Release dateMay 18th 1981 WriterMichael T. Murphy (story), Larry Sturholm (story), Peter Bellwood (screenplay), Larry Ferguson (screenplay) ScreenplayLarry Ferguson, Larry Sturholm, Peter Bellwood, Michael Timothy Murphy ProducersWilliam N. Panzer, Peter S. Davis CastDavid Huffman (David Jackson), Cassie Yates (Linda Steele), Albert Salmi (Clyde Whittaker), Art Carney (Harry Truman) Similar moviesRelated Ernest Pintoff movies
TaglineDramatization of the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
Mount st helens the turmoil of creation continues
St. Helens, aka St. Helens, Killer Volcano, is a 1981 made for cable HBO film directed by Ernest Pintoff and starring David Huffman, Art Carney, Cassie Yates, and Albert Salmi. The film centers on the events leading up to the cataclysmic 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state, with the story beginning on the day volcanic activity started on March 20, 1980, and ending on the day of the eruption: May 18, 1980.
The film opens up with an image of Central Oregon's Mount Bachelor and the Central Oregon Cascades, which is the fictional setting for Mount St. Helens itself. On March 20, 1980 an earthquake of 4.1 on the Richter Scale strikes Mount St. Helens, signalling the first signs of volcanic activity in 123 years.
During the first earthquake, a flight of quail becomes disoriented and smashes into the windshield of an Aerospatiale SA341G Gazelle helicopter being used for logging operations. Pilot Otis Kaylor lands the helicopter, only to be accused of nearly killing a group of loggers.
Shortly afterward, David Jackson (a fictionalized analog of real-life volcanologist David Johnston), a United States Geological Survey scientist, is sent to investigate the activity. Upon arriving in the small town of Cougar (a real-life town located around 11 miles southwest of Mount St. Helens), he quickly befriends a single mother named Linda Steele (played by Cassie Yates), a waitress at a fictional restaurant named Whittaker's Inn. While there, he stirs up concern with the owner, Clyde Whittaker (Albert Salmi), and a group of farmers and loggers.
Art Carney stars as the 83-year-old Mount St. Helens Lodge owner Harry Randall Truman, who has a defiant attitude toward the idea of leaving his home.
Later in the film, as the volcanic activity increases, so does the attraction between David and Linda, and the two eventually fall in love. In their last scene in the movie, he packs Linda and her son off to safety and stays behind for the work that needed to be done on Johnston Ridge, presumably on the day before the eruption. Later that night, he pays a last visit to Harry Truman.
On May 18, 1980, David hikes to a ridgetop on the north face of Mount St. Helens to monitor some scientific equipment, then the mountain explodes, apparently killing him and Harry Truman in his nearby house. As the film ends, Linda soon realizes the horror of the day's events when a radio announcer declares that one of the first victims was Jackson.
The film ends with a scene of a small tree growing back to life amidst the barren moonscape that was the North Fork Toutle River valley.
Art Carney as Harry Truman
David Huffman as David Jackson
Cassie Yates as Linda Steele
Albert Salmi as Clyde Whittaker
Ron O'Neal as Otis Kaylor
Tim Thomerson as Sheriff Dwayne Temple
Bill McKinney as Kilpatrick
Redmond Gleeson as Hendricks
Nehemiah Persoff as Mr. Ellison
Brendan Burns as David Crockett
Henry Darrow as Lloyd Wagner
The entire movie was shot on location in Bend, Oregon and at Mt. Bachelor in Central Oregon's Cascades.
The "Mount St. Helens Lodge" in this movie was Elk Lake Lodge located approximately 30 miles from Bend along Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.
Film production crews utilized facilities at the Inn of the Seventh Mountain (Seventh Mountain) resort for lodging and production offices.
The eruption images of Mt. St. Helens were sourced from actual file footage of Mount St. Helens, much of it sourced from ABC News, KOMO-TV in Seattle, and KATU-TV in Portland.
The setting for Spirit Lake was actually a lake west of Mt. Bachelor named Sparks Lake. In the movie, both Bachelor and the South Sister (of the Three Sisters Volcanic Chain) served as Mount St. Helens.
