A.J.’s Solid ’70s Horrorthon #6: “Chosen Survivors” (1974)
by A.J. Hakari
Chosen Survivors is one of the stranger incidents of cinematic overkill that I’ve come across. Like 2007’s Primeval, which thought a tale of African civil unrest could do with a giant crocodile, this disaster-style thriller takes an already intense setting and throws in a ridiculous B-story for added heebie jeebies. Oftentimes, this means the filmmakers wanted a back-up plan in case audiences got bored with the chief goings-on, which isn’t always the wisest move. But while it’s not exactly a prize, Chosen Survivors does pretty well for itself, mostly due to its reliance on good, old-fashioned paranoia over convenient idiocy to drive the plot.
The day we’ve been fearing for decades has finally arrived. Nuclear war is underway, with the earth’s nations having let loose their entire arsenals on one another. But before the worst can come to pass, a select group of individuals are spirited away to a top-secret compound buried two miles under the desert in who knows where. Comprised of a corporate bigwig (Jackie Cooper), an athlete (Lincoln Kilpatrick), and a handful of others, these folks are told that it’s now their duty to band together and ensure that mankind continues. But they’ve barely gotten a grasp on the situation before further danger arises. Seeing as how their new digs were fashioned out of cavens, the survivors find out that their next-door neighbors are a colony of vampire bats, who soon set their sights on the bunker as their new food source.
Chosen Survivors is what it would’ve been like if Irwin Allen got The Swarm right. This movie gets right to the horror and dedicates no screen time to dwelling on the minutae of characters who are gonna bite the big one in five minutes anyway. However, this streamlining doesn’t always work in the film’s favor. The eleven souls trapped below are divided between Jackie Cooper as the resident jerkward (who instantly tries buying his way out of the apocalypse, because capitalism is bad, m’kay?) and…everyone else. Yeah, keeeping tabs on who’s who is a trying task, what with everyone freaking out to some degree. But on the other hand, their reactions come across as surprisingly authentic; faced with the burden of carrying on the human race, the entire group cracks almost instantly. No one embraces the task that’s been hoisted upon them, making their frustration easier to accept and requiring little contrived influence to prod the tension along.
If, by now, you’re wondering why Chosen Survivors even needs bats if its characters are their own worst enemies, then…you’d be totally right. These fleets of winged death don’t necessarily harm the movie, but their presence is played up to a strangely conspicuous degree. It’s as if they’d be better off just being one of many threats to be faced in the bunker, instead of being the one thing for the characters to concern themselves with when they’re not at each others’ throats. They’re used to their most suspenseful effect in the final act, when one of the group makes a desperate escape attempt, but overall, the little buggers don’t detract that much from the final product. The flick has plenty of other surprises up its sleeve, ones that actually tie into the plot and its highly cynical themes of overestimating man’s capacity for goodness. The acting is serviceable, with Bug‘s Bradford Dillman excelling in another unhinged role and Cooper as the baddest apple in the barrel, who turns out to be the most observant of the survivors.
There’s not much else one can say about Chosen Survivors, save for that it got the job done with greater success than I anticipated. It’s a humble creature feature, contributing nothing of note to horror at large but working well as a claustrophobic thriller on its own. As post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies filled with rabies-ridden bats go, Chosen Survivors is one of the best.