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Devil's Pass & Avalanches

Ghouls discuss the found footage conspiracy film, Devil's Pass which attempts to solve the Dyatlov Pass Incident in a rather creative and annoying way (and gives found footage films a bad name). Ghouls also solve the Dyatlov Pass Incident using weather science! This film is barely about avalanches but this episode is very much about them.

Sources in episode:

Controlled avalanches, why do mountain rescue services set them off and how?

The Russian Conspiracy Theory That Won’t Die

Devil's Pass

What to Do if You’re Caught in the Path of an Avalanche

Have Scientists Finally Unraveled the 60-Year Mystery Surrounding Nine Russian Hikers’ Deaths?

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Media from this week's episode:

Devil's Pass (2013) Director: Renny Harlin

Summary by IMDB: A group of students go to the location of the infamous Dyatlov (die-at-lov) pass incident to make a documentary, but things take a turn for the worse as the secret of what happened there is revealed.


Devil's Pass: Blair Witch Project in the Snow

Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

This movie makes me really hate that I went to film school. This is what people think of when I tell them my degree. Technically, I was in media which is broader and mostly because I disliked my fellow students when I was a film student. They are all like this.

Also, this film gives found footage films a bad name. Found footage films need to explain within the narrative the reason for having cameras present. Further, they need to explain why the footage is decent enough for film quality. In many films, the excuse is “film students want to get to the bottom of something.” which is silly because why them? The Dyatlov Pass Incident has been a mystery forever and these kids are like, “WE are the ones who will solve it. Has to be us.” There are many amazing found footage films that feature the film crew as integral characters not just the subjects such as The Last Exorcism, REC, Creep, and the Bay. Found Footage horror is my favorite subgenre so I can go on forever about how great they can be when they’re done well. This film is not that. Reading it and seeing the trailer, I was assuming it’d be another The Descent but in snow. Sadly, it is not.

Does it accurately represent the horrors of a natural disaster?

Lol no?? The avalanche actually plays little to no part in this film which is funny considering the “mystery” they are looking to solve in their documentary was actually caused by an avalanche. However, something interesting about the avalanche in the film is that it is *spoilers* triggered on purpose! The natural disaster was actually used as a weapon to hurt these nosey and intolerable Americans. So I did some digging to see if humans can cause avalanches. In a quick google search, I came to an alarming response thanks to which says, “In 90 percent of avalanche accidents, the victim or someone in the victim's party triggers the avalanche.” So cool. Skiing is not in my future plans any longer.

According to the Mountain Rescue Services actually trigger controlled avalanches on purpose and for good reasons. In an article titled, Controlled avalanches, why do mountain rescue services set them off and how?, they explain why “A key reason for triggering these avalanches is, strangely, for safety reasons. What happens is that mountain rescue will often trigger small, controlled avalanches in order to prevent larger ones from occurring. Mountain towns, railway lines, and ski resorts where avalanches pose a risk to life will often see and hear explosive charges used to cause smaller avalanches.” You can have a little avalanche as a treat.

How do they cause avalanches on purpose? According to this article, they use explosive charges. These are triggered usually in predetermined areas via Helicopter, Gazex Cannons or Metal pipes fixed to the side of the mountains on high-risk slopes. And if you’re wondering what a Gazex Cannon is, they are large pipes facing downwards which emit hot gases at vulnerable slopes to set off small controlled avalanches.

So even though the Russians in this film are certainly not causing these controlled avalanches to protect neighboring towns, they are attempting to protect humanity from this terrible film. Honestly, they’re the real heroes.

What is this film trying to teach us about humanity?

Though it barely touches upon real avalanches, I will say that it represents humanity pretty spot on! People often flock to the scene of crimes or disasters to cover it (for fame) and neglect all the warning signs. They fail to acknowledge that people literally died here and deserve some respect. The other disaster loosely covered in this film is that of the Dyatlov Pass Incident which we covered in our snow episode along with the Donner Party and the film, Frozen (no, not that one). Warning but they show the literal dead bodies of real human beings in the beginning of this film that really surprised me. I wasn’t prepared and it was not cool.

But here’s a rundown of the Dyatlov Pass incident (named for one of the members):

On February 2, 1959, a group of 9 college student ski hikers died in the Ural Mountains of western Russia under mysterious circumstances. They were traveling from Sverdlovsk (now called Yekaterinburg) in January. According to an article in the Atlantic titled, The Russian Conspiracy Theory That Won’t Die by Alec Luhn,

They planned to ski about 200 miles over 16 days, summiting several peaks along the way, allowing enough time to be back for the spring semester. After catching a lift with some lumberjacks and following a sleigh driver north, the group skied out of an abandoned village on January 28, eventually making it to their final campsite on February 1. Searchers later found their tracks along a frozen river, and, upon reaching Dead Mountain, stumbled across a half-collapsed tent on a steep, windswept slope. Inside, food supplies and outer clothing were laid out, as if the group had been about to cook dinner. Nine pairs of boots stood along one wall. Bizarrely, the tent appeared to have been slashed open—from within.

All of the victims were found wearing little clothing and no shoes; two of the hikers had fractured skulls, and another two cracked ribs, but in no case was there any external injury; one of the corpses was missing its tongue. The hikers had fled from their tents in the middle of the night, cutting their way out from the inside and at some point had removed their clothing. Also one of them had a larger-than-expected amount of radiation on them. They actually didn’t even find all of the bodies until after the snow started to thaw which only further complicated the investigation.

Theories behind the incident range from psuedo-science, real science and paranormal conspiracy. Kat went through quite a lot of them in our episode but here’s: “paradoxical undressing,” - scoffed at in the film, is a real occurrence that happens when people experience hypothermia. In fact, I mention some of the strange behavior that a member of the Donner Party exhibited after experiencing hypothermia that resembles the theories!