transpires that Andy is more than simply war-weary – he can in fact only maintain the façade of humanity by feasting on flesh and blood.
The war has served as inspiration for less ‘respectable’ genre fare, from the gung-ho antics of Rambo to the schlock horror of House (1986).
And, of course, the 19-year conflict has also provided rich material for documentarians, including pioneering work by heavy-hitters such as Errol Morris and Werner Herzog.
The soundtrack of 1960s rock brings the era to life although you may be too busy dodging traps and explosions to really appreciate the music.