James Herbert’s The Survivor (1981)

March 14, 2017 | By

There was a bit of a delay in posting a review of Severin Film’s The Survivor (1981) because I had to confirm an authoring boo-boo in the Blu-ray’s Special Features menu, in which a short 1980 Q&A with actor Robert Powell and actor / director David Hemmings is present but inaccessible on the BR, but works fine on Severin’s DVD. (The tail end of the review describes the Q&A’s contents.)

It’s still a stellar BR edition, sporting a fine transfer showcasing John Seale’s extraordinary cinematography (man, I which I had a projection setup) for what was then one of Australia’s biggest budgeted films. Hemmings directed Survivor, a film version of James Herbert’s novel, and the supernatural thriller also boasts the largest set of explosions ever committed to film in Australia at that time – which are still quite spectacular.

The opening hook is a great one: after a passenger plane crashes onto an open field, it suddenly explodes, killing everyone except the pilot, who’s found wandering from the incendiary wreckage relatively unscathed, yet suffering from temporary amnesia.

Shot-to-shot, John Seale’s cinematography is gorgeous.

That alone makes it worth a peek for genre fans, and here’s hoping a somewhat related thriller, Sole Survivor (1983), gets its due on Blu – a pre-Final Destination shocker in which a plane crash survivor senses Death might be trying to reclaim her.

Survivor’s claim to fame as one of Australia’s costliest productions was eventually superseded by The Lighthorsemen (1987), a movie about the military unit in Palestine involved in the 1917 Battle of Beersheba. I mention Simon Wincer’s film because 30 years after I caught the longer 131 min. version, in ‘scope at the long-dead York Cinemas, and where invited family members of survivors in Canada were present, the movie has yet to receive its proper release on Blu.

Image’s 1996 laserdisc featured the long version with Wincer’s commentary, after which the film as a whole vanished from North America. The 2011 Australian Blu-ray featured the shorter 116 min. cut matted to 1.78:1, and although the 2013 BR from Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in its proper 2.35:1 ratio, it’s still the 116 min. cut, albeit with Wincer’s commentary, presumably edited down to fit the shorter running time.

This of course fuels confusion as to its proper ratio, proper length, and why such an elegant production – melodramatic and romantic, for sure, but gritty in the combat scenes – still doesn’t exist in its definitive form.

Mario Millo’s brilliant, massive orchestral score also enjoyed a condensed LP and later full CD release, but it too vanished and deserves an isolated score track in uncompressed DTS on that definitive Blu-ray edition that maybe one day will emerge. It can’t hurt to bitch a little, right?

Coming next: reviews of Nikkatsu Naughty Nurse Diary: Beast Afternoon (1982) + Vintage Erotica: Anno 1970 from Cult Epics, and Anna Biller’s wonderfully good The Love Witch (2016).

And shortly thereafter: a review of David Mitchell and Jamie Lockhart’s doc The Trail of Dracula (2013) from Intervision, plus Ted Newsome’s Hammer doc Flesh & Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror – Expanded Edition + a lengthy podcast interview with Newsom.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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