Sci-Fi Dystopia Theater: Chosen Survivors (1974)

I remember this ad for CHOSEN SURVIVORS in the crinkly pages of “The Monster Times” — my favorite newspaper of the 1970’s — and thinking that it looked cool and scary. I imagined how the film might unfurl onscreen, an underground world of steel and computers with hapless denizens screaming and running as deadly vampire bats attack them. Awesome. The film never came around to any of the air force base theaters where I spent some of my formative moviegoing and I never recall it playing on television at all; I was a dedicated troll of “TV Guide,” the kind who would instantly flip through the pages to see what sci-fi and monster flix would be on “Creature Features” the following weekend. So I’m not fucking around when I say I NEVER came across CHOSEN SURVIVORS in my late-nite tube travails…seasons change…decades roll past…the 21st century arrives…

Cut to the pre-dystopic world of 2008 and another wonderful Fox “Midnite Movies” DVD release of CHOSEN SURVIVORS in a terrific 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The intriguing premise is that a computer-picked selection of America’s best and brightest scientists, industrialists and even a writer, are dropped 1758 feet underground into a sterile, automated complex with individual quarters and living areas — as the Earth above has been reduced to a burning nuclear war cinder. The Government has supplied enough necessities for the five years before the elevator takes them back up to safely replenish the Garden. Oh yeah, and there’s also a cave of deadly vampire bats that have found their last living source of food…To say more would deprive the viewer of the nifty pleasures of CHOSEN SURVIVORS, filmed on a low-budget in Mexico and distributed by Columbia Pictures. The unusual mash-up of genres, apocalyptic sci-fi gothic horror, fits well within the 70’s dystopic ouvre such as THE OMEGA MAN and WESTWORLD.

The script by Harry Cross plays loose with logic and character, and we’re given little background outside of exposition by the group psychologist (an effective Bradford Dillman). Still, the archetypal personalities make for some interesting debate, which comprise sections of the film between deadly vampire bat attacks. The most memorable character next to the shaky Dillman is the angry, pragmatic corporate executive played to sleazy perfection by Jackie Cooper. Loud and bullying, you wish somebody would pop him in the mouth (especially after the former Little Rascal assaults one of the ladies). But I like Richard Jaeckel (THE GREEN SLIME) as the Captain of the complex and Alex Cord as The Writer (with feathered hair and a mustache that could have its own area code). There’s also an African-American Olympic athlete (Lincoln Kilpatrick) to add some diversity and an underused Pedro Armendariz Jr.

Of course, the real stars here are the deadly vampire bats. These creepy critters have expressive faces with sharp, pointy teeth. The attacks are fairly well-staged given the budget, sometimes using unique process animation and actual bats fluttering around the actors. Despite the “PG” rating, there is some grue and gore, but the film might as well have gone for bloody broke given the tone and subject matter. Directed by TV veteran Sutton Roley, whose episodic resume looks like a pop cultural buffet of shows like RAWHIDE; HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL; LOST IN SPACE; HAWAII 5-0; BONANZA; THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E; KOJACK; AIRWOLF; etc. You might already know his work based on the amount of airtime of his myriad hit shows. How he came to helm CHOSEN SURVIVORS would be an interesting story as Roley did no more features after this. His style is obvious and familiar, like a 70’s sci-fi series with low perspectives and wide-angle shots. The cinematography by Gabriel Torres (SWEET SUGAR (1972)) and second-unit on PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID) favors gauzy lens and symmetrical framing, which effectively keeps the characters trapped within their steely glass prison. I particularly like the stark blue light used for the attack sequences. Fred Karlin’s electronic score is also an eerie highlight, right on the heels of his soundtrack for WESTWORLD.

Overall, CHOSEN SURVIVORS is essential viewing for fans of the genre. The DVD release also restores 30 minutes (!) of footage that was sheared in the domestic USA 99 minute cut, but most of the material are quiet takes and loud debates betwixt the bickering survivors. I’m a sucker for long ethical debates between opposing archetypes so I was not bored. There are other worthy moments, especially the film’s best scene, the suspenseful climax involving one final escape attempt out of the underground complex. It’s nice to finally viddy this minor gem from the cynical, future shocked 1970’s. And deadly vampire bat attacks are always welcome.

