The Survivor on DVD

Monday, 27 June 2011 08:09

"The Survivor" is an adaptation of James Herbert's best-selling horror novel about the sole survivor of a terrible aeroplane disaster. Moments after take-off, a passenger jet carrying 300 people plummets into a field very close to a town. As the emergency services struggle to contain the blazing wreckage, a lone figure emerges from the flames. That man is pilot David Keller, suffering from shock and retrograde amnesia.

Keller (Robert Powell - Holby City, "The Thirty Nine Steps") is rushed to hospital but is fit enough to return to the crash site within a day or two. Unable to piece together what happened during the doomed flight, he is approached by a strange lady called Hobbs (Jenny Agutter - "Logan's Run", "An American Werewolf in London"), who appears to be obsessed with the accident and claims she might be able to help him uncover the truth.

The Survivor comes to DVDMeanwhile, people close to the disaster start dying in mysterious circumstances, and Keller and Hobbs are haunted by whispering voices and horrible cries. With the reluctant assistance of a priest (Joseph Cotten - "Citizen Kane", "The Third Man"), the trio must solve this supernatural puzzle before death comes knocking on their doors, too.

The director of the film is David Hemmings, no stranger to horror and mystery as he acted in the likes of Dario Argento's "Deep Red" and the famous thriller "Blow-up". It comes as a surprise, then, that "The Survivor" is sadly lacking in nervy thrills and spills. The central premise is certainly intriguing but it is delivered in a languid and frigid manner. Keller is an unsympathetic character who we care little about and wonder why someone with more charisma had not survived instead.

The death scenes bring to mind classics like "The Omen" and "Don't Look Now", only where those films established a very palpable sense of tension and dread, this film falls flat. A succession of characters we know little about and care less meet grisly ends, but the likely response from the audience is probably going to be a shrug rather than to leap behind the sofa.

On a more positive note, the plane crash and subsequent scenes where the authorities inspect the wreckage are pretty impressive both in terms of believability and scale. The post-crash chaos genuinely looks more like footage captured by a news channel at a real crash than that which has been mocked-up. This was apparently the most expensive movie ever made in Australia at the time, and it shows. There are also some scarily realistic charred corpses and the ending, though predictable, is still quite effective.

I have not read the Herbert book this was based upon, but I suspect it delivers more frights than the movie version, and to pour salt onto the wounds, the only extra on the disc is a trailer.

“The Survivor” (1981) is out now, courtesy of Crabtree Films. The main feature has a running time of 90 minutes approx, carries a ‘15’ certificate and retails for £15.99, or less from

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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