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This little known movie should be seen by anyone who thinks Aussie films
all mindless travelogues with idiotic characters.
After a catastrophic plane crash, rescuers are surprised to see the pilot walking unhurt from the twisted, burning wreckage. The pilot (Robert Powell) can offer no explanation as to how he survived the explosion that killed every other person on the plane. The tension mounts when the investigation proves that the crash was so severe that the pilot could not have POSSIBLY survived no matter where he was on the plane, and yet there he is.
This is a well-crafted paranormal drama, with each new revelation concerning the crash leading you deeper into intrigue.
Also, it was made 19 years before Unbreakable, which has some very similar plot elements.
For some reason this film never won the affection of either its peers or the
viewing audience at the time. It played to half empty theaters, barely
covered its production cost and was unceremoniously tossed out of everyone's
subconscious. Yet its not even a bad film, I would venture to suggest a most
interesting study of the paranormal and well directed by former BLOW UP star
Robert Powell is Captain Keller who's 747 suffers a bomb explosion just before take-off and 300 odd passengers are incinerated as the plane explodes in flames. A short time later Keller is found wandering from the burning wreckage unharmed and quite unable to fathom how he has survived. The mystery deepens when a rapidly convened investigation concludes that there is no possible way ANYONE could have survived the explosion and heat blast, wherever they were in the plane.
As Keller embarks on his fateful odyssey, he and the audience are taken down lanes that both THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE may have trodden..and this was almost a generation earlier!
The viewer needs to suspend belief and take things for what he sees (or thinks he sees) A really intelligent Aussie flick that you will get as much out of as you are prepared to put in. Always good to see Joseph Cotton and Jenny Agutter!
Produced by the South Australian Film Corporation and filmed on location in Adelaide, The Survivor in many ways foretells the Lockerbie disaster many years before that tragic event. The film was a huge commitment at the time - a full scale 747 was made at a local car manufacturing plant and transported to the 'crash site'. I remember visiting the set after the shoot - it was still littered with suitcases, seats, clothes and the engines were windmilling in the breeze. The haunting music makes the film, similar to Picnic At Hanging Rock, the actors believable, the cinematography honest and the storyline compelling if a little slow. Take it for what was cutting edge at the time for a small film studio and you have an enjoyable slightly disturbing thriller. Take time and watch other productions by the SAFC - they're a refreshing change from the big studios mass produced entertainment.
Just after taking off, a Jetliner goes into a emergency landing, but
the pilots can't control the situation and the plane crashes and
presumably everybody is dead because of the state of the disaster.
That's until out of the wreckage and flames, out comes walking the only
survivor the pilot. When asked what happened, the pilot has temporary
memory loss and because of that he's tortured by the guilt of being the
only survivor. A woman who believes to be part of this accident joins
the pilot on trying to figure out this baffling mystery, which somehow
involves the restless spirits of the plane crash pushing the two to
seek out the truth.
I remember when I came across the trailer for this flick on some rental video, and boy did it freak me out when I was kid, but that's going back and I just saw it for the first time now. And from what I saw, I got nothing but high praise for this Australian paranormal thriller. It isn't flawless, but there's something enthralling about the mystery of it all and it's a technically impressive production. 'The Survivor' which was adapted from James Herbert's novel was shot in Adelaide, Australia with some of the same crew of the previous film 'Harlequin' involved, but they managed to pull some international actors other then Robert Powell, but Jenny Agutter and Joseph Cotton too. And also some local faces Angela Punch-McGregor and Peter Summer who have small roles pop up.
