THE SURVIVOR

PrintE-mail Written by John Higgins

The ‘Australian New Wave’ of the late 1970s yielded some impressive films from the likes of George Miller, Peter Weir, Fred Schepisi and Philip Noyce to name but four, with titles like Mad Max, Picnic At Hanging Rock, The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith and Newsfront.

However, there were a number of other titles, some of which got a limited VHS UK release in the early 1980s (through companies like Precision) that were equally worthy of attention and took advantage of the home video revolution to gain exposure. The BBC screened a number of these cult titles around the same time, among them Long Weekend, Crosstalk, The Money Movers and Goodbye Paradise. Sadly, some of these examples have not had much of a screening or release since then…

(However, to clarify this, Long Weekend, an existential rural drama, is available in the UK and is well worth seeking out)

One such title that made it into the heady days of that decade’s video library boom circa 1981 – 82 was David Hemmings’ The Survivor. Adapted from a novel by James Herbert, the opening sequence, according to press notes, made this the most expensive Australian film of its time. It now makes its UK Blu-Ray debut release through Severin Films in 2K HD and the release also comes packed with bonus features, both historical and modern.

The Survivor chronicles the backdrop of a plane crash in a Sydney suburb, when all on board perish – except for the pilot, Keller (Robert Powell), who emerges seemingly unscathed in the immediate aftermath of the wreckage. Naturally, loved ones and associates are understandably puzzled by Keller’s demeanour, but almost straightaway the pilot begins to suffer the after-effects in subtle ways. As a result, despite ongoing amnesia issues, Keller decides to backtrack with the help of a local psychic, Hobbs (Jenny Agutter) – and hopefully solve the mystery that plagues his psychological problems….

Robert Powell was very prolific both in film on television around this time, notably with the title role in Jesus Of Nazareth and a remake of The Thirty-Nine Steps. He is excellent in the role of Keller, with his piercing eyes. Agutter is also very good as the psychic.

Almost four decades on, The Survivor remains atmospheric and stylish enough to give pleasure to the intended audience. As a parallel, Final Destination could be the Hollywood equivalent, as both chronicle the events after a plane accident. The Survivor does approach the subject in a more subtle way and Hemmings structures the narrative around some neat moments of unease and surprise. The overall atmosphere of the film is also helped along by John Seale’s soaringly textured cinematography and Mad Max’s Brian May’s understated score.

Hollywood legend Joseph Cotten took his final bow in The Survivor as a priest who plays a part in Keller’s need and gives an assured, balanced-but-brief performance. The film was also produced by maverick Antony I Ginnane, who produced the likes of Thirst, Patrick and Turkey Shoot (aka Blood Camp Thatcher).

As a footnote, we really do hope that some of the titles mentioned above will get a Blu-Ray release soon, as they are intriguing contributions to Australian Cinema history.

THE SURVIVOR (1981) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DAVID HEMMINGS / SCREENPLAY: DAVID AMBROSE / STARRING: ROBERT POWELL, JENNY AGUTTER, JOSEPH COTTEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW




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