The Survivor (1981)


I’m a sucker for exploitation cinema (or just cinema in general) from Australia. I used to watch The Road Warrior a lot as a kid (it was often on tv) and it gave me a taste for cinema from OZ.  I like to keep my peeper peeled for unique films from down under so when I read about Australian horror film The Survivor, I jumped on it.

The Survivor is about a 747 flight that crash lands near a city. The city was spared but none of the passengers were except the pilot. Somehow, he managed to escape the crash unscathed but has no memory of how that was possible. An investigation ensues and the pilot tries to put together the pieces of his memory to find out what really caused the crash and how he managed to survive.

The Survivor is based on a novel by British author James Herbert. Herbert was known for gory books early in his career but later wrote more respectable spooky books. The Survivor is a transitional book for Herbert. The book was gory (I learned this from the fantastic supplemental material on the disc, more about that later) but the film was not. It was a conscious decision to tone down the gore found in the book because the market was flooded with gory flicks at the time. For my money (and for the producers) this was a mistake. The Survivor has some wonderful cinematography and solid acting but it’s ethereal quality leaves much to be desired. The film moves in a dreamlike state, similar to the main character, the pilot. The score, composed by Brian May, zooms and trumpets but there isn’t much that happens onscreen to deserve such an active score. Most of the violence happens off camera, and of even that there is little. I had difficulty focusing on the film (though i didn’t second screen it) because there wasn’t enough to grab on to. The actors all put in a solid effort but the film feels like it lumbers through the paces, lurching to the conclusion. The conclusion, for me, was great though it didn’t quite make logical sense. I’m ok with that though because of the strange vibe the entire film elicits.

The special features are fantastic on the disc however. True to form, Severin delivers some fantastic goods. We get a 20+ minute interview with the producer and cinematographer of the film, interviews about James Herbert’s legacy (a great supplement), vintage interviews and features round out the stacked disc. Visually, the film looks fantastic. Severin always takes extra care with their releases and this one is no different. The image is crisp and clear. It hasn’t looked this good since it was theatrically released.

If you love Australian cinema, this would be a solid buy. If you are a fan of James Herbert, it would also be a solid buy. If you like rescued obscure cinema, this would be a solid buy. If you are looking for an A+ gem of a flick, look elsewhere. For me the film was worth a watch but wasn’t particularly memorable. It’s too slight of a film, it doesn’t have enough to say, it doesn’t have enough style, and it lacks moments of punctuating violence. It’s a Severin disc however, so you do get great features and a fantastic picture. The film might be slight, but Severin isn’t. They are always worth supporting, even if The Survivor is a weaker release.