I'm all for low-budget sci-fi films with a simple but effective premise, especially those with less than a dozen speaking parts...but, y'know, only if they're actually good. Case in point: Sutton Roley's Chosen Survivors (1974) ticks most of those boxes and almost delivers on its promise of terror, suspense, and intrigue, yet at the same time feels so tone-deaf and sloppy that it's almost baffling. The story goes like this: after a global thermonuclear war, ten diverse strangers---chosen based on race, gender, and skill sets (biologist, physicist, Olympian, ecologist, etc.)---are ushered to a massive underground facility 1,758 feet below the New Mexico desert. These "lucky" few have been completely isolated from the crumbling outside world, with everything on hand to make them self-sufficient for five years...and apparently, there are 168 more chosen survivors in similar facilities around the globe.
The party of ten is eventually met by Major Gordon Ellis (Richard Jaeckel) of the US Army, who maintains systems and life support in the underground facility, with their only other immediate "companion" being a pre-recorded host (Kelly Lange, a long-time Los Angeles news anchor) that broadcasts all the rules in droning, reverb-drenched detail. Slowly but surely, they explore the facility and start to learn more about what's going on above. Good so far, right?
Unfortunately for them (and us), an untold number of killer vampire bats has infested the surrounding caverns, and now they've found a way in. After the bats kill a handful of caged birds, they set their beady little eyes on the 11 humans...and wouldn't you know it, that number gradually dwindles as Chosen Survivors quickly devolves from half-decent sci-fi into half-baked horror (and if that weren't enough, there's another huge, unwarranted swerve near the halfway point). That's exactly my problem with this film as a whole: it's waaay too big for its britches, and not quite fun enough to feel like a reckless drive worth taking. To make matters worse, the dodgy special effects---none worse than a handful of poorly-blended process shots---deflate almost every ounce of terror, which wouldn't be necessary if Chosen Survivors didn't play it completely straight from start to finish. Essentially, what we're left with is just under half of a decent little movie that's been hijacked by its own lofty ambitions.
But at least it's not boring. Chosen Survivors does manage to serve up visual flair, efficient editing, and a handful of solid performances by the likes of Jackie Cooper (Superman), Bradford Dillman (The Way We Were), Lincoln Kilpatrick (Soylent Green), and Diana Muldaur (Star Trek: The Next Generation). A joint production between the U.S. and Mexico---reportedly due to the obvious legal issue of importing 40,000 bats across our border---Chosen Survivors may appeal to nostalgic B-movie fans, but I'd recommend that new viewers try out MGM's old Double Feature DVD before jumping in to Kino's new Blu-ray. If you're game, though, it's a good package for this obscure title.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Chosen Survivors seems like an odd candidate for high definition. Don't get me wrong: portions of this film look terrific with strong image detail, good background depth, and an appropriate layer of film grain. But this isn't an attractive film by design: glaring lights shine off reflective walls throughout the underground facility, resulting in a diffused and often noisy appearance, while low-light cave sequences (and, of course, those terrible process shots) show a substantial dip in quality and uneven black levels. Even so, this is a generally clean print and the ultra low-budget Chosen Survivors has likely never looked better on home video. I'd imagine that die-hard fans will enjoy the obvious improvements over MGM's Double Feature DVD.
DISLCAIMER: The still images and captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mix splits the original one-channel audio into a 2.0 spread with relatively clear dialogue and a surprising amount of LFE at times. Fred Karlin's wildly eclectic score (that's my diplomatic way of saying "uneven") has a tendency to overpower at times, but this could very well be the director's intent and doesn't distract for very long. The reverbed monologues by Kelly Lange's character, on the other hand, are very hard on the ears and may have you reaching for the "mute" button. No major defects were spotted along the way, and overall this is a decent enough effort what what it is. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles have been included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The basic interface includes separate options for playback, chapter selection, and bonus features, with quick loading time and minimal pre-menu distractions. This one-disc package arrives in a standard keepcase and includes poster-themed artwork; no inserts or slipcovers are included, but everything of importance is listed on the back.
Surprisingly, there's one new extra included here that, according to the contributor, is exclusive to this Blu-ray: a feature-length Audio Commentary
by film historian Richard Harland Smith. It's a fairly interesting track that fans will enjoy, even if it attempts to be a bit too scholarly for a film about killer bats. Refreshingly, Smith admits to having never seen Chosen Survivors
until a decade ago: it never played locally, but he'd been fascinated by the mysterious film after it was explained in great detail by a schoolmate. Still, he's awfully forgiving of the film's obvious faults and seems reluctant to criticize it, although a few of his thematic observations and well-researched details about the cast proved interesting. Also included is the film's Theatrical Trailer
(3 minutes), and a few related Trailers
including The Earth Dies Screaming
(also available on Blu-ray by Kino with its own Smith commentary).
Sutton Roley's Chosen Survivors is a potentially great little sci-fi production that oversteps its boundaries three times: by devolving into generic horror, adding an unnecessary and baffling character turn, and never having the good sense to poke fun at both of these bad decisions. Still, it's entertaining enough the first time through, thanks to a handful of good performances and a bit of visual flair, even if the overcooked end result feels like something you'd only like ironically. Despite these drawbacks, I'd imagine that Chosen Survivors has its share of nostalgic fans...and for those folks, Kino's Blu-ray serves up a decent A/V presentation and an exclusive audio commentary. It's recommended to the right crowd, but newcomers should Rent It or try out MGM's Double Feature DVD instead.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.