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The Survivor (1981) Blu-Ray Review


Stars – Robert Powell, Jenny Agutter, Joseph Cotten, Peter Sumner, and Lorna Lesley
Director – David Hemmings

Released by Severin

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

James Herbert wrote some of the best and most fun horror novels that came out during the mid seventies through the eighties. He had a tremendous knack for writing books that read like great B movies, only the budgets were huge. He was one of the first that indulged in scenes of graphic violence. Herbert also wrote well. He kept you turning the pages at a relentless pace but gave readers strong characters. Anyone who looked for a horror paperback to read during that time will instantly recall the distinctive covers that drew you to them. Titles like The Rats, The Fog, The Spear, Lair, The Jonah and The Survivor were terrific reads for genre fans. His stories however have not fared all that well when made into movies which is a crying shame. The Rats which was filmed as Deadly Eyes is well known for its shoddy use of small dogs running around with fur vests and coats on. Fluke which is a rather tender story from a dog’s point of view also made it to the screen. David Hemmings who was a highly respected actor working in films as varied as Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup and Barbarella directed this adaptation.

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A plane crash lands in Australia. Shortly after hitting the ground it explodes in spectacular fashion. Large balls of fire fill the screen and erupt into the dark sky. What is strange is that the pilot is able to walk away from the crash seemingly unscathed. He is the lone survivor. The first half hour of the film has barely any dialogue and what is there is hard to follow due to poor recording, low levels and mumbled dialogue. We get a few glimpses of the lovely Jenny Agutter (Walkabout, American Werewolf in London) but she does not really appear in the film till the last half hour. Joseph Cotton (The Third Man) has a small role as a priest. A little while later in the story the apparent ghosts of children killed in the crash takes the lives of a few locals. These scenes have very little impact with no suspense of shock to them. Eventually we learn that Agutter’s character is a psychic. She helps the pilot to unravel the mystery of his guilt and survival. The revelation as shown in the film is not as strong as many episodes of The Twilight Zone would have played it though it is definitely in that realm.

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Portions of the photography have a style that recalls the Euro horror films done in Italy by directors like Dario Argento. However there is a real inconsistency in the narrative and the basic development of the characters. Director Hemmings at least here has a plodding style. His lack of pace just kills any momentum of suspense. There is enough in this film to entice you to give it a look. The draw of the actors involved and the source novel will call out to quite a few. As someone who has enjoyed Herbert’s books immensely this was a another let down. There is a bit of creepiness to the proceedings but not quite enough to engage you the way it should. Still if you‘ve seen The Deadly Eyes and Fluke you may as well view this one.

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Video – 2.39:1
The film is given a nice presentation by Severin. Even though there are a lot of scenes in the dark black levels never exhibit any harsh noise or distortion. We get some very nice compositions at times from DP John Seal. Hemmings looks to have elected to keep a lot of scenes more on the darker side. The fireballs in the beginning are the best looking part of the whole film.

Audio – 2.0 PCM track with subtitles offered in English
The first half hour, for me had dialogue that was difficult to follow. Levels were low, actors mumbled and there was hardly any separation in the track at all. Throughout the film there was an uneasy balance between the dialogue, the odd sound effects and the ultra dynamics of Brian May’s score. Many portions of the film just felt flat and dull. Locations often had no background sound to define them.

Extras – 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 Interviews with David Hemmings and Robert Powell Antony I Ginnane Trailer Reel
TV Spot

The appreciation of James Herbert’s work by two fellows was very enjoyable. They caught what appealed to his fans and gave a nice run down of his books and how some of them fared as movies. David Hemmings comes off wonderfully in the vintage TV talk show. He’s very entertaining.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Good / Excellent

Movie – Fair

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