So you wanna go camping?
Deliverance did for camping goods stores what Jaws (1975) did for skinny-dipping, in a tale of four friends getting well out of their depth during an ill-fated canoeing trip in hillbilly country.
You’ll never hear a banjo played again without breaking out in a cold sweat.
Four Atlanta businessmen – Survivalist Lewis (Burt Reynolds) quiet Ed (Jon Voight), bluff Bobby (Ned Beatty) and sensitive Drew (Ronny Cox) – start out on an innocent leisurely weekend canoeing trip in the Appalachian backwoods and get more than they bargain for as the trip turns into a violent nightmare.
When Ed and Bobby are waylaid by a pair of frightening, irrational hillbillies, Bobby is stripped, made to “squeal like a pig” and raped while Ed is tethered to a tree with his own belt, absurdly hanging on to his pipe through the ordeal.
Lewis intervenes, killing the rapist (Bill McKinney) with his bow and arrow, and the quartet, with deeply mixed feelings, opts to cover up the incident and get out of the region, pitted against the surviving hillbilly rifleman (Herbert Coward) and the hostile landscape.
Director John Boorman’s compelling thriller takes American poet James Dickey’s best-selling novel to new heights of suspenseful stress. The plausibility of having your world turned upside-down by random violence and consequent retribution is what makes the film a truly disturbing experience.
Boorman’s genius, however, was to give the audience a real sense of the terror of the four campers, but also to make them arrogant, stupid and utterly out of place, exuding a sense that they actually deserve their ordeal.
A prime example of reverse payback is the disturbing situation in which the “inbred” boy engages in the classic banjo duel, yet refuses to acknowledge the group as they pass under his path once again on their doomed journey.
Add an ecological subtext ahead of its time (the valley is about to be flooded) and perhaps you have the idea that nature is biting back at the ignorance that defies it.
Herbert “Cowboy” Coward