David Hemming takes the pivotal role of director here and paints a very moody picture that has a vastly quiet stillness and baffling nature to all of it. The supernatural factor of the plot exploits the fear of this startling subject by having short pockets of intense shocks and taut suspense along way to its breathtaking climax. The supernatural element is one that haunts the mind and evokes such terror in the face. To get this feel it's depressingly downbeat. The advantage of that is that it doesn't cross away from that central idea and it's hard to know what's coming around each corner. Hemming also stages some unsettling moments with such vision. First off would be when the jetliner is going down and we see it from a street bystander's viewpoint and that of the crash site and wreckage is so damn eerie. The climax also packs a massive punch, but if you've seen some recent films in the last couple of years it might not come as a bigger surprise, but I for one didn't see it coming. The plot works rather well with it ambiguous and slowly paced structure, where we are still left with some more questions at the end, but saying that 'mostly' everything starts to fit into the puzzle with precision, where you learn there's a whole lot more to it then what we began with. Just after watching a couple of the X-files seasons over the last week or two, this is something that wouldn't feel out of placed in an x-files episode. The mystery thrives here in the plot and only for those who enjoy a good and highly creepy mystery with supernatural overtones.
Make sure you watch the film in wide screen to get John Seale's wide scope cinematography that was shot with such elegance and subtleness with a lot distinctive elements. It had a nice polished touch to it by working in every little detail with flashes of creativity and unsteadiness to proceedings. The choice of setting added even more to the unsettling nature with such beautiful backdrops that go hand-to-hand to mood of the characters and story. The score by Brian May succeeded too by really touching a nerve with its echoing emphasis on a air of creepiness, but to a soothing and innocent spell of suggestiveness. Also the highly effective sound effects creaked alertness. Exemplary performances are given from a top cast of talented internationals. Robert Powell is impressive as the stone-cold pilot Keller, Jenny Agutter is beautifully engaging as Hobbs who can get in touch with other-side and then there's Joseph Cotton putting in solid performance as The Priest. These believable characters you actually care for, especially because you join the two in their journey of discovery and torment to what really happened. Where you learn its fate between the connection of Keller and Hobbs. What keeps you gripped other than that of the great imagery, focused tension and fantastic performances is that of the heavy laced dialog, which drives the film into weird but compelling territory.
After two decades the film still holds up rather well and left me with a cold shudder after being thrown right into it. Startlingly good entertainment!
Part of an ill-fated two-picture deal (alongside Harlequin) that Robert Powell signed in the wake of Jesus of Nazareth's success, Australian horror movie The Survivor is a fairly good idea undone by clumsy writing and rushed execution, although the film looks like it's either been heavily edited or they ran out of money and couldn't film everything in the script. Ideas are left hanging, motives unexplained and characters disappear after fleeting introductions (third-billed Angela Punch McGregor gets a single line in one brief scene). Powell's pilot is the sole survivor of a crash on take-off and as he falls under suspicion during the crash investigation, those exploiting the tragedy (most notably an unscrupulous photographer) start to die at the hands of the dead victims and Jenny Agutter's psychic tries to enlist his help in giving their spirits peace before the body count rises. All of which sounds much more interesting than the execution, as David Hemmings' direction veers more to the competent than the inspired, though a replay of the spectacular crash scene near the end is highly effective.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This interesting supernatural horror from The Lucky Country begins with an airplane explosion that kills all passengers aboard. The pilot of the plane (Robert Powell, dull and deadpan) is the lone survivor, and he suspiciously escapes without injury. As he wrestles with his guilty conscience and the mysterious tragedy, he finds himself haunted by a creepy little girl and the screams and cries of those who died in his plane. He meets the kooky psychic Hobbs (Jenny Agutter of "An American Werewolf in London" fame), and together they try to figure out what the hell happened. Directed by horror icon David Hemmings, "The Survivor" feels like an episode of "The Twilight Zone." Today's audiences would find it easy to guess where the story is headed (and if not, ginormous spoilers on the back of the DVD case will certainly point the way), but I can see how this movie may have been a doozy in the early 80s. It's based on a James Herbert novel, but it sort of feels like a loose remake of a low-budget 60s horror gem that shall go unnamed here. The good news is that the film is very atmospheric and eerie, and the sound editing adds an especially chilling touch. I think it's an effective horror film overall, but it is not without its flaws. The problem with the movie is that it touches upon several genre elements (ghost story, slasher) without actually exploring any to a satisfactory degree. There are also a couple death sequences that don't make sense within the context of the film. Most unfortunate is that the opening sequence is more amusing than horrifying, and I assume this is due to budget constraints. The pilot avoids crashing the plane into town after it explodes, but the focus of this terrible incident is a woman on the street nearby, clinging desperately to a blowing tree, screaming and flailing about. It doesn't help that whenever the pilot has a flashback to the plane crash, we're taken back to this funny scene. All in all, "The Survivor" is a decent movie, though a bit of a mess. Still, it's one of the better 80s Aussie horrors that I've seen.
