Hobbs (Jenny Agutter) enters a field one afternoon, suffering a strange feeling that something terrible is about to occur. She waits there until the evening time when, sure enough, a commercial aeroplane crashes into the field.
The emergency services race to the scene as the wreckage begins to explode. Only pilot Dave (Robert Powell) makes it out alive.
After being discharged from hospital with minor cuts and acute amnesia surrounding the circumstances leading up to the crash, Dave is intrigued by how he could possibly have survived a crash that wiped out the other 287 people on board.
His boss Slater (Ralph Cotterill) is more concerned with keeping Dave from revealing anything potentially incriminating about the flight to the local press (especially when it transpires that the airline's chairman was on board - and that Dave had been secretly shagging his wife!).
Dave, the police and the local onlookers struggle to come to terms with the gravity of the situation, the authorities wrestling with the sudden need to gracefully move almost 300 corpses from a barren field. The cataloguing of the dead, with a local vicar (Joseph Cotten) blessing each cadaver individually, is particularly chilling in its matter-of-fact delivery.
But things are not quite as they seem...
Opportunist would-be photographer Eddie is first to receive a most unwelcome visitor while developing illicit snaps of Dave and his lover. Shortly afterwards, a local fisherman's (Paul Sonkkila) quiet afternoon takes a similarly unpleasant detour. Could it be that supernatural elements are at play?
It's only when Hobbs finally catches up with Dave and ominously tells him how she feels "somehow involved" with the crash, that he begins to see the bigger picture.
Hobbs invites Dave to her home in order to discover more about the mysterious crash. Initially disinterested, Dave takes up her offer after suffering a few weird episodes himself - including his disastrous attempt at getting back behind the pilot's seat of a small private plane.
And so, the truth begins to reveal itself as the ante is upped, and Hobbs asked Dave the crucial question: "Do you believe in life after death?"...
Filmed in Australia, THE SURVIVOR is beautifully photographed. Outdoor locations are used to stunning effect and director David Hemmings exhibits a splendid command of the 2.35:1 cinematography.
Hemmings' handling of late author James Herbert's source novel material (adapted here by screenwriter David Ambrose) is restrained and subtle, allowing proceedings to slowly and steadily build into a quietly creepy treat which wisely keeps its ambiguous stance going right up until the satisfyingly grim finale.
It's always a joy to see Powell in a serious role (see also MAHLER, THE ASPHYX ...). He's typically reliable here: reserved yet human, believably vulnerable. His is a strong lead which is easy to empathise with.
Agutter is hotter here than she was in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. I deny any hot-blooded male viewer not to feel a kick in his pants when she goes loopy on Powell about an hour into proceedings. Her character isn't especially well-written but she breathes three-dimensional life into what could've been a thankless role for a lesser actress.
THE SURVIVOR comes to UK blu-ray courtesy of those lovely people at Severin Films.
The film's original 2.35:1 ratio is adhered to here, for this 1080p transfer which comes housed on a region-free disc as a nicely sized MPEG4-AVC file. Some scenes have a softness to them which is typical of the diffusion which was popularly used at the time. Detail is fine, colours are bold and blacks are steady throughout. Nice and filmic for the duration of playback, this makes for a marked improvement upon the DVD released by Britfilms TV a few years back. It's a very good transfer.
English audio is given a punchy LPCM stereo mix which serves both dialogue and music well through evenly balanced channels. English subtitles are provided for the hard-of-hearing. These are white with a thin black borderline, ensuring they're easily readable at all times.
A classy animated main menu page makes fine use of Brian May's stirring string-led score. From there, a pop-up scene selection menu affords access to the movie by way of 12 chapters.
Extras commence with a couple of extended interviews from the NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD documentary on Ozploitation cinema. These run for an engaging 22 minutes, with producer Antony I Ginnane and cinematographer John Seale offering surprisingly fresh thoughts on the shoot.
We also get an extended version of the closing scene, which I can't really discuss here for spoiler reasons. It's an interesting addition but I prefer the manner in which the final cut concludes.
"The Legacy of James Herbert" sees Mayhem Film Festival organiser Chris Cooke and author David Flint reminiscing over the course of 9 enjoyable minutes on the author's works, his influence and the inconsistent treatment his books have endured in their translation to the screen. There's also some priceless archive TV interview footage with the man himself to be savoured here.
Robert Powell is also present to discuss his friendship with Herbert and his experience of narrating some of his books for audio. "He chose to write in the horror genre but he's a very, very good writer" he affirms from the start. This qualifies as an endearing 3-minute tribute to the sadly departed legend.
A 30-minute archival featurette follows, proffering an on-location account of the film's shoot with Joseph Cotten and Peter Summer on hand to guide us through (more outtakes from Mark Hartley's brilliant NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD. This is pretty great too.
Even better, for me, is a 15-minute archive TV interview with Hemmings. This kicks off with a clip from BARBARELLA and then goes into a most enchanting interview which soon distracts you from the soft VHS quality of its presentation.
Then there's a 6-minute archive TV interview with Powell and Hemmings (seriously, Severin, where did you find all of these nuggets?!). Both men are gracious and slightly serious about their subject, while the female interviewer is amusingly smitten with both men - by her own introductory admission.
Next up is a 32-minute reel of trailers for other titles produced by Ginnane. FANTASM (prepare yourself for an early glimpse of John Holmes's big cock), FANTASM COMES AGAIN, PATRICK, SNAPSHOT, THIRST, HARLEQUIN, THE SURVIVOR (yes, the main feature's original trailer is tucked away in here), RACE FOR THE YANKEE ZEPHYR, DEAD KIDS, TURKEY SHOOT, HIGHTIDE, THE LIGHTHORSEMEN, THE TIME GUARDIAN, SCREAMERS ... Yep, this guy was behind some great films.
Finally, we're treated to THE SURVIVOR's original 28-second TV spot.
All in all, then, this is a sterling package. As we knew it would be. THE SURVIVOR holds up well and fits in with today's penchant for more psychological horror. The presentation is top rate and the extras are, as detailed above, both thorough and highly desirable.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Severin Films|