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An Easy Video near me was going out of business, and selling movies cheap,
so I raided the place and amongst some other cheesy, just for the hell of it
bought movies, I picked this up, recognizing names such as Lance Henrikson
(Pumpkinhead), Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend's Wedding), and Catherine
Keener (8MM). With somewhat low expectations, I watched the film this
afternoon, and was pleasantly surprised.
Henrikson plays Hank, a guide for Survival Quest, testing people's abilities in the wildnerness. The group he is given this time includes a convict, a divorced woman, an older man, and others. He leads them into nature, forcing them to rely on courage, wits, and strength to survive. Also venturing into the woods is a paramilitary group, an extreme version of the Survival Quest group.
The main characters are led through the woods, up mountains, across rivers, deeper and deeper into the wild. They begin to get to know each other, and work together as a team. A constant threat is the military group, who don't look fondly upon Survival Quest. Then one day Gray, the convict (Mulroney) and one of the military trainees meet up in a life-threatening confrontation. Trying to break it up, Hank is shot accidentally by trainee. Gray escapes, and the trainee sets up the scene as to appear as if Hank were a threat, after the military leader, Jake (Rolston), gets involved and injured. Then a hunt is on, as the military trainees chase down the Survival Quest group with rifles and knives, in a bloodthirsty rage for vengeance.
The movie is so interesting because of the way it plays out. The action doesn't really start until about an hour in, but the film is in no way dull up to that point. In the first hour, we get to know and like the protagonists, as they overcome their fears and learn basic survival in the wilderness. In fact, by the time the action starts, you're content with the plot being about just this group taking the course. But then, when it starts to get really exciting, the movie gets even better, because the threat of any of these great characters getting killed is tragic, since we like them all so much. Personally, I thought the characters of Hal, the old man (Ben Hammer) and Cheryl, the divorced woman overcoming some ever-present weaknesses (Catherine Keener), were my favorites, though I liked all of them.
The actors all do great in their roles, each becoming likeable characters and strong in each way. The action is great, as well. One scene, when the escaping group need to cross a raging river, with the paramilitary group close behind, is almost unbearable in the suspense. One good thing about this is that the plot never loses itself in mindless violence. The violence is focused and part of the story, and really, only occurs when necessary. For the most part, the action of the movie is more concerned with these characters escaping, and surviving. You never just let your brain go to sleep and watch mindless eye candy, and that's rare for action movies.
One last thing to note is the absolutely gorgeous setting in the Rocky Mountains. You never feel like you're watching a nature movie, but the setting is portrayed so breathtakingly well, and looks so great in every scene.
I definitely recommend this to action/adventure fans, but mostly to drama fans. The movie is thoroughly entertaining, and definitely worth a look if you can find it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A motley assortment of six city folks -- sullen, moody convict Gray (Dermot Mulroney), bitter divorcée Cheryl (an incredibly cute Catherine Keener), amiable old guy Hal (the wonderful Ben Hammer), insensitive macho jerk Jeff (Dominic Hoffman), smartaleck Joey (the hilarious Paul Prevenza), and feisty babe Olivia (the gorgeous Traci Lin) -- embark on an arduous and demanding wilderness adventure. They are whipped into shape by rugged, but compassionate instructor Hank (the always great Lance Henrikson). Things go well for a spell until the group runs afoul of a rival squad of brutish paramilitary goons led by hard-nosed ramrod fanatic Jake (a frighteningly intense Mark Rolston). Our intrepid bunch find themselves in considerable jeopardy after an altercation with the squad and wind up running through the woods for their lives. Writer/director Don Coscarelli, who also gave us the terrific cult horror comedy treat "Bubba Ho-Tep" and the fantastic "Phantasm" pictures, does an expert job of creating characters who are both exceptionally well-drawn and genuinely likable. He also deftly maintains a steady pace and stages several thrilling action scenes with rip-snorting aplomb. The bang-up cast all deliver top-notch performances, with especially stand-out work by Henrikson, Mulroney, Keener, Hammer, Provenza and Rolston. Daryn O'Kada's lovely, golden-hued cinematography, the breathtaking forest scenery, a nice bit by Reggie Bannister (Reggie in the "Phantasm" films) as a charter plane pilot, and the rousing harmonic score by Fred Myrow and Christopher Stone are all likewise fine and impressive. But what makes this movie so special and touching is the engaging chemistry and heartwarming camaraderie that develops amongst the main group of delightfully vivid and appealing protagonists. A real sleeper.
