Supernatural Thriller
The Survivor
Dir: David Hemmings
Star: Robert Powell, Jenny Agutter, Joseph Cotten, Peter Sumner
Cert / Year: 15 - R / 1981
Format: DVD R2

Shortly after take off, a Boeing 747 full of passengers inexplicably begins a nose dive toward a local town full of people. Due to the sheer skill of the pilot Captain Keller (Robert Powell) he averts total catastrophe by guiding the plane over the town and crashes in a nearby field, but the ensuing fireball kills everyone on the plane. All except the pilot, Keller who himself manages to walk unscathed from the ferocious fireball and devastation that is the scattered debris of the 747. Whilst the crash investigators try to piece together the remains of the aircraft, Keller attempts to recall the final moments of his doomed flight driven by an unseen force. He eventually teams up with psychic, Hobbs (Jenny Agutter) who offers a startling explanation for the mysterious events since the crash and the reason why Keller feels such a strong urge to recall the last moments before the crash and find those responsible for the deaths of more than 300 passengers. Passengers whose restless spirits are now baying for justice.

Surprisingly enough there aren't many films based on the horror writings of British scribe James Herbert. A writer with a penchant and appetite for sex and death, his works have terrified many an unsuspecting reader for many years. His best known works are probably The Rats and "Domain" or if you are into weird lesbian fairy sex shenanagins then "Once" is your bag. That aside, it is a great pity that his work hasn't been given as much attention by the studios as say Stephen King, because generally King's works don't translate well to celluloid and result in some dire productions. A majority of James Herbert's work however remains virtually undiscovered and could easily provide the cinemas with some really deep and soul chilling material as many of his titles have such a strong presence that they are potent and quite ripe for film, the book "The Survivor" is still one of them. Unfortunately the film is missing a huge portion of the story, in fact it is nigh on half of the story that is missing including some excellent dramatic and eerie set pieces, in addition to most of the really horrific and tense arrangements. This means that a good adaptation is still waiting out there, along with such latent classics as "The Spear" and "Moon".

Direction wise, David Hemmings is definitely much better in front of the camera than behind it, but he does manage to capture a couple of good and quite spooky moments, but they are quite pale in comparison to the book. After watching this terribly condensed and detractable version of the book you will undoubtedly want to read the book to get the whole story and see what you missed as portions of the film do leap around somewhat erratically. This is a British film at heart with a thoroughly British supernatural thriller story, a British cast and director and...... filmed in Australia. Which as you can imagine, doesn't look very English and robs Hemmings of the scope to provide more spooky atmosphere and effects which he could have infused from a British production. This was never a BIG movie and is guilty of missing a lot of potential. There is minimal actual suspense on screen but when it is done Hemmings conveys it well and quite successfully provides one or two spooky scenes even if most of it appears rather cliche now. There is little real invention here but a couple of nicely handled, poignant set pieces amongst the wreckage strewn diorama. In a post Lockerbie Britain, this is a chilling and moving basis for a story but Herbert handled it well with the book. Hemmings doesn't do a terrible job with this version but it just isn't done as well as the source material. The image of the virtually intact nose section and cockpit of a "747" amidst the blazing carnage of the crash, or the defiant, soulful, charred remains of the nose section in the crash site afterward make a memorable and memory jogging facet of the film.

The Survivor is an inconsistently chilling and occasionally atmospheric supernatural thriller with some poor direction in places. To be honest a large majority of the direction is quite flat and mediocre, affording little or no real depth to the story or the characters. There is far too much material trimmed, cropped and overlooked completely from the book to make this film as chilling and outright unnerving. The darkroom set pieces cheat the audience out of some intrinsic horror as they are missing large portions, even if what you get is eerie, in a timid half-hearted fashion. Some good symbolism sneaks in here and there but now much of it does look tired and stereotypical. Almost twenty years before the advent of M. Night Shyamalan, this film draws on Herbert's disturbing novel and bears a striking resemblance to Unbreakable. But The Survivor travelled the road of the supernatural thriller long before Cole Sear saw dead people in The Sixth Sense and there are a couple of other similarities visible throughout.

Overrall this is at best a cool to tepid little film, woefully lacking the conviction of the book and sporting a running time of just over an hour, ensuring that this plays out more like an episode of The X-Files or The Twilight Zone than a real film. A good story disgracefully crammed and condensed badly into a short film, this is one instance where you should really go and read the book because there is much more to it than what is presented here. If you're going to do it, do the darn thing right and film the story and not little bits of the book you might like and tenuously stretch the story to accomodate them. Made in 1981, this film has also dated, not terribly but noticeably and the actual crash scene is rather dull.


A tale of death, and of an evil which transcends even death

Rating: 1 out of 5

Picture 4.3 Full Frame Not a bad transfer but bit grainy
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Not a bad mix
Features Dreary static menu
Verdict Nothing, Nitsch, Nada, Nowt, Not a sausage. This is a poor disc by any standard and the transfer isn't that good either.

Rating: 0 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home