Highway 504, known now as the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway, in the movie was actually Oregon State Highway 46 (Cascade Lakes Highway).
The sequence of photos during the depiction of the May 18, 1980 eruption showing the north face of Mt. St. Helens self-destructing were taken by an amateur photographer at the Bear Meadow campsite 11 miles northeast of the peak. The photographer, Gary Rosenquist, became a household name shortly following the eruption, and his photo sequence was widely used by the scientific community to reconstruct the events that led to the eruption.
One of the movie's associate producers, Seattle filmmaker Otto Seiber, nearly lost his life in a filming expedition on Mt. St. Helens - shortly after the May 18, 1980 eruption. His film crew had been dropped off by helicopter on May 23, yet as they filmed the devastation, their compasses started acting up due to the magnetic field differences in the ash. This resulted in them getting lost, and nearly killed by the 2nd large explosion on May 25. Brief clips from the documentary titled "The Eruption of Mount St. Helens", one that resulted from that expedition, and a previous one several weeks before the eruption, were included in the movie.
Filming of the movie began in November 1980 and was finished by April 1981. It aired during the one-year anniversary.
Gerri Whiting, sister to lodge owner Harry Truman, served as a historical consultant in the movie. According to Truman's sister, Harry Truman and David Johnston were indeed friends and spent some time together.
One of the movie's writers was Larry "At Large" Sturholm, a Seattle TV personality famous for humorous local news stories. Sturholm was murdered in 1989 before his subsequent screenplay Shadow Games could be completed.
Fictionalized aspects of the film
There was no highway anywhere near Mount St. Helens numbered "607" as mentioned during a brief scene at the Mount St. Helens Lodge. There was, however, a major access road that led to Spirit Lake, called State Route 504.
Real-life volcanologist David Johnston never fell in love with any woman while working at Mt. St. Helens. He did, however, fall in love with one woman prior to working on Alaska's Mt. Augustine Volcano.
In the scene depicting the events of the May 18, 1980 eruption, there is a shot of a man driving a car down a dirt road and running into a tree. He later gets out of his car and starts videotaping. This was actually a play on the story by actual news photographer David Crockett, who worked for KOMO TV in Seattle. He actually never hit a tree. As the story goes, his path was blocked by rapidly developing mudflows taking out stretches of a logging road he was using as an access route.
Harry R. Truman, contrary to his depiction in the movie, never owned a dog. In fact, at the time of the eruption he owned 16 cats and raccoons all of whom lived indoors with Truman. It also depicts in the movie that Harry was fishing on Spirit Lake the morning of the eruption, however, he was most likely inside of the Lodge at that moment.
The waivers of liability mentioned in the movie were not mentioned in real life until the day before Mount St. Helens erupted (they depict April 30 as the date of mention in the movie), and were not even issued in Cougar as the movie suggests. Instead, they were brought up per request of then-Governor Dixy Lee Ray and then-Washington State Patrol Chief Robert Landon as a means to appease scores of home and property owners staging a showdown in the town of Toutle. The movie also makes no mention of the scores of such homeowners being led to the mountain by a State Patrol-led convoy after the aforementioned waivers had been signed.
David Johnston did not have to hike Coldwater Ridge to get to his observation post (the ridge depicted in the movie for his outpost), and the movie also erroneously omitted the fact that he had a truck and camper up there. The way up Coldwater Ridge at the time was a series of switchback logging roads that led to a small clearing, at which his truck and camper were located. Incidentally, the propane tank and remnants of his camper were found in 1993, three miles away from where his observation site was located.
There were no recorded incidences of any pilot in the area running into disoriented birds, or vice versa.
The movie depicts David Jackson getting involved in a fight. In reality, David Johnston did not get involved in such a fight.
The first "newscast" in the movie mentions the Iran Hostage Crisis as being one of the major newsmakers of the day. It however erroneously states several figures. The movie states that there were 53 hostages, yet only that many were held to the end. In that newscast, the anchor also says, "Today marked the 139th day of captivity for the 53 American Hostages..." On March 20, 1980, when activity began, that would've actually put the real duration for the hostage crisis at 106 days.