1,758 feet underground. A perfect world programmed for man’s survival, except for…
Part apocalyptic sci-fi, part horror movie, part disaster film and all just “ok,” 1974’s Chosen Survivors takes a group of people randomly selected by a computer to go live in an underground bunker and survive the impending nuclear apocalypse. Things are already going badly before they realize they are trapped below the surface with a colony of vicious, bloodthirsty vampire bats. Kind of a “glass half empty, glass half empty” scenario.
On paper, I like the idea of a movie that starts out as doomsday sci-fi before taking a hard right turn into survivalist horror, and echoes of some of the claustrophobic cave sequences can be felt in modern horror movies ranging from the great The Descent to the less-great The Cave. Unfortunately, the chosen survivors of the movie’s title (among them Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Diana Muldaur and Jackie Cooper, the Perry White of the original Christopher Reeve Superman series) aren’t worth caring about. They’re a fairly miserable group of strangers even before they begin to turn on one another, only a few among them sketched in broad detail. It’s understandable that they are portrayed as frightened and confused, given the plot in which they find themselves, but in order for us to invest in their well-being and to root for their escape it is vital that we also get to see their humanity. That’s the part that Chosen Surviors mostly leaves out. These people snipe and they shout and then they start dying off and it’s hard to feel any fear or sympathy for them. I wouldn’t want to be trapped with this group either.
Director Sutton Roley worked almost exclusively in television, which explains why Chosen Survivors feels so much like a TV movie with a slightly bigger budget — but only slightly. The “bottle episode” nature of the setup gives the film a low-budget, self-contained setup that ends up betrayed during all of the bat attack sequences, most of which are created with creaky optical effects that even by early ’70s standards don’t really hold up. Worse than the effects, though, is the way that most of these horror beats are executed for minimal tension; only one scene, in which a character attempts to open a door while being attacked by dozens of hungry mouths, manages to make much of an impression. For a horror movie that’s meant to create tension, this is not a great average.
Previously available as a double feature DVD (part of MGM’s “Midnite Movies” line), Chosen Survivors has now received a full 1080p HD upgrade for the Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. This is the kind of ’70s movie that looks like it was permanently photographed through a piece of Saran Wrap covered in Vaseline, something even the HD transfer can’t overcome; the image lacks sharpness and skin tones tend to be washed out. The lossless stereo audio track fares a little better, offering clear dialogue and decent separation in the underground bunker, particularly during the bat attack sequences that make use of the other channels. As far as extras, there is an informative but somewhat dry audio commentary with film historian Richard Harlan Smith and the movie’s original trailer, plus a few bonus trailers for similar disaster-themed sci-fi titles available from Kino.
There’s a certain B-movie charm to Chosen Survivors, but it’s not quite enough to overcome the movie’s pacing or the lack of a single character in which it’s worth investing. While the commentary on Kino’s Blu-ray makes a case for the movie being better than it seems on a single viewing, I can’t shake the feeling that other films have covered similar territory more effectively.