Chosen Survivors (1974)

Rating: C-

Director: Sutton Roley
Star: Jackie Cooper, Alex Cord, Richard Jaeckel, Lincoln Kilpatrick

A group of ten people out of various walks of life, from athletes to politicians, groggily wake to find themselves sequestered in a bunker, 1,700 feet below the New Mexican desert. A pre-recorded message tells them they are part of a network of such refuges. These were activated, leading to their residents’ abduction and transfer, by a global nuclear conflict. They are now the future of humanity, and will wait for radiation levels to go down, then emerge to become the future of humanity. This could be a while. As in, there’s food for five years. But it’s not even five hours before the bickering starts among these non-volunteer participants, save for military caretaker Gordon Ellis (Jaeckel), as they react in various ways to the news of World War III.

This is a very good set-up, helped by production design which couldn’t be more seventies, if it was sporting an afro and bellbottoms. There are any number of ways the story could potentially go. I’ve seen enough of this kind of thing to know, just because someone says there’s a nuclear war, doesn’t necessarily mean there is a nuclear war. The first half-hour feels like it could easily be an episode of Black Mirror. There is a growing sense of claustrophobic isolation, with rich asshole Raymond Couzins (Cooper) being a particularly annoying and divisive fly in the ointment. So, how will things unfold? Who or what will turn out to be the biggest threat to this thin sliver of remaining mankind?

If you guessed the answer to the latter question is “aggressive vampire bats”, give yourself two points.

Yeah. In terms of monumental missteps, I am hard pushed to think of a bigger one. I get that animal attack films were big at this point in the decade. It doesn’t mean every movie needs to have them. The human drama here should have been enough to drive the narrative, and the sudden switch to an underground siege against some distinctly non-threatening animals doesn’t work on any level. There is one creepy moment involving a bat autopsy, and also an unnecessary amount of apparently real dead birds. I guess these genuine animals could at least be seen as an improvement over HoverBatâ„¢.

Even Lucy Lawless was unable to do much with vampire bats, and on the human side, there’s nobody on whom the conflict here can be hung for a moment viewer, in part because there are a lot of attitudes here which haven’t dated well. The women are basically ignored while the men decide what to do, and when Couzins tells Woody Russo (Kilpatrick), the only black guy – an Olympic medallist, naturally – “You’re nothing but a goddamn stud!”,  nobody disagrees. The technology might fare better, and it’s just a spinning tape-drive from completing its bingo card of archaic IT clichés. Much of this makes no sense, e.g. why put the only help beacon at the top of the 1,700 foot shaft, and well before Russo is sent to climb it, proceedings have degenerated to below the level of a TV movie.