The Story (continued)
At shot-gunpoint, in a nightmarish and frightening sequence, the two sexually-perverted rustics viciously target them. They order them up into the woods where they tie Ed (with his own belt) to a tree. The mountain man sexually humiliates Bobby - the chubby-faced, defenseless intruder into his territory. He forces the fat salesman to first strip down to his underwear.
After a degrading roll around in the dirt and up a steep, leaf-strewn hillside while fondling and groping his prey, the mountain man/rapist makes Bobby squeal like a female sow before sodomizing him. Strapped against a tree, Ed helplessly watches in horror:
Mountain Man: Now, let's you just drop them pants.
Mountain Man: Just take 'em right off.
Bobby: I-I mean, what's this all about?
Toothless Man: Don't say anything, just do it.
Mountain Man: Just drop 'em, boy! (To Ed - at knifepoint) You ever had your balls cut off, you f--kin' ape?
Mountain Man: Look at there, that's sharp. I bet it'd shave a hair.
Toothless Man: Why don't ya try it and see?
Bobby: Lord, lord. Deliver us from all.
Toothless Man (To Bobby): Pull off that little ol' bitty shirt there, too. (To Mountain Man) Did he bleed?
Mountain Man: He bled. (To Bobby) Them panties, take 'em off. (After attacking him) Get up, boy. Come on, get on up there.
Bobby: No, no, no. Oh, no. No. Don't.
Mountain Man: Hey boy. You look just like a hog.
Bobby: Don't, don't.
Mountain Man: Just like a hog. Come here, piggy, piggy, piggy. (Holding Bobby's nose as he straddled him from behind) Come on, piggy, come on, piggy, come on, piggy, give me a ride, a ride. Hey, boy. Get up and give me a ride.
Bobby: All right.
Mountain Man: Get up and give me a ride, boy.
Bobby: All right. All right.
Mountain Man: Get up! Get up there!
Bobby: All right. (His underwear was pulled off) Oh no, no!
Mountain Man: Looks like we got us a sow here, instead of a boar.
Bobby: Don't. Don't.
Mountain Man: What's the matter, boy? I bet you can squeal. I bet you can squeal like a pig. Let's squeal. Squeal now. Squeal. (Bobby's ear was pulled)
Mountain Man: Squeal. Squeal louder. Louder. Louder, louder. Louder! Louder! Louder! Get down now, boy. There, get them britches down. That's that. You can do better than that, boy. You can do better than that. Come on, squeal. Squeal.
Lewis and Drew silently paddle up and come upon the scene of brutalization. Meanwhile, the Toothless Man (with a bare-gummed sneer on his face) prepares to order Ed to perform fellatio upon him at gunpoint: "He's got a real purty mouth, ain't he?" With his bow and arrow, Lewis shoots and kills the Mountain Man with one arrow that is shot through his back and protrudes from his chest. The Toothless Man drops his shotgun and scurries away into the woods, as the Mountain Man staggers around with the arrow through his body - and then falls dead.
Nervously and dramatically, the outsider-tourists argue about what to do next - should they report the killing to the authorities or submerge the evidence in the ground?
Lewis: What are we gonna do with him?
Drew: There's not but one thing to do. Take the body down to Aintry. Turn it over to the Highway Patrol. Tell 'em what happened.
Lewis: Tell 'em what exactly?
Drew: Just what happened. This is justifiable homicide if anything is. They were sexually assaulting two members of our party at gunpoint. Like you said, there was nothin' else we could do.
Ed: Is he alive?
Lewis: Not now. Well, let's get our heads together. (To vengeful Bobby) Come on now, let's not do anything foolish. Does anybody know anything about the law?
Drew: Look, I-I was on jury duty once. It wasn't a murder trial.
Lewis: A murder trial? Well, I don't know the technical word for it, Drew, but I know this. You take this man down out of the mountains and turn him over to the Sheriff, there's gonna be a trial all right, a trial by jury.
Drew: So what?
Lewis: We killed a man, Drew. Shot him in the back - a mountain man, a cracker. It gives us somethin' to consider.
Drew: All right, consider it, we're listenin'.
Lewis: S--t, all these people are related. I'd be god-damned if I'm gonna come back up here and stand trial with this man's aunt and his uncle, maybe his momma and his daddy sittin' in the jury box. What do you think, Bobby? (Bobby rushes at the corpse, but is restrained) How about you, Ed?
Ed: I don't know. I really don't know.
Drew: Now you listen, Lewis. I don't know what you got in mind, but if you try to conceal this body, you're settin' yourself up for a murder charge. Now that much law I do know! This ain't one of your f--kin' games. You killed somebody. There he is!
Lewis: I see him, Drew. That's right, I killed somebody. But you're wrong if you don't see this as a game...Dammit, we can get out of this thing without any questions asked. We get connected up with that body and the law, this thing gonna be hangin' over us the rest of our lives. We gotta get rid of that guy!...Anywhere, everywhere, nowhere.
