Blu-ray Movie Review – The Survivor (1981)

The Survivor
Directed by David Hemmings
Courtesy of Severin Films & CAV Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1981
Blu-ray Release Date: January 10, 2017

I’m sure we will all agree that the 70s and 80s gave us some of the greatest horror classics of all time. I could name a dozen right now, but I’m pretty sure we’re all familiar with those for the most part. On the other hand, those two decades also offered up some curious and interesting titles that aren’t quite good enough to be considered classics, but are still entertaining nonetheless. Many of these are lesser known movies that developed cult followings after brief stints in the cinema.

THE SURVIVOR is an Australian film that is technically classified more as exploitation (or Ozploitation, to be precise) rather than horror, but I wouldn’t label it as a classic. Possibly a cult classic in some circles, however I personally would not even peg it as that. Despite an auspicious start, the movie’s ending has too many flaws to overlook. The resulting film is an overall letdown, even though it contains some crazy intense scenes and one of the most terrifying plane crashes ever put to celluloid.

If you are not familiar with THE SURVIVOR, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Severin Films & CAV Distribution:

When a 747 crash lands in a Sydney suburb – a still-spectacular sequence that helped make this the most expensive Australian film of its time – the inferno kills everyone on board except the pilot (Robert Powell of JESUS OF NAZARETH and TOMMY) who emerges from the wreckage miraculously unscathed. But as a local psychic (Jenny Agutter of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) begins to communicate with the spirits of the doomed passengers, it will unlock a nightmare of madness, murder and supernatural horror.

Hollywood legend Joseph Cotten in his final film performance co-stars in this shocker directed by British film icon David Hemmings (BLOW-UP, DEEP RED) and produced by Ozploitation maverick Antony I. Ginnane (THIRST, PATRICK, TURKEY SHOOT), featuring haunting cinematography by Academy Award® winner John Seale (THE ENGLISH PATIENT, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD) and now transferred in 2k HD for the first time ever.

I admit I’m greatly disappointed this film turned out the way it did. The first ¾ of the film are excellent: a breathtaking plane crash sequence followed up with sixty minutes of intrigue and gut-wrenching suspense. The shots involving the burned baby doll are BEYOND creepy, and I foresee nightmares with that imagery haunting me in my future. But unfortunately, the last quarter of the film is bad enough that it negates all the previous positives.

From a technical standpoint, THE SURVIVOR is shot well and looks great onscreen. The HD restoration for the Blu-ray is excellent, and the picture quality is top notch. Likewise, the sound rocks as well.

The acting is also very good. I particularly enjoyed Robert Powell’s performance as the main character, Keller. He is joined by Jenny Agutter, who gives a powerful performance as Hobbs. The rest of the cast does a fine job, although I don’t think anybody necessarily gives a breakout performance.

The special effects in THE SURVIVOR are staggeringly good. As I mentioned, the plane crash is amazing, as is the wreckage it leaves behind. I had no problems believing it was real. Also of note are the burned bodies; they are grisly and gruesome, just like you would expect something that horrific to be.

But the story is unfortunately what kills this film, or more accurately the END of the story. Most of the plot is great; there’s a lot of buildup and not many clues, which makes for some wonderfully wretched tension. But when the “big reveal” comes about, it makes no sense. It almost seems like it was thrown in as an afterthought. The ending also leaves MANY questions unanswered, with the biggest one for me being **SPOILER ALERT**: WHY did Keller’s burned body wind up in the cockpit at the end, and HOW? Not to mention, **MORE SPOILER ALERTS** what did the bomb on the plane have to do with the supernatural aspect of the film? As the film ended, I was left more aggravated than entertained.

Still, I cannot deny how powerful the first ¾ of the film is. This could have been a powerhouse of a movie. But the writer(s) seem to have lost their drive and creativity towards the end of the film. Even the writer on whose book this was based (James Herbert) said the film was “rubbish”. The Blu-ray does boast some great special features, though, including:

Special Features:
• Not Quite Hollywood Extended Interviews with Producer Antony I. Ginnane and Cinematographer John Seale
• The Legacy of James Herbert
• Robert Powell on James Herbert – Archive TV Special On Location Featuring Interviews with Stars Joseph Cotten and Peter Sumner
• Archive TV Interview with David Hemmings
• Archive TV Interview with David Hemmings and Robert Powell
• Antony I. Ginnane Trailer Reel
• TV Spot


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