On it’s own, the jangling banjo tune featured in the 1972 film Deliverance doesn’t have a hint of foreboding to it. But when it’s layered over the antics of it’s four main characters, it builds an increasing sense of dread. The movie centers around four friends, Lewis, Bobby, Drew and Ed embarking on a canoe trip down the Cahulawasse River, which is about to be dammed and turned into a massive lake. When the group arrives in the area at the beginning of the film, they stop to gas up and hire a few locals to drive their cars down to the end of the river, where they will meet them in a day.
As the camera cuts from the musical exchange between a steely eyed local and Drew to the increasingly obnoxious antics of Lewis and Bobby, the audience, along with Ed, becomes increasingly unsettled. The whole scene provides foreshadowing for the conflict the group will face with a pair of locals later in the film, and the tune itself will bring a feeling of dread long after the movie is over.
The song itself was written by Arthur Smith in 1954, and was originally called Feudin Banjos. Although Smith was not originally credited when the song was included in Deliverance, after a successful lawsuit he was added to the credits and received a settlement and royalties.