One of only a few James Herbert adaptations to reach the screen (the
others being "Deadly Eyes" a.k.a. "The Rats", "Fluke", and "The
Haunted"), this is a pretty effective movie overall. Directed by actor
David Hemmings ("Blowup", "Deep Red"), it's handled with a large degree
of sensitivity and subtlety, and is quite slowly paced as well,
focusing on building its atmosphere rather than centering around shocks
- all reasons why some horror fans might not care for it too much. But
if you're patient with this one, you will be rewarded with a film that
succeeds at creating a vague sense of unease and maintaining a level of
It certainly begins with a bang: a 747 plane crash lands in the Australian countryside, and its pilot Keller (Robert Powell) walks away without a scratch. Burdened with the guilt of being the only survivor, he's also suffering from amnesia and is determined to discover the cause of the crash. He's eventually assisted by a young woman with psychic abilities, played by an especially beautiful Jenny Agutter.
Also in the cast are Australian actress Angela Punch McGregor, whom you may remember as Michael Caine's leading lady in the film version of Peter Benchley's "The Island", and Hollywood legend Joseph Cotten, although Cotten truthfully never gets a whole lot to do as a local priest. Thankfully, Powell and Agutter are so good that they carry the movie quite well.
The paranormal is introduced into this moody story a bit at a time, with Hemmings never going for the cheap thrill; whatever violence is in the movie is mostly done off screen. Audiences may well appreciate the incredible work that the production does in creating a crash site, and enjoy the way that things wrap up with a creepy reveal / confrontation and a nifty (if not all that original) final twist.
As was said, this may not be to every taste, but genre fans looking for more obscure efforts from decades past are advised to look into it.
Seven out of 10.
THE SURVIVOR is one of those cases where the trailer is a lot creepier
and more entertaining than the film itself. The setup is quite
intriguing: Robert Powell plays the pilot and sole survivor of a 747
crash in Adelaide, Australia. Jenny Agutter is a psychic medium who
contacts him to inform him that the victims of the crash are angry lost
souls and need him to set everything straight.
This film promises a lot but quickly degenerates into a very slowly paced thriller which gives us neither shocks nor gore in a misguided effort to try to play to both the audiences of high-brow scares and exploitation. It's no wonder it never hit American theaters as the film feels very, very foreign and doesn't have much in the way of action or entertainment value beyond its opening cataclysmic plane crash (which is handled surprisingly well). There's a little bit of creepiness to go around but much, much too little too late. Also the film obviously spent the lion's share of its budget on production design for its wrecked plane in field location, so unfortunately it feels pretty repetitive after the umpteenth time the characters come back to it.
I do have to give a special mention to the film's musical score however. Brian May is almost criminally marginalized as the composer for the Mad Max films as well as all-too-often confused with the guitarist from Queen. In my opinion he provided all of the best film music to come out of Australia during the 70's and 80's and this film has to be near the pinnacle of his work, up there with ROAD GAMES and TURKEY SHOOT.