Don Coscarelli should be a little embarrassed, I think. Not of the film
altogether, because it's a fun timewaster, but of the really textbook
formula characterizations he heaps onto his protagonists. I would've
expected more from the creator of PHANTASM, but just the same, I enjoyed
this movie. Six city slickers sign on to Survival Quest, which will teach
them how to survive in the Great Outdoors for four weeks. A paramilitary
group is sharing the woods with them and soon it's THE MOST DANGEROUS
Lance Henriksen is always cool to watch; he gives any film class. A young Catherine Keener has one of the aforementioned embarrassing roles, going from a pathetic girl to a Ripley-styled woman. Ben Hammer weighs in to let you know geriatrics can do anything you youngsters can do (provided you don't get shot), and Dermot Mulroney makes the most of the bad-boy-from-jail-on-probation shtick. Apparently Mulroney and Keener are married (or so a friend told me-check this fact yourself)so this would explain where they met. Ah, true love. Traci Lin is also in it and let's just say I've always had a thing for Miss CLASS OF 1999. Looks like a gore effect involving a hunting knife was trimmed for the R rating judging by a quick, jarring cut at the right time. As for the direction...truthfully, anybody could've wrote or directed this. It's very pedestrian, but credit Coscarelli for keeping it moving and watchable. I liked it, so sue me.
Don Coscarelli is quite a popular writer/director among horror and cult fanatics, but the vast majority of his fans always only refer to his classic works "Phantasm", "Bubba-Ho-Tep" and occasionally "The Beastmaster". Almost nobody ever mentions the obscure piece of backwoods/survival thriller called "Survival Quest" even though it benefited from decent production values and a very appealing cast featuring names like Lance Henriksen, Mark Rolston and (in their earliest roles) Dermot Mulroney and Catherine Keener. From a more substantive point of view, on the other hand, I can definitely understand that "Survival Quest" quickly got somewhat forgotten in the plenitude of 80s action movies, as the script is surprisingly (and disappointingly) tame and polished instead of raw and shocking. In spite of all the great potential and similar role-model classics that set a great example (like "Southern Comfort", "Rituals" and even "Deliverance"), Coscarelli doesn't have the courage to break through any taboos and serves a dull politically correct thriller with a pitiably low body-count. Survival Quest is the name of an adventurous wilderness program intended for city folks who are only used to luxurious accommodation and expensive fancy food. Wildlife expert Hank (Lance Henriksen) welcomes a new and very diverse group, including an arrogant young man, a recently divorced woman, a young girl about to get married against her will, an elderly man and a young convict forced to participate by his parole officer. Nearby, however, military drill instructor Jake (Mark Rolston) is running a boot camp to harden a platoon of soldiers. When he pushes his men over their mental boundaries, Private Raider goes bonkers. He attacks both Hank and Jake accuses the convict of being the culprit and mobilizes the rest of the squad to violently hunt down the rest of the group. For a backwoods action/thriller flick, "Survival Quest" is intolerably clean and civilized. There aren't any perverted characters, attempted rapes or nasty booby-traps, and even the sequences with the grizzly bear seem to belong more in a Walt Disney movie. The filming locations are astonishing and the survival tests during the first half of the movie are entertaining to look at, but as soon as the film is supposed to turn into a harsh and suspenseful thriller, the whole thing becomes one giant disappointment. Forgettable and not recommended.
Survival Quest is one of the few Lance Henriksen starrers that happened during the eighties. This time he gives a great unexpected performance as a good guy, who runs a survival school and leads a group of assorted city people through the wilderness. Eventually they cross paths with a military man played by Mark Rolston who leads a survival class of his own. Don Coscarelli pulls out fine performances from everybody and the script is so well done that every character that's supposed to matter does. Aside from the acting, the film relies on such inexpensive things as breathtaking vistas and avoiding clichés (for the most part). The only thing that downplays the whole experience is the music one'd expect from a Hallmark family movie. Definitely the strongest Coscarelli effort outside of Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep.
