Released by: Severin Films
Released on: January 10th, 2017.
Director: David Hemmings
Cast: Robert Powell, Jenny Agutter, Joseph Cotton
Year: 1981 Purchase From Amazon
The Survivor was produced by infamous Australian exploitation impresario Anthony I. Ginnane and was directed by noted British actor David Hemmings of Brian DePalma’s Blow Up and Dario Argento’s Deep Red fame. Hemmings based the film on the book of the same name by famed horror novelist James Herbert and if it isn’t a masterpiece of terror and suspense, it is regardless of that a pretty damn entertaining watch.
Robert Powell (of Asylum and The Asphyx) plays Keller, a pilot aboard a 747 jetliner that finds itself the unwitting victim of a hidden bomb. The plane crashes and bursts into flames and you’d think that it would instantly kill everyone on board, but Keller walks out of the searing wreckage completely unharmed. The rescue team are as surprised as he is to find Keller alive and seemingly perfectly fine. No one seems to be able to explain how he made it out of there alive, let alone without any serious damage done to his body.
An investigation is launched into the explosion and the team of researchers assigned to the case concludes that it is physically impossible for Keller to have survived given the magnitude of the explosion and the intense heat generated by the fuel on board the jetliner. From here on out the film follows a path eerily similar to M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, but telling you any more than that would be spoiling half the fun. Let’s just say that Hemmings got there first.
While Hemmings doesn’t exactly wow anyone with his directorial skills in this film he is at least quite competent behind the camera and is able to move the story along at a proper pace so as to keep things interesting. Robert Powell is great in the lead, his unusual looks adding a sense of mystery to the film before his character even finds himself in the situation he does. He’s quite good in the lead, and supporting roles from Joseph Cotton (in what would prove to be his swan song performance) as a priest and Jenny Agutter of Logan’s Run and An American Werewolf In London don’t hurt things a bit either.
The film has some interesting visuals, the scene in which Powell emerges from the crash being a stand out shot, and it’s a fairly polished looking production. And of course, there’s the film’s most famous set piece – the airplane crash sequence, which was, in its day, the most complicated such set piece ever filmed in Australia. Credit for much of the film’s polished look goes to cinematographer John Seale, who has gone on to work on some A-list Hollywood blockbusters not the least of which is the first Harry Potter film.
A decent mix of suspense and mystery with a touch of the supernatural thrown in to mix it up a bit, The Survivor is a solid film that should probably get more recognition than it has found so far in cult movie circles.
Severin Films presents The Survivor on Blu-ray on a 50GB disc (with the feature taking up about 20GBs of space) in a nice looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition 2.35.1 widescreen transfer that definitely trumps the previous DVD releases that have come out over the years. There are a few minor scratches here and there but generally the print used for this release is in very good shape showing good detail and texture as well as very nice color reproduction.
The English language sound mix, an LPCM Mono track, also sounds fine. There are no level issues, it’s properly balanced and comes through clean, clear and consistent throughout. Brian May’s electronic sounding compositions for the film also come through with nice clarity, sounding quite a bit strong here than it did on DVD. Dialogue sounds nice and natural and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion. Closed Captioning is presented in English only.
Extras start off with a selection of extended interviews shot for the Not Quite Hollywood documentary featuring producer Antony I. Ginnane (who speaks for fifteen minutes) and cinematographer John Seale (who speaks for seven minutes). There’s twenty-two minutes of material in here with Ginnane talking about working with distributors and the pressure he was under to keep pumping films out, how and why he came to make The Survivor, optioning Herbert’s novel, working with the cast and crew on the picture, various stories about the production itself and more. Seale talks about how nerve-wracking it was working on such an ambitious film made with such a big budget (by the standards of the Australian film industry of the time at least), having to help fix the movie when it ‘ran out of steam at the end’, some of the technical challenges involved in the shoot, who got the most close-ups and lots more. Interesting stuff.
The Legacy of James Herbert is a nine minute piece with Chris Cooke of the Mayhem Film Festival talking about the mark that Herbert’s books made on him in his younger years. David Flinte from The Reprobate Magazine pops up here and chimes in with his thoughts on the author’s work as well. As these two offer up some interesting biographical info on Herbert – his start in advertising, writing his first novel at thirty-one, his knowledge of the importance of cover art and fonts - we get some archival interview clips with the man himself as well as lots of pictures of his various books as well as some interesting insight into The Survivor and its subsequent film adaptation. This is a really enjoyable piece – take the time to check it out if you have even a passing interest in Herbert’s work.
Robert Powell on James Herbert is a three minute piece with the late author’s friend in which he explains why Herbert became such a successful genre writer and how he was, in fact, a very good writer regardless of the content that he was dealing with. He also talks about Herbert’s love of rock and roll and what he was like as a person.
From there we get some archival TV pieces, the first of which is Special On Location which features interviews with stars Joseph Cotten and Peter Sumner. This half hour piece features loads of footage shot during the production of The Survivor, lots of which details the film’s famous airplane crash set piece. Cotton talks about his life in Hollywood, how he always wants to have his wife around, his experiences in Australia and how he would have liked to have seen more of the country and his thoughts on playing the priest in the film. Sumner talks about the locations featured in the picture, working with David Hemmings and Anthony Ginanne, various other director’s he has worked with over the years and more. Jenny Agutter, Angela Punch McGregor and Ralph Cotterill also show up here. Up next is an interview with David Hemmings that runs fifteen minutes and starts off with a clip from Barberella before he then talks about working on that picture, then working on Blow Up, some of his experiences in Hollywood and hanging out with Gene Simmons, directing David Bowie in Just A Gigolo – before it’s all over he does a magic trick!. The menu offers a third archival segment touted as an interview with David Hemmings and Robert Powell but when you select that from the menu, it replays the sixteen minute Hemmings interview (we tried on three different Blu-ray players and got the same result).
Trailers for the feature and a few other Anthony I. Ginnane productions are also found (half an hour’s worth of trailers here for Fantasm, Fantasm Comes Again, Patrick, Snapshot, Thirst, Harlequin, The Race For The Yankee Zephyr, Strange Behavior, Turkey Shoot, High Tide, The Time Guardian and Screamers), as is a TV spot, three and a half minutes of extended scenes, menus and chapter selection. The commentary track that was included on the previous DVD release from Scorpion Releasing has not been ported over to this disc.
The Final Word:
The Survivor is no masterpiece but it’s a well made film with an interesting story, some strong acting, and a few nice twists and turns that make it worth a watch for those with an interest in the material. Severin’s Blu-ray release makes for a nice strong from the previous DVD editions in pretty much every way possible and presents the film in great shape and with some solid extras too. All in all, a fine release for a really enjoyable film.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!