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29 Responses to “Sci-Fi Dystopia Theater: Chosen Survivors (1974)”

  1. I missed this one. Because of your fine retrospective I’ll have to Netflix this one for sure. Thanks, christian.

  2. halmasonberg Says:

    Saw this when it first came out and was happy to see it again. Like going back to the Drive-In.

  3. You’ve dredged up a real obscurity here. Doesn’t even begin to ring a bell. Dig the poster, though.

    (Only on your blog would I use the word “dig”…)

  4. frankbooth, i think you smeared your lippy just a tad

    fwiw i have not seen this ‘chosen survivors’ nor have i ever heard of it, but i’m a sucker for any movie with bats. there are surprisingly few good movies that feature bats in a big way, perhaps i should hunt this down

  5. ha

    as far as i know the all-time great definitive bat horror movie has yet to be made. apparently our native bat is quite “ferocious and inclined to bite”, and cute as a button to boot…hmmm….nerdy scientist-types, the remotest of the remote deep dark bush, cute little bats hiding a nasty sadistic streak, possibly even a mysterious strain of bacteria causing mutation…

    vaguely on topic here’s a little clip of our native bat ‘the short-tail’ for anyone who really digs the creepiness of bats like moi:

    • it helps if i actually insert the link (fingers crossed, lord knows my track record w/links here is highly suspect):

      http://tvnz.co.nz/view/video_popup_flash_skin/1382020

    • christian Says:

      Remember NIGHTWING? Remake on the way:

      • lol, ah yes of course, ‘nightwing’, haven’t seen that in yonks (not sure if it even qualifies for ‘so bad it’s good’ i’d have to have a refresher). that tyre should have squished her melon, crushed skulls are always a nice touch for emphasis in the depiction of fleeing cowards

        (you say a remake on the way? maybe finally the definitive bat horror i’ve been waiting for!…i know better than to hold my breath but hope springs eternal)

  6. Frank B Says:

    Awwww, what little cuties!

    My favorite bat used to be the one on the Bacardi Black label. The only rum I ever liked. (Regular Bacardi is indistinguishable from lighter fluid.)

    I even toyed with getting a tattoo.

    Are the sets in CHOSEN SURVIVORS (terrible title, btw) as cool as they look in the stills? Shhiiiiiiiiiiiiny. They should be right up THE FUTURIST!’s alley, because they’re positively FUTURISTic.

    • christian Says:

      Bat Tat!

      The sets are indeed SHINY and like I said, the gauzy photography adds to the 70’s flava. THE FUTURIST! will love this film.

    • that bacardi bat is adorable, it would make a good little tat on a butt cheek.

      (then your significant other could nickname you ‘bat-ass’ and when they called you that around others, people would look at you and think, “hmm, a bad-ass, eh? who knew. i like it”. good grief, this is the stuff i think about)

  7. Frank B Says:

    Don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone.

  8. aww xian this looks awesome…….. i m still trying to figure out a way to get all this wonderful stuff out here….. bats are so under used…. the 1999 lou diamond phillips vehicle BATS movie was terrible….

    greatest monster bat i remember was chris sarandon bat form in fright night. wasn’t there a giant bat / rat thingie in graveyard shift ?

    • dave, i believe you remember right re: the giant bat monster thing in ‘graveyard shift’, i haven’t seen that in a while but i remember the end

    • christian Says:

      yep. that is indeed the best monster bats. look at those jaws!

  9. Frank B Says:

    Ooooh! Ooooh! I got one.

    Loook vat your godddd has donnn to meee….

  10. isn’t that quote from coppola’s? i’m thinking drac says it in the scene w/mina when he’s in big slimy bat dude mode, thus frrankb’s pic? (that might be way off, i can’t remember it specifically)

  11. Frank B Says:

    That’s a bingo.

  12. i thought i’d got it horribly wrong

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