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Chosen Survivors (1974)

Kino-Lorber
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/4/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/20/2016

The early 1970s were a very turbulent time in America, as there were many things happening in politics. Watergate, Vietnam, protests, hangover from the assassinations of the 1960s, the Cold War -- These things and more created a sense of nihilism in the populace. People didn't trust the government, people lived in fear, and there wasn't a great deal of optimism going around. Much has been written about his this climate was reflected in the art of the times. This was the heyday of the dark and gritty movie in which heroes were hard to define and happy endings didn't show up very often. Chosen Survivors is a very obscure movie from that era which has a scattershot story, but hits all of the trademarks of the 70s.

As Chosen Survivors opens, a group of individuals -- Raymond (Jackie Cooper), Steven (Alex Cord), Peter (Bradford Dillman), Luis (Pedro Armendariz Jr.), Alana (Diana Muldaur), Woody (Lincolin Kilpatrick), Carrie (Gwenn Mitchell), Lenore (Barbara Babcock), Kristin (Cristina Moreno), Claire (Nancy Rodman), and Mary (Kelly Lange) -- are ushered by soldiers into an opening in the desert rocks. They soon find themselves in an elevator, where they are taken deep into the Earth, emerging in an elaborate room, filled with shiny surfaces and huge screens. Here, a recording informs the group that a nuclear war is imminent and they have been chosen for their particular skills and attributes to survive in this bunker so that they can be the future of humanity. The individuals react to this in various ways, but all are clearly shocked. As they attempt to settle in, they explore the space and begin to bond. However, the engineers who built the shelter did not realize that it backed up to a series of caves where danger lurks.

I like to think that I have a good knowledge of science-fiction and horror movies from the 1970s, but until I saw the announcement for this Blu-ray Disc release, I was not familiar with Chosen Survivors. (Although, I guarantee that it had an entry in Michael Weldon's Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, which I read cover-to-cover many times.) Is it surprising that Chosen Survivors is well-known movie. That is an interesting question, as the movie certainly has its pros and cons.

At the outset, the movie has the look and feel of any number of science-fiction movies from the 70s, combined with some stereotypical elements from disaster movies, which were very big at the time. The story seems pretty straight-forward at the outset, as the movie doesn't waste any time introducing its central concept. We see the people enter the bunker and we then learn that they are there in order to survive a nuclear holocaust. In some ways, the movie has a narrative structure which is somewhat similar to The Descent. Being trapped in this bunker while the rest of the world burns seems bad enough. The, the space is invaded by vampire bats, which has come in from the cavern next door. Suddenly, this safe-haven feels like a death-trap, as the group tries to decide how to fight these intruders while tensions flare.

There's no doubt that this is an interesting idea. However, one can't escape the feeling that Chosen Survivors is two scripts which have been shuffled together. It's like someone wanted to make a sci-fi political thriller which focused on the claustrophobic conditions inside of an elaborate bomb-shelter and someone else wanted to make a movie about killer bats. The ideas don't gel very well. There's also the issue that the bats aren't particularly intimidating and the fact that vampire bats, despite their intimidating name, typically don't attack people. (There's an explanation given for their behavior in the film, but it's flimsy at best.) The movie is also oddly paced. There are a few scenes which consists of blue-tinted shots of the interior of the cave...which don't amount to anything. The movie also makes the mistake of brining in the heavily cliched "As if things weren't bad enough, let's turn on each other" motif.

These highs and lows aside, there's one thing which is certain -- Chosen Survivors could be used as a textbook study of a movie from the 1970s (and I'm not talking about the fashions or the use of soft-focus). We start with the anonymous soldiers herding the civilians into the bunker. (Although this is done peacefully.) The group then learns that the fears of the Cold War have come true. There are then questions of choice and free-will. From there, we get notions of trust, between the survivors and trust of the U.S. government. The third act is fairly dark and if this had a more steady hand at the wheel, it could have truly been soul-crushing. As it is, it is certainly dark, but no more so than other tragic films of the era. Chosen Survivors delivers an interesting concept, good acting from the ensemble, and a small amount of suspense. While most will simply find the movie odd, fans of dark cinema from the 70s will want to check out this forgotten gem.

Chosen Survivors shouldn't have close-ups of the cute bats on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Kino-Lorber. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 26 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing very mild grain at times and scant defects from the source materials. The thing which jumps out about the image here is the soft-focus, which is not the fault of the transfer. Still, the HD approach really accentuates the movie's look and it hurts the overall amount of detail. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth is OK, as the film escapes the "flat" look which can plague older movies. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2-channel track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The film's brass-heavy score comes through just fine, as does all of the speech. The track is free from any hissing or popping.

The Chosen Survivors Blu-ray Disc contains only two extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from film historian Richard Harland Smith. The other extra is a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long