Survival Run

Director: Larry Spiegel                          
Peter Graves, Ray Milland, Vincent Van Patten

Did the FVI film company ever make any good decisions? After recently researching the movies they made and distributed, including a viewing of The Dark (The Daaaaaarkkkk....), I have to say no. I'm frankly amazed the company lasted as long as it did, finally calling it quits in the mid 80s after the turkey Alien Predator.  Though a few years earlier, there were signs that the fatal cracks that would befall the company were starting to form. One of the more notable cracks was shown in the release of Survival Run, a pretty bad movie that doesn't seemed to have made much money at the box office, nor found any real success on TV or video.

The plot of this movie is simple (and it doesn't get much simpler than this): Six sex-obsessed Tarzana teens decide to drive out in the middle of the desert for a weekend trip. In the middle of nowhere, their horseplay accidentally gets their van into an accident, breaking an axle. Hiking out to find rescue, they stumble into a band of men camped out in a small valley, after about 1/3 of the movie has gone by. The men claim they are prospectors and welcome the teens with beer after their long hot walk, but as you've probably suspected, they are not who they claim. Everybody then more or less sits around and waits until the halfway point, where the teens discover the men are actually drug traffickers, forcing the youths to run for their lives from the pursuing villains.

It's yet another of the endless variations of Richard Connell's famous short story, The Most Dangerous Game. Though here it becomes The Most Deadly Game - as in "deadly dull". This movie takes forever to get going, as I pointed out in the previous paragraph. Yet at the same time, it is also rushed. The setup of the movie takes no time to tell us anything about these teenagers, instead rushing them off towards the desert as quickly as possible. As a result, all the teens have the same personalities, which is bad enough, but what's even worse is that they are all idiotic from the start. The establishment of the villains is also poorly done. Although the villains make an appearance at the beginning of the movie, we never actually see their faces at this point. They are "seen" entering a warehouse, where upon some FBI agents enter to arrest them, but get blown away - which is played out by sticking the camera outside the warehouse, and dubbing in a few gunshots. Not only don't we get to see anything in this segment, the whole thing is pointless, because this incident has no bearing on what happens in the rest of the movie.

Peter Graves, as one of the villains, must have been desperate for the work. A villain like him needs to be quick-witted and menacing. Instead, he looks tired and grumpy, building up noticeable sweat stains on his khaki outfit, and doesn't seem to be putting out a lot of effort, both in speaking and physical activity. Doubly so for Ray Milland, which makes it painful to watch him. In his 70s when he starred in this movie, Milland spends most of the movie sitting down, or standing in one place. When he moves around, it seems like he's in agony, especially since his character wears a suit in the broiling weather. As for the youths, even "big star" Van Patten is as forgettable as the others in his group, no doubt in part because of their badly written characters. The teenagers never get our sympathy in the movie. After they crash their van, the first things they do to deal with their problem of being stuck in the middle of nowhere are to drink beer, and to build a fire and having sex around it while one of them plays the guitar and sings, "It Ain't Gonna Rain No More." (Well, you're in the desert, so you've got that right!) Speaking of music, Survival Run has a musical score that not only bad, but irrelevant at times. When we see the hot and tired teenagers struggle through the broiling desert in search of help, the soundtrack blares: "We are young / We are free / Anyone know a better place to be? / Takin' it easy / My baby and meeeee...." And a drunken Mexican later belts out "La Bamba" so awfully, that I'll never hear a Ritchie Valens song in the same way again.

The strange thing about the second half of the movie - when the teens are being pursued - is that it doesn't become an action movie. Yes, there are chases, guns, and all that stuff, but it still doesn't become an action movie. The action is sporadic, yes, which contributes to this feel. But the action itself is so limply and lifelessly done, it's almost non-existent. In a sequence like this, we need to feel fear, tension, and a sense of helplessness from the protagonists. Yet I had the feeling each time I saw the teens that a crew with a cooler full of drinks was behind the camera. Director Spiegel shows absolutely no flair for action, with such scenes playing out so mechanically, that I was able to put my brain into autopilot until each such scene ended, knowing full well how each and every scene would play out and conclude. Though to give him credit, I didn't know previously that a bullet can sometimes ricochet off an object before the gun actually fires.

The final insult that Spiegel does to us is to threaten a sequel to this movie. It's not just the threat itself that is bad, but for the fact that the movie ends with several big problems left unresolved - problems that would first have to be resolved before a sequel could even be discussed.  Though the fact that this movie was completed in 1978, but shelved for two years, seems to suggest that any plans for a sequel were far away from the makers of this movie. I guess I was wrong - FVI did make a right decision, after all.

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See also: A Savage Hunger, Bad Company, Survival Quest