Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Chosen Survivors": When Genres Collide

Chosen Survivors (1974) has a wonderful premise that is dying to get out and be made into a good horror movie. Sadly, it was made into Chosen Survivors.

The premise of Chosen Survivors is this: hand-picked survivors of a nuclear holocaust settle into a secure underground bunker only to find that it is infested with deadly vampire bats. When I was a kid watching commercials for Chosen Survivors on TV, I was sure this would be a good movie. Somehow I couldn't convince my parents to take me, and the film passed into deep cultural oblivion, and it took until yesterday, 37 years later, for me to see it.

Part of the problem with Chosen Survivors is that it is not readily clear to what genre it belongs. I am reasonably sure it is a horror movie because, among other things, the blog Horror Movie a Day includes it as one of its entries. Also, Chosen Survivors ultimately focuses on the vampire bats and their destructiveness in a setting to which they do not belong (positional deformity), making this a movie whose primary purpose is to present a deformed destructive being (DDB); this meets my theoretical definition of a horror movie. More precisely, this DDB belongs to the berserk biota category, subcategory swarming, which also includes the birds in The Birds, the rats in Willard, and the piranhas in Piranha: small animals that become dangerous when grouped in large numbers to prey on humans.

Despite these affiliations to the horror genre, Chosen Survivors at times plays more like a science fiction film, the kind with metallic sets, blinking lights, a futuristic setting (here post-apocalyptic), and a lot of philosophical discussion about how we are losing our individuality and becoming machines. It is also a paranoid thriller about how the government is manipulating and lying to us. SPOILER: In this case, the nuclear holocaust turns out to be a hoax, a setup to an elaborate psychological experiment conducted by the government.

Because Chosen Survivors is not entirely sure of its genre, it suffers from jarring shifts in tone and uneven pacing. And there are other defects. The acting consists basically of shouting for emphasis; the script contains howlers like the rape victim who suddenly decides to lie back and enjoy it. The hair and costumes reek of the '70s, making the film look dated. Real vampire bats are used for close-ups, and these are effective, but for long shots of attacking swarms a fake-looking bat swirl is used, complete with matte lines around the actors.

So Chosen Survivors is not perfect. It is not the best post-apocalyptic vampire bat movie that could be imagined. But it is the one we have, and it has its moments. The bats flocking into bedrooms late at night; the bats tearing holes into people's faces; the spectacle of Diana Muldaur and Alex Cord lying in bed post-coitally and talking philosophy. All in all, it was worth waiting 37 years for.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

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