The Survivor (1981)

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Despite having fallen behind in recent years, I consider myself a HUGE James Herbert fan. I think he’s one of the best horror writers of his generation and easily tussles for position as an all-time fave beside one mister Stephen King. Yet this British horror maestro has seen very few of his works adapted for the cinema screen. Perhaps it’s to do with the appalling way in which The Rats was treated when the film Deadly Eyes was made or perhaps it’s just that the more interesting and exciting filmmakers forget just how great Herbert’s novels are (oh how I wish that someone would do his work justice one day).

The Survivor was the first film to come with James Herbert’s name attached and it remains an interesting chiller, sitting exactly midway between some classic forerunners and more modern outings such as Flatliners, Unbreakable, Fearless, etc.

Robert Powell is a pilot known as Keller, a very lucky man who is the only survivor of a plane crash that kills hundreds of other people. There are people trying to find out just what caused the plane crash and how Keller survived, chief amongst them being Tewson (Peter Sumner), and there are people who may be trying to use Keller to make their fame and fortune. Jenny Agutter is a woman named Hobbs who could be a help or hindrance. She offers to show Keller the truth but it may not be a truth that Keller finds particularly palatable. Or even believable.

Australia’s most expensive film at the time of its release, The Survivor is a rather peculiar entry in the much-loved Ozploitation genre. Directed by English actor David Hemmings (best known to many for his performances in Blow Up and Deep Red), and starring British darlings Powell and Agutter, it feels very much like a great English adventure Down Under and foregoes the usual, for that time, overt violence and bloodletting for something much more subdued and atmospheric.

The movie is certainly not without its many flaws but it deserves some admiration for trying to be a little bit different. The novel on which the movie was based is, sadly, one I have not yet read but writer David Ambrose seems to do a decent enough job at making the central ideas work on screen and there are a few, isolated creepy moments that stand up just as well today as they would have on its initial release 30 years ago.
The acting is decent enough, with a fleeting appearance by Joseph Cotton that completists may want to check out, and nothing is completely mishandled but half of the film is, dare I say it, a little bit dull when showing Keller attempting to mentally recover from the effects of the plane crash and trying to remember exactly just what happened.

Still worth a watch, especially for fans of those involved or someone wanting to see a rare James Herbert adaptation, but it holds up today more as an intriguing curio than a wholly satisfying chiller.

The Survivor lands relatively unscathed on DVD in the UK on 27th June.

DIRECTOR: DAVID HEMMINGS
STARS: ROBERT POWELL, JENNY AGUTTER, PETER SUMNER, JOSEPH COTTEN
RUNTIME: 95 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: AUSTRALIA

Film Rating: ★★★☆☆

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