The Survivor (1981)
Robert Winter on February 12, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.85:1 (Non-anamophic). English DD 2.0 Mono. 78 minutes
The Movie
Director: David Hemmings
Starring: Robert Powell, Jenny Agutter, Joseph Cotton, Angela Punch McGregor, Peter Sumner
Screenplay: David Ambrose
Music: Brian May
Tagline: Pilot error…or supernatural terror? Only one man can tell!
Country: Australia
Fresh from his stint as the Rasputin-like mystic in Harlequin, Robert Powell stars as Keller, a pilot haunted by the ghosts of the passengers and crew that died when the 747 jet aircraft he was piloting crashed soon after take-off.

Suffering from post-traumatic amnesia, Keller tries desperately to come to terms with the fact he was the only survivor. Aided by Hobbs (Jenny Agutter), a psychic who seems attuned to his plight, Keller is forced by her to face up to a grim reality as his memories come flooding back.

Based on the novel by James Herbert, The Survivor should have been a highly disturbing supernatural thriller questioning the dark vagaries of fate and cosmic justice. While Herbert's novel diluted the impact with his penchant for gruesome text, the screenplay for the film flounders at the opposite end of the spectrum with an overabundance of mood-enhancing sequences, short-sharp-shocks and sentimental imagery. As a result, the pacing drags, characters react rather than act and shots of a charred doll, for example, are distracting to the point where the viewer is left feeling disconnected with the narrative flow. Moreover, a number of plot points are simply left hanging by a thread, dangling and begging for an explanation. Like, just who was that woman slashed to pieces in the photographer's dark room?

In its favour, the actors play their respective roles with intense, if not at times, histrionic abandon (see Jenny Agutter's possession sequence) and the cinematographer barely wastes a moody frame. Some scenes also manage to raise the hairs on the back the neck, like the eerie photographs of burned faces and fleeting shots of terrified victims during the well-edited opening crash sequence.

Obviously European critics saw something in the screenplay that seemed to pass me by as they awarded it a Best Screenplay Award at the Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival in 1981.
The Survivor is presented letterboxed in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1. While the transfer can be a little soft and dark at times, and a thin veneer of grain creeps in now and again, overall it is a very good print for a film from the early 80s.
The rather nondescript melodramatic score by Brian May is well serviced by the 2.0 stereo mono mix. Dialogue comes through the centre channels loud and clear. Being a mono mix the surrounds and subwoofer are silent.

There are no subtitle options.
Extra Features
Producer Antony Ginnane provides a 12-minute introduction before the feature film. He discusses production details like budget, why certain cast members were chosen and how the movie came about. He also confesses that he was not happy with the final outcome – he wanted to focus less on the moody supernatural aspect and more on "hard-edged, aggressive horror." He adds that he heavily cut the film before its theatrical release as he thought that it was too "languorous." Evidently this created some tension between him and Angela Punch McGregor as most of her scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Unfortunately he doesn't go into detail about what parts of the story were removed.

Also included on the disc is a lurid, beaten and battered theatrical trailer for The Survivor and a theatrical trailer for Harlequin.
The Verdict
Running for mere 78-minutes, The Survivor feels like an overwrought and sloppy episode of The Twilight Zone. Perhaps if the cut scenes were reinstated the outcome may have been dramatically different.
Movie Score
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