FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Feb 28, 2007

Because I am a Nerd...

...I thought it would be interesting to do a little study of the visual cues found in Neil Marshall's The Descent, a film you may have heard me mention here once or twice or 10,000,000 times. While Mr. Marshall is certainly a filmmaker who wears his influences on his sleeve, this shot comparison venture I undertook would surely leave him sniggering; though most of these are intentional, I think in actuality he simply set out to make a good horror film. But dammit! The movie is so full of meaning and symbolism and whatnot- if you're looking for it. In fact, I find it so rife with shit to talk about that I'll be teaching a class on The Descent this April at The Learning Annex. My course will be on Tuesday nights, sandwiched between Jimmie Walker's ongoing series "Make 'Em Laugh- Everything You Need to Know for a Dy-No-Mite Comedy Routine!" and Linda Hunt's lecture "Mixed Messages: Yes, I Am Small, But No, I'm Not a Man".

How many of these references did you pick up on?


The entire weekend-outing-gone-horribly-awry angle in The Descent owes a great deal to John Boorman's 1972 existential survivalist classic, Deliverance. While some nods are obvious, from the opening white water rafting sequence to Juno's sporting some Burt Reynolds-style sleeveless climbing gear, some are less obvious. First off, the fictional National Park where the girls go caving is named after the Chattooga River, deep in the Appalachian country of Georgia, where Deliverance was largely filmed.

There are some extremely subtle references to Drew (Ronny Cox), who meets a rather grisly end:

Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) emerging from the underground is reminiscent of Deliverance...

...and also Brian DePalma's


By the time Sarah rises out of the chum pool, one can't help but notice the striking similarity she bears to Sissy Spacek as poor ol' Carrie White. Man, Sissy Spacek is so fucking good in this movie.

Sarah also comes to resemble Sally Hardesty in


In fact, in addition to the visual cues, The Descent shares a bit thematically with TCM as Sarah and Sally both descend into insanity over the course of their respective films. They'd make quite a cuckoo nutso tag team, don't you think? OMIGOD I just said "they both descend" and the film is called The Descent...can you believe it? I totally need to add that to my lecture notes.


The idea of a character being driven mad is also central to Kubrick's 1980 horror masterpiece, The Shining. The film also gets one of the biggest visual nods in Marshall's film, as early driving sequences in both movies are filmed in the same manner:


Far less obvious are the winks to Ridley Scott's Alien; the films have more of a feel in common than anything else, but the sequence depicting Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and Sarah climbing over the bone dam is much like the sequence wherein John Hurt climbs up and gets an eyeful of the space jockey:


Juno's morning jog is a direct reference to the morning jog of Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in Silence of the Lambs:

The poster for The Descent also pays homage to Silence, borrowing from the poster. Of course, both films ape the image from Philippe Halsman's photograph Salvador Dali In Voluptate Mors, which in turn is based on Dali's gouache painting Female Bodies as a Skull.

Now then, don't you feel 3% smarter than you were before you read this post? Analyzing is fun! For further discussion, though, you'll all have to sign up for my class. Anyone who brings me cookies gets an automatic A.

What? I like bribes.


S said...

I REALLY have to rewatch that movie soon! I liked it a lot when I saw it, but had heard so many good things about it I ended up feeling just a liiiiitle bit disappointed. However, the more I think back of the movie the more love I feel for it.
That US poster with the skull is beutiful, for sure. But in some way I feel it dosen´t nail the tone of the film. I cen´t really put my finger on why...

Sorry about my poor english, I´m from overseas...

Anonymous said...

And you know what? It had credits - at the beginning AND at the end...just like EVERY OTHER MOVIE EVER MADE.

Stacie, sweetie, I'm starting to worry about you a bit...seriously, get some sleep.

SikeChick said...

Um, Final Girl, do you, like, work or go to school or turn your DVD player off, um, ever? :o)

Stacie Ponder said...

Wow, what's with you guys?

I thought this would be a fun, interesting post, but I guess I was wrong.

I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

No, no - it WAS good...just a bit, ummm, intense. But good - really!

Are you okay? Kidding!

Stacie Ponder said...


I'm baffled, but whatever. No matter. I'll be sure to post some more Halloween remake news soon- that's always interesting.

Jesse Hammer said...

Don't listen to em', Stac. You tell me where to sign up for this class and I'll be there, front row center with my glow sticks and pick ax, by God.

Heather Santrous said...