Drew: How do you know that other guy hasn't already gone for the police?
Lewis: And what in the hell is he gonna tell 'em, Drew, what he did to Bobby?
Drew: Now why couldn't he go get some other mountain men? Now why isn't he gonna do that? You look around you, Lewis. He could be out there anywhere, watchin' us right now. We ain't gonna be so god-damned hard to follow draggin' a corpse.
Lewis: You let me worry about that, Drew. You let me take care of that. You know what's gonna be here? Right here? A lake - as far as you can see hundreds of feet deep. Hundreds of feet deep. Did you ever look out over a lake, think about something buried underneath it? Buried underneath it. Man, that's about as buried as you can get.
Drew: Well, I am tellin' you, Lewis, I don't want any part of it.
Lewis: Well, you are part of it!
Drew: IT IS A MATTER OF THE LAW!
Lewis: The law? Ha! The law?! What law?! Where's the law, Drew? Huh? You believe in democracy, don't ya?
Drew: Yes, I do.
Lewis: Well then, we'll take a vote. I'll stand by it and so will you.
Under stress, the normal demeanor of the urban professionals becomes more primal and crazed. Drew persuasively argues that they must take the body with them and lawfully report the incident as self-defense (a "justifiable homicide") to the police. Drew is outvoted when the decent, pipe-smoking Ed casts the decisive vote in the 'democratic' process - a consequential vote that Drew calls "the most important decision of your whole life...We're gonna have to live with this for the rest of our lives." Lewis' viewpoint eventually wins out with Ed's collaboration - they decide to bury the man without reporting the incident (fearing the vengeful local residents wouldn't accept their explanation and would be antagonistic toward them in a local trial). They expect that the waters of the future dam site would keep the corpse a secret and cover up their own awful crime. They add another dead creature to the soon-to-be dead wilderness.
To prepare for the burial, Lewis pulls the arrow out of the chest of Bobby's attacker. The foursome awkwardly carry the body to a chosen gravesite. In a frenzy, they dig a grave with their bare hands, animalistically scratching and clawing with their hands. The gravediggers place the Mountain Man and the shotgun in the shallow grave, but the body's stubborn, outstretched arm won't willingly remain buried under the soft earth.
In haste, the panicked quartet anxiously race to their canoes to "paddle on down to Aintry to get the cars and go home." As they descend and approach more frightening rapids downriver, Drew has neglected to put on his lifejacket. He rises, shakes his dazed head, loses his balance, topples and pitches (or falls) forward into the rough water in some noisy, churned-up rapids and disappears under the surface - he doesn't resurface. Ed's wooden canoe hits a large boulder, capsizes, and splinters into two pieces. The second canoe collides with it and also capsizes. All of the men are catapulted and spilled into a vicious set of cascading water and carried downstream in the frothy white foam. Lewis suffers an excruciatingly-painful right thighbone compound fracture when he strikes some underwater rocks - he cries out: "My leg's broke." With viscera (bone and flesh) hanging out of his pant's leg where the wound was sustained, Lewis conjectures that "Drew was shot" by "that toothless bastard." Clutching his leg and screaming in agony, Lewis finds refuge on some jagged rocks on the shoreline next to the river where high cliffs overlook them. Drew's damaged guitar floats by in the water, as Ed vainly calls out for his companion - his voice echoes throughout the gorge's canyons.
They paranoically suspect that they are the targets of gunshots, fired by the murdered man's buddy poised high atop the towering cliff above them ("he's right up there"). Ed surmises that they are retaliatory targets: "He's gonna try and kill us, too. If he killed Drew, he's gonna have to kill us." The three are trapped in a gorge, feeling like sitting ducks [filmed at Tallulah Gorge]. Now they are compelled to play the deadly 'game' of survival. Ed yells at the group's self-proclaimed leader who has suffered a debilitating fate:
Ed: What are we gonna do, Lewis? You're the guy with the answers. What the hell do we do now?
Lewis: Now you get to play the game.
Ed: Lewis, you're wrong.
Bobby is reduced to a fearful, whimpering weakling, and Lewis is so seriously injured that his leg must be splinted with a canoe paddle. Alone, Ed must provide active leadership and guide his friends to safety and civilization. He becomes changed forever by the struggle to survive in the malevolent, backwoods world. In a daring scene, he scales the face of the sheer rock cliff within the gorge in the darkness, with a bow and arrow on his back, to end the threat of a rifleman that he suspects shot Drew. Hanging precariously, he glances at his wallet's picture of his wife and child - but they slip from his grasp. He fears: "God damn it, you're never gonna get out of this gorge alive!"
Exhausted by the torturous climb, he falls asleep at the top, waking to the early morning light and a silhouetted glimpse of an unidentified mountaineer with a lever-action rifle. He presumes the figure is the toothless man bent on revenge. Ed's hands shake as he aims his bow and arrow. At the same instant the arrow releases, he slips on the rocks and painfully falls on his side onto one of his own arrows - it pierces his side. It first looks like he has missed his target. The hillbilly with the shotgun staggers over to shoot his wounded attacker from point-blank range, but then falls dead from the arrow protruding through his neck.
