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Open Water, Frozen, Backcountry, Fall, Devil’s Pass, and Deliverance
Weekly Horror Bulletin Newsletter 216
We’ve got our usual lineup of four movies and a short film this week— This time, we’ll call it “Stupid people vs. Nature: Nature Wins” week.
We’ll start with “Open Water” (2003), then hang out in “Frozen” (2010). We’ll stop for a short film, then return with 2014’s “Backcountry” and 2022’s “Fall.” As a bonus this week, we’ll look at two more unfortunate happenings in the wilderness:
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• “Devil’s Pass” (2013)
• “Deliverance” (1972)
Four years ago, this week...
Four YEARS AGO this week, on episode 10, we looked at “Drag Me to Hell” (2009) and “Happy Death Day” (2017).
Listen to that old episode here: https://www.horrorguys.com/hg010/.
We’ve got two announcements this week pertaining to our books:
1. We have a new one, and it’s FREE! “The Horror Guys Guide to The Halloween Films” is available now, exclusively at our web store, https://brianschell.com/b/halloween. The price listed there is $1.99 USD, but if you use the coupon code HALLOWEEN, the eBook version is completely free. Enjoy! Note that it’s also available as a paperback via Lulu, but that one’s obviously not free.
2. All our paperback books are now available from Lulu as well as on Amazon. Lulu just sent me a promo code to let you get 15% off any purchase. So yeah, order what you want and SAVE! Use the promo code FEBRUARY15 to get 15% off everything in your order from Lulu.
• Or buy from Horror Guys Shop
Open Water (2003)
• Directed by Chris
• Written by Chris Kentis
• Stars Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis, Saul Stein
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 19 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This takes a little while to get to the good stuff. It’s a little bit of a thin story stretched out into movie length, but the situation they end up in is horrifying. So, it’s worth the watch in the end.
Daniel and Susan get ready for their impending trip. It’s supposed to be a vacation, but she keeps getting calls from work. Soon, they’re on a tropical beach that looks warm and civilized. Credits roll.
Susan has signed them both up for a diving trip tomorrow morning. Until then, they do the usual touristy things.
The next morning, they show up at the dock nice and early as a crowd of people prepare diving tanks and equipment. Davis, Linda, and Junior run the boat, and Davis talks about where they’re going. They might see some sharks, but they aren’t very aggressive. Davis does a sloppy head count of the passengers- twenty people.
They eventually get to where they’re going, and everyone suits up. Davis gives last-minute instructions, and it all seems very clear. One guy forgot his mask, so there’s a distraction and confusion. They’re supposed to be diving for 35 minutes.
They do some pretty normal scuba-diving stuff. People get off the boat; people get back on again. The guy without the mask borrows someone’s mask and gets in the water, he shanghaies a buddy because he’s a jerk. Linda helps him into the water, which adds two more people to the count of who are in the water.
Meanwhile, Susan and Daniel dive with the pretty fish in the pretty water and have a great time. People start getting out of the water, and Davis counts the people who get out. His number matches up with what he had written down because of the two late divers. They pull up the ladder, start the engines, and zoom off.
Eventually Susan and Daniel surface. Hey– the boat is gone! They see two boats in opposite directions. They wave for the boats, but they’re too far away to be seen. If they choose the wrong boat, they’d swim in the wrong direction, so they stay put and keep waving.
The pair soon figures out that they’re drifting in the current. One of the boats starts approaching them, but it’s a tour boat and goes right past them.
Back at the dock, the diving boat unloads the passengers, and we see that our couple’s street clothes are stashed under the bench.
Susan sees a shark, and Daniel points out that they aren’t dangerous. They’ve been out for two hours now, and she’s getting cold. Yep– there’s definitely a shark out there. “They said they don’t get that close!” “They also said the boat would be here!”
We get a “water montage” as time passes and the two ask each other trivia questions. Susan gets stung by a jellyfish. So does Daniel. Daniel mentions that people getting left in the middle of the ocean is a lot more common than you’d think.
A boat drives by but doesn’t see them. They wonder what happened with the head count. Why didn’t anyone find their stuff on board? She lays back and goes to sleep.
Several hours later, Susan wakes up when a shark bumps her. Daniel is nowhere to be found. She spots him some distance away and swims toward him, but we also see that she’s bleeding. He admits that he went to sleep as well, and they drifted apart. Daniel looks at her leg, and she’s got little teeth marks.
