Mount St. Helens – The Killer Volcano

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German title Mount St. Helens – The Killer Volcano
Original title Mount St. Helens
Country of production USA
Original language English
Year of publication 1981
Length 87 minutes
Age rating FSK 16
Director Ernest Pintoff
Script Michael T. Murphy
Larry Sturholm
Peter Bellwood
Larry Ferguson
Production Peter S. Davis
William N. Panzer
Music Goblin
Camera Jacques Haitkin
Edited by George Berndt
  • David Huffman: David Jackson
  • Art Carney: Harry Truman
  • Cassie Yates: Linda
  • Albert Salmi: Whitaker
  • Tim Thomerson: Sheriff Temple
  • Ron O’Neal: Otis
  • Henry Darrow: Wagner
  • Bill McKinney: Kilpatrick
  • Nehemiah Persoff: Ellison

Mount St. Helens – The Killer Volcano is a 1981 film drama about the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980.


On March 20, 1980, an earthquake measuring 4.1 on the Richter scale shakes the Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington State. At the same time, loggers work for the entrepreneur Whitaker in the forests around the volcano and have felled tree trunks picked up by helicopter. Otis, a black pilot, can hardly work properly, however, as startled birds constantly crash into his helicopter. Otis reports his problems to Sheriff Temple.

Temple drives to Spirit Lake to see Harry Truman, a boat rental man who lives there. Temple tells him about the events on the mountain, but Truman’s theories seem too far-fetched to the sheriff. On the way back, a fallen tree crashes right in front of the sheriff’s car. Temple investigates the area and finds a strange yellow substance. He also encounters a camping family who alert him to fish jumping around on the surface of the water.

Earthquakes, which are occurring with increasing frequency, are attracting public interest. The United States Geological Survey sends volcanologist David Jackson to the scene. Jackson and the sheriff hit it off, and the scientist takes up residence at Whitakers Inn. In the only bar in town, Jackson clashes with Whitaker, a businessman who tries to convince him that the volcano is not active. David meets single mother Linda and befriends her.

Earthquakes shake the area again. Otis is attacked by racists on a country road, but is able to defend himself successfully. David, who is just passing by, wants to rush to Otis’ aid, but is knocked down. Nevertheless, Otis thanks David for his attempt to help. After another 4.5 magnitude quake, David contacts his agency and advises his supervisor Wagner to prepare evacuation plans for the area. To find out how many people are in the woods, Temple’s advice is for David to contact Truman. Temple also warns him that the locals are unwilling to leave their homes unless they see a good case. David and Linda take a trip into the woods. David gets into an argument with an old man who is upset about David’s parked car. Linda enlightens David that the old man was Truman

On 27 March, David sets up his equipment at the foot of the volcano. He witnesses an eruption that swirls ash and dust into the air. The eruption has torn a crater in the flank of the volcano, which is documented by television. David’s supervisor Wagner takes charge of the investigation. More and more reporters and journalists come to the volcano. Otis makes a lot of money by flying them around the volcano. Meanwhile, David and Truman are working together. Truman informs David about campers, hunters and forest workers who are out in the woods and need to be evacuated.

In early April, the small town is overrun with reporters and onlookers. Nevertheless, the evacuation of the area proceeds with the help of the National Guard. Truman, whose driveway to his home is blocked with barricades by Wagner, refuses to leave his home and breaks through the roadblock. This action arouses the interest of reporters, who seek him out and interview him. Meanwhile, Whitaker refuses to let his sawmill close

The governor has declared a state of emergency and has the town sealed off by the National Guard. But Whitaker announces at a community meeting that, after negotiations with the government and the judiciary, the place is open again to tourists and workers. Anyone who gives a waiver absolving the federal government of any responsibility will be allowed to come back, he says. David wants to object, but is told off by Whitaker. However, Truman helps David to his execution, in which he describes in detail the effects of a volcanic eruption. However, he and Wagner are forced to admit that there is no proof yet that an eruption is imminent. David witnesses many people signing the waiver. Another earth tremor that causes Linda’s house to collapse has formed a hump on the mountain. To get more information, someone needs to get a rock sample from the crater. David is flown into the crater by Otis to do this, and is able to take samples and just escape an eruption

After evaluating the results of the investigation, Wagner informs the governor on May 9 that a major eruption is imminent. David decides to stay on site at the mountain to witness the outbreak. Sheriff Temple fails in his attempt to get Truman to evacuate his home

18. May, a Sunday. The day begins like any other. But at 8:32, the volcano erupts. David and Truman are killed, and panic sweeps through the town. The pictures after the eruption go around the world.


The Encyclopedia of International Film called the film “an extremely modest disaster film, boring and inoffensive.”[1]

Cinema magazine found that only two things about the content-poor melodrama were worth watching: Art Carney and the real footage of the outbreak.[2]


The film was premiered in the USA in September 1981. In Germany, the film was released in 1984. It was also shown on German television under the title St. Helens – Der tödliche Berg.

Since Mount St. Helens became about 400 meters lower during the eruption and, among other things, its northern flank was severely devastated, the producers had to choose another filming location. As a “double”, the similar-looking Mount Bachelor in the US state of Oregon was chosen, a volcano located about 250 km south of Mount St. Helens. City scenes were also shot in the small town of Bend.

The film character of volcanologist David Jackson is based on the scientist David A. Johnston, who actually perished in the volcanic eruption. The film also adopts Johnston’s authentic last words “That’s it!”.

Historical background

At 8:32 a.m. on May 18, 1980, the volcano Mount St. Helens erupted. This caused the entire northern flank to slide due to an earthquake. A pyroclastic flow caused extensive damage to the surrounding area. A total of 57 people, including David A. Johnston and Harry R. Truman, were killed, 200 houses, 47 bridges, 24 km of railroad tracks, and 300 km of highway were destroyed. The eruption released an energy of 24 megatons of TNT, about 1,600 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Over 9 million cubic meters of timber was destroyed, the crops of surrounding farms were wiped out, and thousands of animals were killed.

The eruption is the best observed and studied volcanic eruption to date.

Web links

Individual references

  1. Mount St. Helens – The Killer Volcano. In: encyclopedia ofinternational film. Filmdienst, retrieved 2 March 2017. template:LdiF/maintenance/accessedused
  2. Cinema review