Oddly for a film set in Australia the film doesn't have much home base representation among the principal cast. American acting legend Joseph Cotten is on-hand as a Catholic priest. This was his last major film role though sadly a waste as his character is completely superfluous.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The late Great British icon David Hemmings didn't just star in Blow Up
and model a magnificent pair of eyebrows in later years. It's true, his
forehead-thickets really were something to behold, but the bloke the
film critic Pauline Kael once described as resembling "a pre-Raphaelite
Paul McCartney" was also a noted watercolourist, a member of the Magic
Circle, directed a number of episodes of 'The A-Team', 'Airwolf' and
'Magnum PI', and a clutch of feature films into the bargain. These
include the David Bowie vehicle Just a Gigolo, the George Peppard
adventure yarn The Race For The Yankee Zephyr - and this adaptation of
James Herbert's horror novel.
It's a pity then, that this real renaissance man couldn't conjure some magic over his own movies. As he later said, "I've done some real stinkers, and I don't regret any of them because I went into them in the full knowledge that they weren't going to win an Academy Award." Which is just as well, as The Survivor remains defiantly unmolested by Oscar's advances. (Although it did pick up the Jury prize at an obscure Catalonian film festival.)
This finds commercial airline pilot David Keller (former Messiah Robert Powell) the sole survivor of a massive plane crash in Adelaide, South Australia. As he guiltily observes, "I've just killed 300 people in a field and walked away without a scratch; that makes me pretty special, doesn't it?"
While he tries to come to terms with his mixed fortunes and a terrible bout of amnesia concerning the incidents leading up to the disaster, the ghosts of the passengers roam the surrounding territory, grumpily avenging themselves on those ghoulish photographers and grave robbers who've treated their corpses with contempt in the charred, bloody aftermath - while roping in tortured psychic Hobbs (Jenny Agutter) as a go-between. With the screams of the damned reverberating in her eardrums she informs a disbelieving Captain Keller, "They're asking for your help - the men, women and children who died in your aircraft."
The Survivor has latterly been compared with the works of M Night Shyamalan, which ought to sound loud and insistent claxons with anybody bored to absolute blazes with promising plots that turn out to be little more than triple-length episodes of 'The Twilight Zone'. In all fairness, Herbert's (comparably restrained) source novel, is simply another variation on Ambrose Bierce's classic short story from 1891 'An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge' - see also: Carnival Of Souls, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Jacob's Ladder and The Escapist, all good films, in fact. Yet Hemmings' movie needlessly fudges a fairly straightforward issue by saddling itself with an even more complicated and ambiguous resolution.
The irony, given his later critical and commercial reputation is that the young Manoj Nelliyattu might just have managed to invest this adaptation with the stuff Hemmings conspicuously failed to provide here: suspense. Scares. Dread. Because up until the final, tight 10 minutes, this is a right dreary old bunch of cobblers; Herbert himself admitted in an interview that he'd nodded off during a screening of this weirdly tension-lite affair.
Sadly, cinema has rarely done the original Garth Marenghi proud. You long for some fearless Brit-horror director to make a genuinely faithful adaptation of an early period Herbert, such as 'The Spear' or 'The Fog.' Because the results would truly give the BBFC something to think about.
Meanwhile, Powell turns in another characteristically aloof performance; Agutter flails about ludicrously as the possessed medium; and in the minor role of a Catholic priest, the legendary Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane, Duel In The Sun), mopes around to no great distinction, fervently praying this won't be his final film in a long and distinguished career. His prayers reached voicemail.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Survivor" is a bizarre, incomprehensible attempt at a horror story
that barely registers as that or anything at all.
The bits that one assumes are meant to be scary are merely confusing and come out of nowhere. The soundtrack pummels you with frantic music but this is merely irritating since you can't understand what, if anything, you are supposed to be scared by.
The plot is fairly simple, so why is it so confusing? It's about a pilot who survives a plane crash that kills everyone else on board. He is visited by some kind of clairvoyant or something, played by Jenny Agutter, who is about as mystical in this role as the CEO of Wendy's. Her role in the plot is obvious on paper (how else is the movie going to get the supernatural bent going?), but when handled this badly, becomes confusing and you may wonder what she is there for.
The ending, I admit, was clever. It's just everything that led up to it was so bad that it was completely wasted, like the rest of the movie.
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