Bigger sharks start to surface around them, and they both start to panic. The two take time out to play the blame game and whine about each other. “I wanted to go skiing!” Susan complains. They see ships and even a buoy, but the current keeps taking them the wrong way.
A shark bumps Daniel, and he drops his knife. He gets bit, and there’s lots of blood in the water. She ties his leg off with a belt, but he starts to go into shock.
…And then the sun goes down. There’s a thunderstorm, which only makes things more uncomfortable for the doomed couple. The sharks then go at it, and Daniel panics.
When the sun comes up, Davis boards his boat. He notices the leftover bag from the day before, and he finds their ID cards inside. He remembers them and runs to get help. The hotel manager looks inside Daniel and Susan’s room and sees that they aren’t there. A helicopter takes off as search parties commence.
Susan wakes up, and Daniel is still with her, but he’s not moving. He’s dead, and she finally lets him go. She watches as the sharks tear him apart. There’s a whole bunch of sharks down there. She gives up and simply drowns herself to not have to suffer being eaten alive.
This was all Linda’s fault for not writing down the two late divers who went in after everyone else. That, and Davis didn’t do an actual headcount after everyone boarded the boat. Oh, and Susan and Daniel could have paid more attention to the time; they’re both wearing watches, so why wouldn’t they be aware of the time? The basic situation is a comedy of errors, but once they get left behind, it all seems pretty believable.
• Directed by Adam Green
• Written by Adam Green
• Stars Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell, Kevin Zegers
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 33 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This isn’t the happy cartoon musical. It’s a little bit of a contrived chain of events to get the trio to where they end up, but the acting is good, the effects are realistic, and it’s a horrifying situation to be in despite it not being strictly in the horror genre.
We begin by looking at the innards of ski lift machinery. Credits roll.
Parker, Joe, and Dan are at the bottom of the ski slopes. Dan gives Parker $50 to bribe a guy to let them onto the ski lift. It costs double that, but they finally get on the ski lift. Partway up the mountain, the chairlift stops. Parker gets nervous, especially when Dan starts bouncing up and down. After a minute or two, it starts up again and they get to the snowboarding zone.
The two guys insist that Parker wear a helmet; Joe meets Shannon and Ryan and almost gets into a fight. Joe wants to do some “real skiing” rather than watch Parker fall down all day, but Dan insists that Parker come along just to watch. It’s getting late, and the ski lift operator won’t let them on because bad weather is coming and they’re clearing the mountain, but they beg for one more run. He relents and lets them on.
The ski attendant gets called to the manager’s office over something, and his fill-in guy sees the red flag which means the ski lift is empty. Meanwhile, the ski lift stops with Parker, Dan, and Joe stuck on it. They talk about “the worst way to die” to pass the time.
Then the lights all go off; the resort is now closed. They had been thinking that the lift was temporarily broken, but now they know they’re stranded. Dan makes the excuse that maybe the power has gone out. The three bicker and argue for a bit as panic sets in. This is Sunday, and the resort isn’t open again until Friday.
It’s not long before the snowstorm hits. A snowplow drives under them, but the driver can’t hear them yelling because of the wind. He drives back down the mountain.
Parker accidentally drops her glove and risks frostbite. Dan decides to jump down, but it’s like fifty feet above the ground. He goes for it and breaks both legs. They all yell up and down to each other until they start hearing the wolves howl. Then they watch as the wolf closes in on Dan, who can’t even stand up much less run.
Joe thinks he wants to try to climb on the cable to the next chair, which is next to a tower that has a ladder. The cable cuts through his gloves, so he returns to the chair lift in time to watch Dan be eaten by a whole pack of wolves.
Parker and Joe are both getting colder, but they don’t try to jump down. They start arguing about who is to blame for Dan’s death. Parker freaks out about her little dog at home is going to starve to death when she dies on this chair lift.
Morning arrives. Parker wakes up and can’t get her hand off the safety bar; it’s frozen to it. She forces it, which removes a bunch of skin. Her face is frostbitten as well, so is Joe’s. Still, it’s a bright, sunny day, so maybe someone will come in to work and find them. Parker pees herself; she can’t hold it anymore.
Joe decides to try climbing the wire to the next car a second time. The wolves return below Joe, waiting for him to fall. He makes it to the next car, but his gloves are torn up and his hands are bloody. Parker throws the ski poles down for Joe to defend himself when he gets down to the ground. Now he has to climb to the pole from the second chair lift. “You can do it!” Parker yells.
