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In Cliffhanger (1993), there is a scene where Gabe is fighting with an opponent in a cave. His opponent seems to win, but finally Gabe grabs him and lifts him up against a stalactite which pierces his body completely and kills him.

I don't understand why that stalactite is red before Gabe lifts up the other guy. I have watched that scene multiple times frame by frame to understand it, but to no avail. To make things worse, we can view the red stalactite for a second or so, which is quite long. At least, it is probably too long to be caused by a mistake; therefore, I believe that there must be some sense in it.

enter image description here

I have tried to research whether there could be conditions in caves which make one stalactite have a completely different color than all others, but didn't find respective hints. Anyway, the stalactite in question doesn't just look red, but does look like its surface is completely covered by blood.

I then watched the whole fight multiple times from the beginning on to see whether one of the fighters had been injured by that stalactite before the end of the fight; this could explain the blood. However, I could not spot where this happened.

Why is that stalactite (apparently) covered with blood before Gabe uses it to kill the other guy.

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    idk the scene ( find us a link) but stalactites are wet by definition. That's how they form. Colouring can be from any metal salt dissolved in the water as it drips. They can't be "full of" anything, they're solid rock, They're not slimy, they're just smooth. – Tetsujin yesterday
  • Thanks for the comment. I'll try to edit my question. I am a non-native speaker; with "full of blood", I meant that the whole surface of the stalactite is covered with blood. Of course, I know that stalactites are not dry, but what is shown in that scene is far beyond any situation I have seen in documentations. I also have an idea what makes the colors of stalactites, but I have no explanation why this one is plain red and all others in this cave are not. – Binarus yesterday
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    Please add at least one screenshot. There are a few explanations but it's fruitless to discuss these without seeing this stalactite. – Matt yesterday
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    Would it be a copyright infringement if I published a screenshot from my DVD (bought legally)? I tried to provide a link, but couldn't find one. – Binarus yesterday
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    If the screenshoot is needed to support an argument in a discussion or film review it can be used, because it can be seen as a quotation and those are usually exempt from copyright. A video clip is often showing too much and is therefore more problematic. By the way, the video above is blocked in my country, because uploading to YouTube without such a context always requires permission from the copyright holder, which did not happen in this case. – Matt yesterday
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It isn't covered in blood. It's just the lighting, or the prop has been stained.

To make things worse, we can view the red stalactite for a second or so, which is quite long. At least, it is probably too long to be caused by a mistake; therefore, I believe that there must be some sense in it.

If it was a mistake and noticed in editing, it is far too minor to justify the cost of a reshoot. Cliffhanger is not exactly concerned with accuracy.

However, I agree there's some sense to it. I think it was done deliberately to make the stalactite stand out against the grey background.

At 2:35 we get a shot of the pink stalactite.

enter image description here

The point of this shot is to grab the audience's attention towards the stalactite. Let's consider what this shot would have looked like with a grey stalactite. My hack job is below.

enter image description here

The shot doesn't work, what are we supposed to be looking at? I believe they deliberately tinted it. Alternatively, they did several takes of the impalement, the fake blood stained the prop, and they found the pink-stained version worked better.

After a cut to Kynette's face, we're in a different shot showing the impalement about to happen. Now it's grey, a continuity error, but only for a moment. This shot was likely done at a different time and location, possibly with a different prop, or possibly before they decided to tint it.

enter image description here

Then, goosh, there's the blood.

enter image description here


There is a far worse continuity error in this scene. Just before impalement Gabe lifts Kynette, no stalactite.

enter image description here

After the lift, which is all done with the arms, it's right in front of Gabe's face.

enter image description here

And then it isn't.

enter image description here

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  • Thank you very much for your long and detailed answer and your effort with posting the screenshots - I have given the answer to you, and +1 of course. However, there seem to be contradicting opinions; see also my own answer ... – Binarus 11 hours ago
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    @Binarus Thanks. That was a weird rabbit hole, and I got to show off my Photoshop skillz. ;) – Schwern 10 hours ago
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Bear in mind, that I can only work with the screenshot, since the video clip is blocked in my country.

There are 3 possible reasons that come to mind.

  1. It is a mistake. They inserted a clip with the fake blood on the stalactite before the kill scene because they forget to shoot it without blood. We can safely rule this one out, as this mistake could have easily be corrected in the colour grading stage that comes after the cutting. The scene has mainly blue light, so they could have reduced saturation of the red in post production easily. It is highly unlikely that everybody involved overlooked it.

  2. The stalactite is covered with iron oxide, which can also be found in human blood as part of hemoglobin. It is causing the red colour. If a small iron ore vein or deposit is directly above the stalactite and washed out by water, then it's possible to have only one stalactite covered with it, not the rest. Update: after reading Schwern's answer it is clear there was no natural iron oxide on the stalactite as it is also shown in grey colour.

  3. It is intentional. Painting it red makes it stand out as something evil especially when you have blood in mind. It is a foreboding sign that something bad may happen. There doesn't have to be a logical reason for the stalactite to be covered with blood before the scene, as this movie is fictional. It is an artistic means of the creative arsenal of filmmakers when they decide to include allegorical signs even if contradicting logic. I never saw an action movie in my life that had not at least a few scenes that were effective but in conflict with the laws of physics or logic. But with reason no. 2 in mind, a naturally red stalactite is theoretically possible, so it's somewhat convenient as it offers a logical explanation, leaving the viewer in an ambiguous state of wondering whether it's natural or an evil sign.

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  • Thank you very much for the answer, and +1. What you say absolutely makes sense. However, I'd be interested which of the reasons applies here (according to common sense). Therefore, I'll give the answer to @Schwern. Also, see my own answer for an update ... – Binarus 11 hours ago
  • @Binarus You're welcome and I would have picked Schwern's answer too. – Matt 11 hours ago
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Stalactites are formed by the deposit of minerals over time. Depending on the makeup of the minerals, they can vary in color.

To quote this article by the National Park Service:

Most scientists believe that the color of speleothems are determined by the mineral content. Pure calcite is white and almost colorless. Iron and other minerals, as well as acids from surface vegetation, combine with calcite crystals to add shades of red, orange and black to the color of speleothems.

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In the meantime, I did further research, and it could very well be a mistake. In IMDB, they even call it a goof:

When Gabe lifts Kynette to the stalactite, we see that it's already covered in blood, even dripping, before he pushes him up, piercing him to death.

The link is here.

Now I am very disappointed. I didn't notice any of the other mistakes in this movie, because I usually want to enjoy movies and relax watching them, and thus don't look for such mistakes. But that scene has always worried me.

I guess that we will never find out what was really happening. I believe that the other answers are better than this one, but I wanted to bring another opinion to peoples' attention.

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    I stepped through the YouTube clip in slo-mo and there is something hanging off the end, like a thread. Maybe there's a director's commentary. It's like the red pill, once you start seeing goofs there's no going back. – Schwern 10 hours ago

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