Ed frantically searches inside the man's mouth to identify him but remains uncertain whether he is the toothless man. He hurls both his bow and the man's shotgun into the river far below, and then slowly lowers the corpse down the gorge's cliff face at the end of a rope. When he uses the rope to rappel down the cliff, the line snaps and he is tossed into the river with the corpse. He is almost drowned under the surface when he becomes entangled with both the line and the clinging dead man. To hide any possible clues of the unknown killer, he later weights down the body with rocks and sinks it into the river.
The three finish their journey (with the seriously-wounded Lewis lying on the floor of the canoe). They locate Drew's lifeless, drowned body along the way, lodged against a boulder and a fallen tree with his disfigured arm twisted behind his head. They scour his body for evidence of bullet wounds [whether he was shot or not remains uncertain], and then are also compelled to dispose of his weighted body at the bottom of the river:
Bobby: What are you going to do with Drew?
Ed: If a bullet made this, there are people who can tell.
Bobby: Oh God, there's no end to it. I didn't really know him.
Ed: Drew was a good husband to his wife Linda and you were a wonderful father to your boys, Drew - Jimmie and Billie Ray. And if we come through this, I promise to do all I can for 'em. He was the best of us.
In the final, jostling leg of the journey, the sides of their aluminum canoe scrape and crash against the rocks, causing severe pain for the incapacitated Lewis. At last, they return to civilization at Aintry, marked by junked cars at the river's edge. Bobby is jubilant at the sight of rusted hulks of cars:
We made it. We made it, Ed. We made it. We're back, Ed.
Tenaciously insistent that they all have the same story, Ed manufactures an explanatory alibi for their entire weekend:
Ed: Everything happened right here. Lewis broke his leg in those rapids there, and Drew drowned here.
Bobby: No, nothin' happened here.
Ed: Bobby, listen to me. We got to stop them from lookin' up river. It's important that we get together on this thing. Do you understand?...We're not out of this yet.
At Aintry, Ed is stunned to discover that the Griner brothers delivered their cars as they had arranged. After phoning for help, both Lewis and Ed are taken away in an ambulance for medical attention. Even the simplest signs of civilization (paper tissues and hot water) are appreciated by Ed who is obviously overwhelmed by his experience. In a local boarding house where they are placed by country lawmen, Bobby and Ed are served a home-cooked meal that includes corn, and a conversation about "the darndest-looking cucumber you ever seen."
But they do not tell the local law officers what has really happened to them, and deny having any encounters with hillbillies. Bobby is worried that their story isn't holding together: "We're in trouble. They don't believe us." Even though Bobby claims he "told 'em like we said," Ed doesn't believe that his cowardly pal is telling the truth. Their story (that both Lewis' broken leg and Drew's drowning occurred at the end of the trip) contradicts the discovery of their shattered wooden canoe upstream. At the river's edge, a skeptical Deputy Queen (Macon McCalman) and suspicious Aintry County Sheriff Ed Bullard (James Dickey) report a missing hunter in the woods (related by marriage to Deputy Queen) from a couple of days earlier, but the officials have no proof and "nothin' to hold them for." The Sheriff knowingly responds with an omen of their gruesome secrets:
Let's just wait and see what comes out of the river.
As Ed and Bobby are driven back into town to the County Memorial Hospital to visit Lewis, the taxicab driver (Pete Ware) confirms their own guilt-ridden hopes:
All this land's gonna be covered with water. Best thing ever happened to this town.
To their relief, when Lewis regains consciousness in the hospital, he confirms their story by claiming: "I don't remember nuthin'. Nuthin'". Before they leave Aintry, the smiling, omniscient Sheriff asks a few more biting questions and then offers home-grown advice:
Sheriff: How come you all end up with four life jackets?
Bobby: Didn't we have an extra one?
Ed: No, Drew wasn't wearin' his.
Sheriff: Well, how come he wasn't wearin' it?
Ed: I don't know.
Sheriff: Don't ever do nothin' like this again. Don't come back up here.
Bobby: You don't have to worry about that, Sheriff.
Sheriff: I'd kinda like to see this town die peaceful.
Ed and Bobby agree to not see each other for a while. Returning home, Ed is 'delivered' from the malevolent horrors of nature and reunited with his wife (Belinda Beatty) and son (Charlie Boorman, the director's son who played a major role in The Emerald Forest (1985)).
The final frightening image is of Ed, snapping awake next to his wife from a vivid nightmare of his journey. He is fearfully haunted by a white, bony hand (of the murdered Mountain Man) rising above the surface of the water of the newly-flooded wilderness. The man's stiff, outstretched hand - pointing nowhere - serves as a signpost. Ed lies back in his wife's arms - unable to rest and experience 'deliverance' from his recurring nightmare of their experience with extreme violence.