He does it! He makes it to the ladder and climbs down. The wolves immediately attack, but he runs them off with the ski poles. He takes off on a snowboard, but the wolves are right behind him.
Time passes, and Parker is alone. Night falls. She wakes up in the morning, and no one has come for her; Joe must not have made it. With her frostbitten hand, she can’t climb the cable, so she gets ready to jump. Suddenly, the cable lets go and the whole chair falls about twenty feet. This gets her closer to the ground, so she drops off. Unfortunately, the chair falls on top of her leg, causing another injury.
She eventually walks and crawls down the mountain. She finds what’s left of Joe, half-eaten. The wolves are there too, but they’re too busy eating to care about Parker. She comes to a road and passes out. A car drives by and spots her laying in the road; the man puts her in the car and calls the hospital.
Again, we have a weird confluence of coincidence which leads to disaster. Again, people leave their cell phones behind for no real reason. Ah well, once the problem starts, everybody behaves more or less believably.
There’s not much that happened before the group gets on the ski lift, so in order to make a full-length movie out of three people on a high chair, there’s a lot of talking about personal stories. This gets a little old after a while, which makes it feel like they aren’t doing anything to be rescued.
We don’t see much of the wolf attack, although it was filmed. Being injured and all, Parker seemed to make it down the mountain fairly easily, so those wolves must have caught Joe pretty quickly.
Short Film: Nice to Finally Meet You (2023)
• Directed by Jason Burke
• Written by Jason Burke
• Stars Andi Matichak, Evan Williams, Cilda Shaur, Matt Van Orden, Ned Van Zandt
• Run Time: 5:22
• Watch it:
Adam happily makes his way up a long, winding driveway leading to a stunning central Jersey lake house. He’s about to meet his girlfriend, Laurie’s, family for the first time and has made every effort to ensure that his first impression will be a lasting one.
But as the weekend unfolds, and Adam’s attempts to fit in fall increasingly short, the thinner the veil becomes between his fantasy and the Thompson Family’s terrifying reality.
Adam seems way too old to be in this uncomfortable position, but that’s probably the least weird part of the story. There are many details missing, but we can fill in the blanks, which is the whole point. How did things get to this point? That’d be a full-length movie in itself.
• Directed by Adam MacDonald
• Written by Adam MacDonald
• Stars Jeff Roop, Missy Peregrym, Nicholas Campbell, Eric Balfour
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 32 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s “Open Water” only in the woods. Hiking is fun and the woods are peaceful until you get lost. And a persistent bear decides you’re food. It’s a little predictable, but it’s well made and manages to be thoroughly horrifying.
We open in the woods as flies swarm around something. We cut to Alex and Jenn loading their car for a trip. In the car, they play “rate your boyfriend” from a woman’s magazine. He sings some horrible music that actually cheers her up. Credits roll.
They arrive at the park and check in with the ranger, who warns that this is the end of the season, and the crowds are getting sparse. Blackwood Trail, the trail Alex wanted to take, is closed due to vandals. The ranger warns there could be a thousand dollar fine if they get caught on that trail. Alex doesn’t want a map because he knows the area well. The two of them get into a canoe and head out to wherever they’re going.
When they get to the trail, Jenn shows Alex that she has bear spray. He also injured his ankle getting out of the boat. She’s brought all kinds of stuff, “Just in case.” He laughs, “You know we’ll be lucky to see anything bigger than a chipmunk, right?”
They eventually find a spot and put their tent up. They’re wearing jackets and have a warm campfire, but he wants to go skinny dipping. It looks cold and uninviting, but they go through with it. We get the impression from her expressions that Jenn doesn’t really want to be there; this is her first camping trip.
They run into some guy named Brad on the trail. He’s a little weird, but they invite him to stay and eat with them. Brad’s a wilderness tour guide. Paul knows some places that are off “the tourist trail” that he offers to show them. Alex doesn’t like or trust Brad, but Jenn thinks he’s interesting. Brad leaves, and Alex and Jenn argue about the guy after he goes.
The next morning, Alex tells Jenn all about the trail and how much time he spent here growing up. They go off-trail for a bit, and Alex’s foot starts bothering him again. That night, Alex takes his sock off, and his foot isn’t doing so well– he pulls off his toenail. Fortunately, Jenn packed a bunch of first-aid stuff.
After they go to bed, Jenn hears something outside. She wakes Alex up, and they listen. “It’s nothing,” he insists.
