Based on the novel by poet James Dickey, Deliverance is one of American cinema’s greatest moments. Following a group of city boys as they canoe a soon to be dammed river, the film is a keen interrogation of masculinity and the struggle of white collar identity that precedes Fight Club (1999) by almost thirty years. Yes, on the surface, it’s a powerful thriller but, just as John Boorman’s earlier work Point Blank (1967) is much more than a revenge film (comparison with Payback (1999) shows just how much more), this is existential stuff indeed and, with the river and surrounding wilderness taking on a character of it’s own, it is also a close relation to eco-thrillers such as the criminally unseen Long Weekend (1978) and the criminally derided The Happening (2008).
But what of the legacy of Deliverance? Well, aside from people being unable to hear banjo music without thinking of mountain men engaging in surprise aggressive sodomy (so culturally ingrained is this that the reference is more widely known than the film), there was, is and forever will be a veritable flood of survival horror populated by city folk being chased by inbreed types with missing teeth, shotguns and a taste for flesh (take that however you like). Like all things in life, there are upsides with perhaps the best example being Southern Comfort (1981). Placing a group of National Guardsmen in conflict with local Cajuns, Walter Hill’s film spoke of military and urban arrogance and offered undeniable (some might say overly blatant) parallels with the Vietnam War... unfortunately, since then, the focus has almost entirely been on the antagonist’s ever increasing grotesqueness and violence.
Where Deliverance mocked the urban audience it’s grandchildren, like the onscreen inbreeders they feature, have cannibalised themselves to such an extent that all there is left are further contributions to the ugly western cinematic tradition that ‘the other’ is always to be mocked and feared... and probably wants to bum you.