Deliverance directors secrets – near deadly stunts, odd tricks and dark legacy

Deliverance is the camping horror movie which makes you appreciate hotels.

The 1972 survival classic, celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, sees four men chased down treacherous river rapids by a vengeful toothless savage after they kill his rapist hillbilly pal.

All pretty horrific stuff, it's not the kind of adventure one would wish to emulate.

READ MORE: Squealing 'inbred' family whose eyes point in different directions 'like in Deliverance'

So it's perhaps surprising that the movie went on to generate a tourist boom at the location where it was predominantly filmed.

And in an exclusive interview with the Daily Star, legendary director John Boorman revealed the decision to take to the dangerous stretch of river would tragically cost some fans their lives.

River tragedies

In the years following the release of the film, there were reportedly 22 deaths of fans visiting the area.

The fictitious Cahulawassee River in the film is, for the most part, the real-life Chattooga River in Rabun County in northern Georgia.

Boorman selected the location specifically for its remoteness and the dangerous white water stretches. And he tried his best to make the area look even more ominous.

"I looked up various places and eventually found that one," he said.

"Unfortunately there were a lot of pretty wild flowers growing along the river edge, so in the river scene I desaturated the colour.

"It was very difficult to do it but I wanted to make the river look as dangerous as possible.

"When the picture came out, a lot of people went up there with their canoes and some of them lost their lives.

"I was asked if I felt responsible for that.

"I'd made the river look as dangerous as possible. So if they wanted to take the risk then good luck to them.

"But no, I don't feel responsible for the deaths of those people."

No stunt doubles

The actual making of the film was a tale of survival to rival the one on-screen.

In a quest to make the film as raw and realistic as possible, Boorman asked the four main actors, Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox, to perform their own stunts.

But it wasn't plain sailing – or canoeing.

As they shot one scene in the rapids, Beatty, who played Bobby, almost came a cropper.

Boorman recalled: "Bobby fell out of the canoe and into the water. He went under and didn't come up.

"It was about 30 seconds of panic then he suddenly popped up further down.

"After he said to me, 'I thought I was drowning. I just thought how would John finish the film without me? How would John have found of way of doing it?'

"And that's what inspired him to live and he came up."

Boorman's quest for authenticity was embraced by the four main actors. To a point.

"There were moments when the actors looked at the rapids and didn't really feel like it," revealed Boorman.

"So I got into a canoe, and they watched me. I knew all about canoeing before I started the film and I shamed them into doing it – there were moments like that."

Boorman also revealed that one of the main stars, Jon Voight, almost turned down the role of Ed Gentry.

The actor had recently finished making a film which was a complete failure and he was ready to give up.

"I persuaded him to do the film, and it took a lot of persuasion," said Boorman.

Voight features in one of the most nail-biting scenes, scaling a vertical cliff face – again without the use of a stunt double.

Boorman laughed: "Afterwards he told everybody, 'John saved my life and then spent ten weeks trying to kill me!'"

Ronny Cox's gruesome party trick

Ronny Cox features in one of the most famous scenes – a musical duel with banjo-strumming inbred kid Lonnie.

Boorman revealed playing the guitar wasn't his only talent – and one of his strange party tricks would become part of the script.

"He [Ronny] was playing around with my kids, who were quite young at the time, and he did this trick – double jointed thing – and could twist his arm behind his back," said Boorman.

"I said, 'That's going into the picture.'"

It led to the stomach-churning scene when Ronny's character is found in the river.

"All we had to do for that was put a bit of makeup on the shoulder like some bruising and that's all we did," recalled Boorman.

"You use everything you can."

Boorman is now 89 but his memories of making Deliverance aren't muddied by time.

Despite the film's huge success, Deliverance was not his favourite.

"It was certainly one of my most successful films, it grossed over 100 million in America and more elsewhere, and I did suitably very well out of it!"

His favourite was Hope and Glory – another film of a people under attack. The 1987 depicts Boorman's own experiences growing up in London during World War Two.

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