It was not nothing. They find many broken branches in the morning. Jenn wants to go home, but he wants to push through to their destination. They continue on the trail, but Jenn smells something strange. She checks it out and finds a dead deer, torn apart and half-eaten.
They get to the lake, and the lake isn’t there. He reminds Jenn that they don’t have a map. Jenn looks for her phone, but Alex left it in the car because he didn’t want her to use it. They argue, and she calls him a loser who messes up everything. Alex says the plan was to propose to her at the lake that they can’t find.
They decide to make camp and try to find their way back to the trail in the morning. There’s a thunderstorm that night. As they sleep, we hear a bear outside rummaging around. Their food is gone in the morning, and Alex blames a racoon.
They pass a “bear bed” as they walk and decide they’d better press on. That night, the two make up after their argument, but then they hear footsteps in the wood and hide in their tent.
Morning rolls around yet again, and Alex proclaims, “We are going to be OK.” The bear is parked just outside their tent. Jenn pulls out her bear spray, and then the bear comes inside the tent. The bear bites Alex in the leg and claws Jenn’s arm before Jenn gets a chance to drive it away with the spray.
Alex screams in pain as Jenn wraps his leg, but almost immediately, the bear comes back and drags Alex into the woods. Jenn takes off running once she is sure that Alex is very, very dead. She doesn’t get very far before she falls and knocks herself out.
She climbs a tree and passes out for a while, when she wakes up, Jenn finds a steam and gets a drink finally; she left everything back at the ruined tent. She spots the bear again, and this time it chases her. She climbs down a waterfall and falls down, breaking or spraining her leg badly. She splints it and finds a stick to use as a crutch. She passes out again.
When she wakes up, she spots a deer right in front of her. She limps on and comes to the river where they parked their canoe. She painfully climbs in and pushes off. She eventually manages to row back to the ranger station. Brad is there, organizing a tour group, and he runs over to help.
Alex is an idiot. He doesn’t really know where he’s going and then refuses a free map.
The acting is good from the very small cast. The gore effects are pretty good, but we don’t really get to see a lot of the actual bear. The cinematography started out fairly straightforward, but as things progressed the shots grew shorter and burrier to make things feel rawer and more confused.
It’s completely predictable, but it looks good and is well acted. If you want to see a film about a bear eating people, this is the one for you!
• Directed by Scott Mann
• Written by Jonathan Frank, Scott Mann
• Stars Grace Caroline Currey, Virginia Gardner, Mason Gooding
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 47 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes bad things happen to good people because they make stupid choices. Granted, things happen to make things worse, but the two main characters put themselves in this situation. Overall, it’s pretty good though and one to make your palms sweat.
Becky and Dan Connor climb a mountain. Vertically. With not enough safety equipment. Friend Shiloh Hunter is there too. Dan falls, and we see that there is a safety line, but since it’s about to pull out of the wall, it’s not a very good one. He does, in fact, fall to his death. Credits roll.
Almost a full year later, Becky’s father, James calls, but she lets it go to the machine. He eventually tracks her down at a club to tell Becky that she needs to get over Dan. She’s getting carried away with self-pity. He’s not wrong, and she knows he’s not wrong, but she doesn’t want to listen. She goes home and does pills and booze.
Then Hunter comes over. She has a plan and needs a partner. She wants to climb the B67 TV Tower. Becky mopes and whines, but the next morning, she agrees to do it. Hunter does all this risky stuff for her YouTube channel, and she uses the proceeds to fund her traveling.
They stop at a diner near the tower, and Hunter shows us an improv way to recharge a phone by plugging it into a lightbulb socket. They drive as close as they can to the tower; it’s way out in the desert, and they have to walk nearly a mile from the car to get there, past a bunch of vultures eating a nearly dead animal.
They arrive at the foot of the huge tower. It’s over 2000 feet tall. Becky starts to cry, “I can’t do it.” Hunter gives her a pep talk about “kicking fear in the ass.” Becky gives in and starts climbing; there’s a ladder, so how hard could it be? The camera pans to a support cable looking all wobbly. We see loose bolts and worn ladder rungs all over the place; this tower isn’t being maintained.
Two thousand feet later, they arrive at the top of the main tower, where there’s a platform. There’s another two hundred meters of vertical pole to climb, but it’s got a rickety ladder too, so they don’t stop. Hunter climbs up to the big dish antenna, and Becky is terrified but forces herself to do it at Hunter’s prompting. Becky watches as a bolt falls off past her face.
