If you love the experience of being well and truly scared whilst watching a movie – as opposed to appreciating classic horror from Hammer et al for its “kitsch” nature – then you’ll love Deliverance. Deliverance is John Boorman’s classically dark 1972 thriller. Boorman both produced and directed the movie which starred a young Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty. Both Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty actually made their film debuts in Deliverance which was based on a 1970 novel of the same name by James Dickey. Dickey stars briefly in the movie towards the end as the Sheriff – and does a fine job of things too. The screenplay, meanwhile, was scripted by Dickey and Boorman together.
If this is a movie that has skipped your attention for any reason (and it doesn’t always come up on the best cinema listings strangely enough) then rectify that situation at once. If you love being scared, you won’t be disappointed. It’s hard to say exactly what makes Deliverance so spooky besides the obvious key scene. But the plot and the music score certainly help – as does the back woods setting.
The basic plot is the story of four businessmen from Atlanta who decide to take a canoe trip down a river in the Georgian wilderness. The river and its valley are due to be flooded to create a hydro-electric power dam, so it’s a last chance for the four to explore this wilderness that will soon be lost forever. Lewis, played by Burt Reynolds in what must surely be that actor’s only ever half decent movie, is an experienced outdoorsman who leads the trip. His friend Ed (Jon Voight) has been on previous similar trips with Lewis, but Drew and Bobby are complete novices.
The early scenes show the four meeting local in-breds as they negotiate a deal for someone to take the cars downstream to a meeting point. The opening scenes are weirdly realistic and set the dual tone for the movie between a normal canoe trip and scarily dark undertones. One of the young locals, an albino boy, picks a banjo to memorable effect in one of the movie’s key scenes with an impromptu rendition of “DuellingBanjos” a song which was later to win a Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance. But it’s what happens as the men make their way down river on day two of the trip that will live with you forever (whether you like it or not) and which has to be one of the scariest movie scenes ever created.
Boorman is a master of creating tension and truly putting you in the moment that – believe me – you don’t ever want to be in. But whilst the tension builds steadily and subtly, the key moment around which the whole plot hinges is graphic and all too realistic. Deliverance deservedly received a nomination for Academy Award for Best Picture, whilst John Boorman was nominated for the Academy Award for Directing.
This may not be classic horror, but it’s truly frightening in a way that no movie has ever really achieved before or since. So if you’ve never seen it – do yourself a favour.
Review by Emma Carey