Chosen Survivors (1974)
Cast: Jackie Cooper, Alex Cord, Richard Jaeckel, Bradford Dillman, Diana Muldaur
Director: Sutton Roley
Nutshell: With the human race in peril during nuclear annihilation, a small group of survivors hunker down 1,750 feet below and as tensions rise it soon becomes evident that they are not alone.
Released back in 1974 this film is a sort of pseudo futuristic sci fi survival horror film with a solid dose of underlying morality. 11 seemingly punch drunk and utterly bewildered citizens (they’re actually sedated as we later find out) are taken from their homes and flown by helicopter to some unforsaken desert area where they are herded into an elevator which begins a long descent below the earth’s surface. The descent in itself is a bizarre scene where the passengers of the elevator are thrown about as though in space and for added effect everything is depicted in slow motion with even the sounds being slowed down. Finally, 1,758 feet later the elevator door slides open and the strangers now find themselves in a very odd art deco world of large global lampshades and matching stools.
A large 1984esque screen lights up and a woman speaks to the imprisoned guests informing them of their situation and how they must act to ensure the survival of the human race. They are informed through graphic footage that a nuclear inferno has scorched the earth and there are no survivors and until the levels of radiation come down to tolerable levels, they are the chosen ones who will remain in this subterranean labyrinth with all mod cons and hopefully procreate for the betterment of humanity.
It’s all a little difficult to swallow for the survivors and they react in differing ways; from outright disbelief and rebellion to devastated numbness. But at least while everyone else is dead, they are still alive, and though imprisoned in a confined space at least they have their private rooms and other facilities to while away the hours. The underground complex has been built for survival with a supply of food and vital oxygen for a four-year period by which time it is hoped the nuclear devastation will have lost its immediate danger to life.
Everything has been thought of by the builders of the subterranean Art Deco world, almost everything. Unfortunately, as the survivors soon discover, they are not alone and as night falls and the shadows lengthen, thousands of dormant Vampire bats rise from their slumber; very, very hungry. They make their way from the catacombs and underground caves, their natural habitat and fly out in search for blood in their masses. Now the bats sense fresh, hot, human blood; tasty and nourishing. Suddenly boredom is replaced by a new and much more ferocious and threatening enemy; thousands of thirsty vampire bats and which of the survivors will live to see the next dawn.
The human interaction under extreme pressure exposes all sorts of ugly frailties and prejudices and the group is divided and in danger of turning upon itself. The resilience and resourcefulness of the group is stretched beyond snapping point when a twist reveals things to be not quite what they are and yet even those revelations fail to diminish the threat of the bats and as mornings draw into afternoons and then into evenings and nightfall, once again, the desperate battle for survival is on. The question is who will survive and what will be left of them?
There are a few fairly creepy sequences, especially those that precede a Bat Attack but though the threat of these ghastly blood sucking creatures remains beyond dire, it does seem rather odd that hundreds are decimated in minutes when they are taken on in a pillow fight and thrashed to a pulp by one of the more brave survivors. This farcical scene played with deadpan seriousness is rather symbolic of the whole movie itself; even Bradford Dillman appears to be reasonably normal by his standards.
There are some fairly sharp and overt digs at the “political system” and the government is accused of lies and cover-ups and deception and of keeping secrets from the people. All this reflecting the Post Nixon and Watergate mood that had American’s mistrusting their government to new levels. There is an air of government conspiracies hanging in the air during Chosen Survivors and perhaps it is this serious political approach that is reason for some of its shortcomings as rather than concentrate on the terror and survival aspect on a visceral level it loses steam deviating on the more social and moral issues of a group faced with extreme duress and stress.
Chosen Survivors is mildly engaging even if it comes across as highly dated and more than a little clunky. However, for a film as batty as this one undoubtedly is, an injection of intentional humour could have served it well, sadly it’s pretty stone faced seriousness on the most part with most of the laughs quite unintended.