Hunter makes it to the top, where there’s a teeny, tiny little platform about four feet wide. Becky scrabbles up behind her, and we see another bolt fall off. They launch a drone and take crazy footage of Hunter hanging by one arm from the tower. Hunter wants Becky to hang by one hand too, and Becky doesn’t have enough sense to argue.
Becky finally calms down and gets into it. She brought Dan’s ashes along to dump from the top of the tower. Oddly enough, Hunter cries too. They decide to climb back down.
Becky goes first, and the entire ladder collapses under her. There is much screaming and dangling as the ladder impacts the ground nearly a half-mile below them. Hunter manages to pull Becky back up, but it doesn’t look easy.
The ladder is gone.
Neither of them have cell phone signals. “We’re too high for signals,” Becky says; that’s not how that works, but they are way out in the desert. All their water and supplies are down at the tower platform. Hunter is sure that someone must have heard all that metal hit the ground. Not only that, but Becky has a big gash in her leg from the falling debris or something.
As they wait for help, both of them talk to the camera for the YouTube channel. They get the bright idea to send a message to Hunter’s many Insta followers. They’ll hit “post” and then dangle the phone from a rope in hopes of getting some coverage down below them. It doesn’t work. What if they just drop the phone, reinforced inside something like “the egg drop challenge?” They use Hunter’s shoe and bra to pad the fall.
They see a man and his dog walking down at the base of the tower. They scream, but he doesn’t hear them. They throw shoes down to get his attention, but only the dog notices. The man actually finds the shoe, but then he doesn’t look up.
Night falls. Becky watches old videos on Hunter’s phone. There are two men in an RV down below, and the two girls shoot off their only flare. The two men see them on top of the tower but instead of calling help, they steal Hunter’s car. Ouch!
The sun comes up, and Becky figures out that Hunter had been having an affair with Dan, Becky’s husband. Awkward! Hunter tells the whole story, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Becky takes off her wedding ring.
Hunter thinks maybe the rope is long enough to reach the satellite dish far below them. She might be able to climb down there and reach their backpack. She climbs down, but it’s not long enough. She swings, lets go of the rope, and lands on the big dish. She gets a drink of water. The rope is quite a way out of reach for her.
Hunter uses her selfie stick to gain a few feet and hooks the backpack onto the dangling rope. She jumps off the dish and grabs the backpack and rope. Now Becky has to pull Hunter back up. She gets all the way to the top and then slides all the way back down, slicing up her hands, but she’s all right otherwise. Now it’s completely up to Becky to pull Hunter up– but she does!
Now with the backpack in-hand, they write a note and put it in their drone. They can see the diner from where they are; can the drone make it that far? No. The battery starts to fail, and they barely manage to retrieve the drone. They don’t have any power to recharge it.
It gets dark again, and in the middle of the night Becky wakes up to being alone except for attacking vultures. No- it’s just a dream. Hunter looks up at the bright blinking red airplane warning light above them and decides she can use her little socket trick to recharge the drone. She can’t do the climb, so Becky has to do it.
Becky has to climb another hundred feet or so on a small pole. Hunter says, “It’s just like pole dancing!” Becky unscrews the bulb and has to hotwire it somehow to charge the plug– she uses her wedding ring. It works. Still, it’s gonna take hours to charge, right? Well, through the power of imaginary filmmaking, she holds on to that pole with her legs and fingers for however long that takes while avoiding swooping vultures pecking at her injured leg.
She climbs back down to where Hunter is. They wait for the diner to open and try the drone again. It flies all the way to the road and then gets hit by a truck about a hundred feet short of the diner.
Suddenly, Becky has a burst of reality. Hunter fell to her death when she was going for the backpack yesterday. She’s been hallucinating her for most of the day.
There’s a thunderstorm that night, and it gets pretty hairy. Becky records a personal video for her father, how he was right about everything.
The next morning, the vultures come for Becky, and she grabs one. She kills it and eats it raw. Fed and recharged, she ties her rope and starts climbing down to where Hunter’s body lies. She takes off Hunter’s shoe and puts her phone in it like before– then she puts it inside the hole in Hunter’s belly and rolls her off. Then the satellite dish she’s sitting on starts to buckle.
We cut to Becky’s father, who arrives with helicopters, ambulances, and a zillion cops. Becky is there– she survived.
So, who’s going to talk Becky into climbing something crazy next year?
The B67 TV tower is real, and it’s the fourth tallest structure in the USA. The establishing shots of the tower are real, and the part where the actors are shown on the tower is a 100-foot-tall replica. There was minimal CGI and no green screen used in this film.