Don't worry Stacie, they are just jealous they didn't come up with the same connections you did is all. You keep up the great work and sign me up for that class as well!

Stacie Ponder said...

Heather and Jesse- don't forget the cookies! :)

I certainly picked up on some of the more obvious references in the film, such as The Shining, Carrie, and TCM. The more obscure nods, such as Alien and some of the Deliverence stuff, I got from Neil Marshall in the DVD commentary tracks. I thought it would be cool to compare the films and see the similarities...I don't understand how posting about it would cause anyone to question my sanity.

The early dogfight in Star Wars (with Luke manning a gun in the Millenium Falcon) is ripped directly from some old war film- I've seen comparisons of the two films run side by side and I thought it was interesting. Same thing here.

Anonymous said...

Stacie, this is great. Heed not the complaints. I heard worse visual analysis from my film professor in college. Plus the Dalí-Halsman-poster thing is recherché. That type of knowledge is sexé.

Your combination of eye, erudition, and style would make you a face-off-rocking professor of Descentology.

Amanda By Night said...

You know, I actually never made the connection to Sally Hardesty here. I'm pretty stupid though.

It actually kind of strenthens the American ending to have both characters driven mad. Personally, I like that ending.

Great article. I'm not sure I'm 3% smarter, but maybe 2.134%?

Anonymous said...

Okay, I was not questioning your sanity, Stacie.

The way you listed all of the similarities and the extensive use of images, all piled up one after the other, struck me as a tad manic and slightly obsessive - that's all.

I'm sure you're sane (of course, just having to state that...well). And I'll take the class too. (But I might sit in the back...)

Stacie Ponder said...

Thanks for the kind words, Bill (French is classy!) and Amanda. I don't mind the American ending at all- both versions, in fact, are quite a downer.

Pat said...

Hey Stacie! This post rocked out loud! I had recognized a few things while watching the Descent, such as The Shining aerial shot, the morning run (I love Silence of the Lambs), and the overall atmosphere from Alien. And I can't believe I didn't catch the obvious freaking Blood-Covered Carrie reference! I love the King's films I should have seen that. Anyway, awesome post, and I would love to see more like it in the future!

SikeChick said...

No offense meant. Just good-natured joshing.

Anonymous said...

The images you collected of the various women-cheerleader-skull-formations is pretty cool! The Dali one is great!

All these film references make me think of Sam Raimi's 3 Stooges homage in EVIL DEAD 2.
I read about it in the Evil Dead Companion (or whatever the hell that book's called) but haven't gotten around to doing the research to check it out myself.
Anyways, I guess when the walls start leaking blood, it's supposedly a verbatim visual homage to one of the films where the Stooges are plumbers. Although in their case, it's all water leaks, not blood.
That sounded insanely inspired and one of the great film homages ever!

As a film teacher, I'm assuming your power-point lectures would be pretty freaking nifty.

Steve said...

Cool post Stacie, but now I feel like the entire shot of The Descent is one giant ripoff without anything new or original...

Anonymous said...

very pointed & well done study!

Stacie Ponder said...

Cattle- I had no idea about the Stooges homage in ED2...that's very cool! I need to watch ED2's been too long.

Yes, the PowerPoint presentation will be awesome, but I'm most looking forward to making everyone suffer through The Cavern so we can compare the films--YOU WILL FEEL MY PAIN!

Wait, scratch that last part.

Steve- these shots are so subtle, they don't feel like a filmmaker's cop out to me. I think they're homages or tributes in the truest sense- giving props to influences and the such.

"props", I'm so cool.

Anonymous said...

The post was incredible. It takes a true eye to pick up on all the subtle homages, but it also takes a certain degree of passion and you seem to have both in spades. Amazing film, though I would also give a nod to the creature design for Gollum and the Orcs from lord of the rings, cuz there seemed to be slight similarities in mannerisms and looks. Wonderfully written. you have THE horror blog as far as I am concerned.
Show zombies more love though and i will sacrafice a lamb in your name and honor and youtube it.

Erich Kuersten said...

Wow, good work, are you really teaching a class at the learning annex on this movie? That is AWESOME! I'll be there, if only to get a glimpse of the Pynchonesque Ponder

Anonymous said...

Love this movie (one of the top 5 horror movies easily), and love your post. I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed the homages to Deliverance, The Shining, etc. I've been called obsessive for talking about this movie too much, too, just like about all the hidden visual cues in The Shining!