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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Chosen Survivors

Combining several tropes, Chosen Survivors (CS) mixed animal attacks, government conspiracies, bunkerism and the small group dynamic. The cast included familiar names, such as Jackie Cooper as the rude self-centered tycoon, Alex Cord as the hip 70s leading man and Diana Muldaur as the sensitive congresswoman. Bradford Dillman plays the duplicitous scientist. Various other supporting cast, including an expendable nobody or two for the bats to kill. The notion of a safe haven turning into a deadly trap had some appeal.

Quick Plot Synopsis
An army helicopter brings 11 sedated civilians to a remote desert site, which is an elevator down to a secret high-tech bunker. They find out that they were chosen by a computer for their various skills. An automated greeting recording tells them they have food, supplies and space to wait the many months to survive a nuclear holocaust, which they are told just occurred. They and other similar bunkers' survivors will be the re-starting of humanity. The group go through various stages of denial, anger and bargaining. A young woman of the group cracks at the mental strain. Tycoon Ray Couzins (Cooper) tries to cajole and bribe passage back to the surface. Behavioral scientist Pete (Dillman) makes notes on how the group is holding up. The group discover that vampire bats have found a way into the bunker. An electrical short makes the lights fail. The bats attack the already frazzled Kristin, who goes into shock. After the bat attack, they rig up an alarm to warn them if the lights go out again. Ray, however, skulks around the computer room pushing buttons. He causes a short that lets in more bats. Luis (the expendable crewmen) tries to stop the bats, but is killed. Pete confesses that the whole thing was a government experiment to see how people would handle living in a survival bunker if there really was nuclear war. He tries to send a get-us-out signal, but there is no answer. The group decide to try and bait the bats with blood (a pint donated by each), and electrocute them. The trap works, but not completely. Kristin is killed. Ray convinces Woody, the over-the-hill olympic star (Lincoln Kilpatrick), to climb the conduit of the elevator shaft to open the door and trip another rescue beacon. After some drama, Woody makes the arduous climb, but is attacked by bats at the top. He opens the door, but falls to his death back in the bunker. Pete gets everyone out of the elevator bay before the bats come down, but not himself. The bats kill Pete. The others lay down to die as doomed. Army brass and soldiers rescue them and bring them to the surface. The recorded messages play ironic encouraging messages about getting along well with each others as they ride the elevator back up. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The story has a twist on the old bunker motif, which adds interest. Director Sutton Roley, a veteran TV director, does a good job of keeping the tension rising and falling. The gore is not made the focus, so fear and tension can get the focus.

Cold War Angle
Bunker mentality was well entrenched in the American culture. It was the popular notion for surviving the long-expected nuclear war. The unquestioned presumption was that the war would happen. It was only a matter of when. The bunkers and bunker programs were the logical conclusion.

Small Animal Attack -- Deadly animals were common in films since silent film days. Giant animals, or lone powerful animals were typical (King Kong, et al). A variant involved attacks by a mass of animals who alone would not be particularly frightening. The flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz ('39) are an early example. Alfred Hitchcock's Birds ('63) is a very famous example. There would be many lesser attempts of the mass small animal attack trope. Ants, bees, even frogs would be tried with variable success. In CS, Roley used bats in a fairly Hitchcockian fashion. One or two bats are startling or a bit gross. It's in the crazed swarm that it works.

Bunker Gone Bad -- Bomb shelters were the mental balm to debilitating atomic anxiety. But nothing could be pure "good." The rescue-shelter gone bad was an intriguing story. Rod Serling's "The Shelter" ('61) is one of the most famous examples. In CS, even the wonders of modern (70s) high-tech cannot create a purely safe haven. They fled the dangers of nuclear disaster (even if fake), only to be threatened by deadly nature. Moral of the story? There is no escape.

It's Da Gubbmint, I Tell Ya -- The early 70s were rife with government conspiracy story lines. Even before Watergate had verified in the public mind that "the government" was sneaky and self-serving, the conspiracy movies preached it. CS is right in line with the norm. Note that none of the eleven knew anything about the bunker and being chosen. They were nabbed and sedated without their consent. Even then, "the government" felt impunity enough to test the bunker plan on the eleven. Alana rather insightfully notes that the same government that could snatch them, would not want them telling about it when the experiment was done. She was sure they would all be killed to keep it all quiet.

70s Cool -- Alex Cord is the epitome of mid-70s cool. Longish hair, tinted aviator glasses, tall collars, even the mustache and moderate sideburns. For those not alive (or aware) in the early 70s, Cord was decked out as THE fashion plate the for cool 70s swinger guy. The standard of "cool" never rests, however. Disco and three-piece suits would replace the denim-jacket leisure suit, etc. But, CS is a nice snapshot of cool in the mid-70s.

Bottom line? CS has its flaws, but by and large is a reasonably well done people-in-danger story with a sci-fi foundation. The Cold War had receded from the front burner of movie-making consciousness, but it was not gone. The acting is pretty good and the effects hold up reasonably well (even though not amazing by 21st century standards). CS is fairly entertaining, even if not perfect.

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