This is a great advertisement for “extreme sports” of all kinds. Fear exists for a reason.
They made a big deal about recharging the drone, but their phones managed to keep a charge for three days? Yeah, right. Hunter’s face is untouched after 24 hours with the vultures? I think they go for the eyes first.
The bears, sharks, and freezing temperatures of this week’s films didn’t get to me in the least, but Kevin and I both had sweaty palms throughout this one. It was all just so unnecessary and stupid in the first place; these two really kinda had it coming to them.
It’s the stupidest situation of all the films this week, but it’s also the best made and most tense.
Devil's Pass (2013)
• AKA “The Dyatlov Pass Incident”
• Directed by Renny Harlin
• Written by Vikram Weet
• Stars Holly Goss, Matt Stokes, Luke Albright
• Run Time: 1 Hour 40 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s your typical alien time-traveling zombie mutant cave-dwelling murderous Russians kind of movie. And it’s found footage too! They took a true event that has been hard to explain and made a way-out explanation for it. It was pretty well done overall, with Horror Guy Kevin digging it more than Horror Guy Brian.
We are told that in 1959, nine Russian hikers ventured into the wilderness of the Ural Mountains. Two weeks later, all nine were found dead. It has become known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident.
We cut to Holly King, a student who talks about “solving” the Dyatlov Incident. She and Jenson are going to make a film looking into the story. The deaths have been blamed on Hypothermial Dementia, but Jenson disagrees, thinking that all nine wouldn’t get it at the same time.
They first need to fly to the “Mountain of the Dead,” which is near the accident site. Audio expert Denise Evers, the mountaineer Andy Thatcher, and J. P. Hauser, another climber, are all going along as well.
We cut to news breaking about the rescue attempts for the five missing students. They mysteriously disappeared. One expert thinks they froze to death, and another thinks there was some kind of alien intervention, as there have been a number of interesting occurrences there in the past few years. The students’ recording information was found and just released this morning.
We switch to “found footage mode” and we watch Holly crying that “We’ll never get out of here!”
One month earlier, Holly narrates that they’ve landed and are on the way to a small town. They disembark the train and walk in; there’s a lot of snow. They go to interview one man who was the tenth man in the Dyatlov party, but they find that he’s already dead– or maybe not, there could be a cover-up. We also see that none of the five students speak Russian.
Sergei the bartender promises to take them all to the next town in the morning. By the time they get there in the back of the pickup truck, Holly’s eyelids are frozen shut, so it might be cold.
They interview Sergei’s relative, who was there in the rescue party for the Dyatlov people. She says that they were sad but not surprised to find no survivors. It was still strange because some of them were naked and undressed. “Something was wrong in that place.” She is adamant that they found eleven bodies, not the nine that were reported. The old lady says the report was false, she knows what she saw.
As the group walks on, Jensen says he thinks it probably is aliens, but the others don’t think that’s likely. They arrive at the Mountain of the Dead, and the weather gets bad. They make camp for the night, and we get some talky-time with the characters. Holly records something that sounds like an animal roaring.
The next morning, they wake up and find strangely shaped footprints outside their tent. Jensen insists that they’re yeti footprints. They are barefoot prints but it’s too cold for bare human feet and Holly insists that it’s not yetis. Andy and J.P. think the others are pranking them. They continue hiking up the mountain.
They find a lot more footprints up higher. They start, go for a short distance, and then just disappear. Jensen says he’s heard yetis before back when he saw demons. He’s clearly got issues. That afternoon, they arrive at Dyatlov’s Pass. Holly details who the nine dead hikers were back in 1959; the cause of death for all of them was officially hypothermia, but some of them also had broken bones.
The guys notice that the compass, their GPS, and most electronic devices have stopped working. They wander around in the dark for a while and Holly digs up a door to a hidden cave. The door locks from the outside, and Jenson says that’s to keep something inside, not the other way around. Jenson wants to nope out of there at this point, but Holly gives him the “Truth is right here!” speech. Holly doesn’t want to tell the others since they’re all really jumpy.
That night, there’s an avalanche and much carnage. Denise is killed. Jenson swears that it was a conspiracy– there were big booms before the avalanche started, and Holly agrees with him at this point. Andy is hurt, and they have to reset his broken leg.