Cult filmmaker Don Coscarelli has brought us such films as the "Phantasm" Tetralogy, "The Beastmaster" and "Bubba Ho-Tep" but a film he did in the last 80s seemed to go by mostly unnoticed and maybe it was thought to be the usual routine woodland survival outing. In some regards this survival adventurer is, but what makes this one work is the fighting character dynamics, a thoughtful script and the always dependable Lance Henriksen. "Survival Quest" follows a group of strangers (one just happening to be an ex-convict played by Dermont Mulroney) from the city battling the wilderness in the North Rockies Survival Quest School led by their resourceful instructor Frank (Henriksen). However nearby is another group (paramilitary), lead by an aggressively hard-nose and demanding instructor (played by Mark Rolston with cynically great ticker). These two schools / groups are at total opposites (extremely so -- one relying on trust while the other sees fit to only look after one's own self) to each other in what they teach (one to embrace your surrounding while the other to dominate in its forceful actions) and from that an encounter occurs where it becomes a struggle to stay alive for Frank's group against an armed, unstable squad (Steve Antin is good as the instigator). The plot slowly hangs off its characters --- building up relationships, developing mindsets (cementing self-confidence) so when it gradually builds up to its explosive confrontations and then the trek becomes a bloody survival course it really pulls you in as you put some much time into the characters that you want to see them get through it. What starts of as a battle against mother nature (what looks beautiful can just be as dangerous), becomes something much more. As their training comes into play, as their team morale to not leave anybody behind which drives them home. Its good to have strength and stamina, but it's nothing without spirit and that's the difference between the two groups. " it's a matter of heart. Not hardware." To use and respect the power of your surroundings/the wilderness to adapt. Writer / director Coscarelli's resiliently tight direction commendably balances out the character developing staples and the excitingly tension-fuelled cat and mouse exchanges. Some witty scenes are a nice cover too. Another striking attraction would be that of the rugged, but eye-catching locations which is always scenically shot. The performances can feel a little awkward, but it's a likable bunch with Catherine Keener, Traci Lind, Dominic Hoffman, Paul Provenza and a special guest appearance by Reggie Bannister. A fine, under-seen terrain adventure caper.
Well, it's not "Phantasm", but it's still a good 1980's movie from Don Coscarelli, who is a very interesting author. Although the basic idea is looks like a remake of "First Blood" in which one John Rambo is replaced by a group of regular people and sheriff with his officers is replaced by a bunch of military, the story itself is quite good. We see how these two groups are moving from indifference to confrontation and then whole conflict becomes a run for survival for ones and hide-and-seek game for others. Lance Henricksen is good here - nothing special, but just a good actor in adequate role. Also, there's a lot of action, some shooting and fighting, but keep in mind it's a thriller first, not an action or horror, and I hope you'll not be disappointed.
"Survival Quest" has enough originality and inspired photography to maintain interest throughout. What separates this film from similar, inferior efforts, is the strong character development. At first, things move rather slowly, as we get to know the strangers from the city who have signed on for the survival course. Once the paramilitary squad begins stalking them, the action comes at a rapid pace. The acting is above average for a low budget film, especially Lance Henriksen and Mark Rolsten. This ranks right up there with a similar little known hunted in the woods film, "Hunter's Blood", and is recommended viewing for action fans. - MERK
This movie is about a bunch of trainees go for survival training in the woods where they encounter a squad of paramilitary force and their training turns into a real fight for survival.The action is top notch and so is the acting.I give this movie **** out 5*****.
A group of people who have signed up for a wilderness survival course
get terrorized by a more militant group. Of all the Coscarelli movies
I've seen, I liked this the least. The film had none of the originality
of Phantasm, nor the sheer awesomeness of Bubba Ho-tep, not even the
dumb fun of Beastmaster. Instead we get a rather pedestrian ho-hum
action movie in the cookie cutter mold of a million other 'group stuck
in the wilderness against baddies' genre films complete with stock
characters that don't really have memorable personalities or any
likability. The great Lance Henriksen is the only actor who gets
through this one with his dignity intact. Perhaps i'm being a bit too
hearse with the film, it's not that bad and makes a merely watchable
diversion, I just can't help but hold Don to a higher esteem as the
rest of his output is rather marvelous.
My Grade: C-
Eye Candy: Traci Lind goes skinny dipping, but only her top is exposed
DVD Extras: Behind the scenes featurette; 2 U.S. and 1 International trailer for the film; and trailers for "Phantasm" "Phantasm 3", "Kenny & Company", "the Garden" & "Near Dark"
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