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Posted on February 7, 2016

Deliverance (1972) and The Horror Film

Dawn Keetley

The frame above is from the end of John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972). Having made it home from his weekend trek into the terrifying “backwoods” of Georgia, where he faced the rape of his friend Bobby (Ned Beatty), the prospect of his own rape, and the death of his friend—where he saw a man killed and then himself killed a man, Ed (John Voigt) struggles to return to familiar domesticity. The film concludes with Ed jolting awake in terror from a dream in which a hand rises out of the water—the same water into which had disappeared the body of his friend as well as those of the two “hillbillies” he and Lewis (Burt Reynolds) killed.

A recent Twitter poll I conducted suggested that fans of Deliverance narrowly consider the film horror (53% to 47% out of 40 votes). I don’t think it’s quite so unclear. And the ending of the film is one of the principal reasons why I believe that Deliverance deserves an unambiguous place in the horror canon. For Ed, there is no closure, no safe return to normalcy. The ending suggests that he is permanently traumatized by his sojourn in the wilderness—that the horrors he saw, the horrors he perpetrated, will forever inhabit him.

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