Holly decides to tell J.P. about the door. They fire off their flare gun, and soon, two men approach without packs. How’d they get there without packs? Could they be the government agents that everyone thinks set off the avalanche? Since someone on the mountain shoots at the two men, that seems unlikely. But someone is shooting at our heroes too.
Holly, Jenson, and J.P. go hide in the bunker, and the men outside lock them inside. They pull a switch, and a generator comes on, giving them light. It’s a long tunnel. Then the lights go out, and we get night-vision mode. Holly swears she saw something down here before the lights went out. They find a desk with lots of records of people killed in action. The lights come back on. There’s also stuff there about the Eldritch, the Russian version of the Philadelphia Experiment and teleportation.
There is much tunnel-wandering. They find a dead Russian soldier. They come to the conclusion that this soldier let something out; something that killed the man. There’s also a whole pile of non-human-looking skeletons. J.P. goes missing.
They find a video recording of them finding the video recording. Jenson says that the Philadelphia Experiment allowed for time travel, so this might be related to that.
They hear J.P. scream and find him being eaten by skinny-looking creatures who chase them around in the dark for a while. The creatures can teleport, which is new.
The two lock themselves into a room with a gigantic fossil. The things can’t teleport through the solid doors. The fossil thing activates, and it looks like a huge portal. Jenson says it must be a teleporter. The creatures must have come through this wormhole-transporter thing. Jenson wants to go through the portal and see what happens. They are trapped and have no other means of escape. “There aren’t any controls. That means it either goes to one fixed place or to wherever you picture in your mind.” They agree to mentally concentrate on the location right outside the bunker door because it’s fresh in their memories. They walk into the Stargate-like portal and disappear.
And Holly and Jenson become the “extra” two people the old woman found on the rescue mission that we heard about. And the odd machine she mentioned seeing by the extra bodies is their video camera, still recording. And they are creatures now, morphed by their trip.
It’s fine, but I think I would have enjoyed it more without the found-footage point of view. It’s all pretty interesting until they get into the caves, and then it becomes like a dozen other “dark tunnel” movies. We saw the final twist as soon as the portal made its first appearance.
It’s ... OK. Not great.
• Directed by John Boorman
• Written by James Dickey
• Stars Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 49 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s man versus nature when adventure goes wrong with some bad people thrown in to make it worse. It’s thriller and drama more than horror, but it’s certainly got the horror elements in there. And it’s uncomfortable to watch at times. It still holds up as a very entertaining and well-made film.
As the credit rolls, characters discuss the situation. The Cahulawassee River is about to be flooded to become a new lake. Lewis wants to visit it before it disappears. Lewis proposes that he, Ed, Bobby, and Drew drive up there from Atlanta, take their canoes down the river, and be home by Monday. One of them asks if there are hillbillies up there, and Lewis says there are.
The group stops at an abandoned-looking gas station. The area may already be evacuated before the flooding begins. Bobby makes fun of the man’s hat. “You don’t know nuthin,” the man tells him. Drew plays his guitar, and a weird looking kid nearby plays similar notes on his banjo. This quickly evolves into the iconic “Dueling Banjos” song, which everyone stands around and enjoys. The guy in the hat even starts dancing.
Lewis and Ed hire a couple of guys to drive their cars to the pick-up point, and they talk about insurance; Lewis doesn’t believe in it. They meet the Griners and hire them to drive their cars, but Griner doesn’t understand why they’d want to mess around with that River. “You get in there and want to get out, you’re gonna wish you wasn’t.” The Griners laugh at Lewis when he can’t find the river at first.
As Lewis drives like a maniac through the woods, we get the impression that he’s a bit of a thrill-seeker. When Ed asks if there are snakes around here, we see that he’s the opposite. They get a look at the river, “In a couple months, this will all be gone. One big, dead lake.”
The four men climb into their two canoes. It all looks like good, calm fun. They pass the banjo kid on a bridge, but there’s no more music. They come to some white water, and Lewis says that if they capsize, “don’t hit the rocks with your head.” They all make it, although Ed and Drew end up doing part of it backwards.
Lewis has lots to say about civilization failing and survival will be the only game. They make camp for the night. They joke and horse around, but Lewis hears something in the woods, and the other three laugh behind his back. Lewis doesn’t find anyone or anything, but he’s not at ease when he returns. It soon becomes clear to us that Lewis doesn’t think much of the city-loving aspect of his friends.
In the morning, Ed goes out early with his bow before anyone else gets up. He spots a deer and shoots it– no, he backs off at the last second and misses. Bobby complains about the all-night mosquitos and wants to finish up their ride today.
Ed and Bobby spot men in the woods when they stop to take a break. The four were planning to go to Aintry, but the men say this river doesn’t go that way, they must have taken the wrong fork. Bobby wonders if they’re making whiskey up here, and the men take offense to that. The two men lead Ed and Bobby up into the woods at gunpoint.
They tie Ed to a tree and order Bobby to take his pants off. Bobby strips down naked for the men, who ride him around like a pig and then rape him at gunpoint. “I bet you can squeal like a pig!” Ed spots Drew and Lewis paddling downstream through the trees. They look at Ed next, “He’s got a real pretty mouth,” says the toothless one.
Suddenly, the mountain man gets an arrow through his chest as Lewis shoots him from behind. The toothless man with the gun runs away. Drew wants to call the police and tell them what happened, but Lewis says they shot a man in the back– it’d be better not to get the police involved. Drew says that if they hide the body, they’re setting themselves up for a murder charge.
Lewis reminds them that in a month, this whole area will be a lake. No one will ever find the man’s body. Bobby agrees with Lewis, “I don’t want this getting around.” Ed reluctantly agrees, outvoting Drew. The four men dig a hole and bury the dead man.
Then they all get into the canoes and row away. Ed yells at Drew to put his life jacket on, but Drew’s in too much shock to listen or paddle properly. They hit more whitewater. Drew falls overboard, and soon all four men wind up in the water. About a dozen waterfalls later, Ed, Lewis, and Bobby catch up with each other, but Drew has drowned. Lewis, whose leg is injured, says he thinks Drew was shot.
They talk about the toothless man with the gun who got away. He’s up in the hills shooting at them, and he killed Drew. Lewis says, “Now you get to play the game.” With Lewis incapacitated, Ed climbs up the rocky mountain face with his bow to get to where they assume the sniper is hiding.
In the morning, Ed wakes up and the gunman is right around the corner from him. He draws his arrow, but he gets the shakes just like with the deer. Somehow, he ends up falling on his own arrow. He pulls out the arrow as the gunman approaches, but the gunman ends up dead.
Ed lowers the dead man down the cliff face to where Robby is waiting. Then he climbs down the rope as well, which looks a lot easier than climbing up. Bobby says Ed did a great job, but Ed’s in shock. They tie the dead man to a big rock and dump him in the river.
Ed and Bobby load unconscious Lewis into the one remaining canoe and get underway. They come across Drew’s body hung up in some rocks. They can’t really tell if he was shot or not, so they bring the body along with them. They end up weighing him down with rocks as well.
Lewis screams in pain as they navigate more rapids. They come out of the rapids to the end of the trail. Ed tells Bobby what their cover story needs to be. Ed walks a long distance to get to their cars and an ambulance for Lewis.
A big family lets Bobby and Ed eat with them when they’re done with the doctors. Ed breaks down crying at dinner, and Bobby looks like he wants to as well, but he brings up the topic of food, and everyone lightens up.
Bobby comes to Ed the next morning, “They don’t believe us.” They argue about what Bobby’s story was, but he swears he told the story they agreed upon. He also thinks they found the broken canoe upstream of where they said it was. One of the dead men’s brother-in-law has reported him missing, but there’s nothing tying him to Ed and Bobby.
They go to the hospital, and the doctor says Lewis might lose his leg. Lewis wakes up and he remembers their made-up story and sticks to it. Ed volunteers to talk to Drew’s wife and take his car home. Bobby says goodbye; “I don’t think I’ll be seeing you for a while.”
Ed goes home to his wife and has a nightmare about one of the bodies surfacing. He’ll get over it eventually…
It’s the perfect nature adventure movie; it’s got camping, hiking, hunting, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting, even a sex scene!
Why take the time to dig a hole and bury the man when they could dump him in the river or just row away and leave him? They clearly weren’t thinking too clearly.
This was Burt Reynolds’s first big film role. He’d been in a few movies and lots of TV prior to this, but this was his breakthrough film. Same with Ned Beatty and Ronnie Cox. Jon Voight had been in “Midnight Cowboy” and a few other things before this. “Dueling Banjos” was not, in fact, written for this movie, it was written in 1955 and used in an “Andy Griffith” episode in the 60s. All of the cast does really well here, especially considering they did their own stunts to save money. Jon Voight got a stunt double for one water scene, that was it.
It’s a very uncomfortable film, especially for the time period. Excellent!
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