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A Savage Hunger
(a.k.a. The Oasis)
(1984)
 

Director:Sparky Greene                        
Cast:
Chris Makepeace, Scott Hylands, Richard Cox


A Savage Hunger is a relentlessly downbeat movie. Instead of using material that other filmmakers would use to create some kind of exploitation movie, it instead explores the realistic and depressing side of its premise. And explores it does; every few minutes, and at every opportunity, it throws into our faces pain, depression, and a feeling of hopelessness that at the same time remains completely believable. All the awful things that happen to the characters in this movie I can actually see happening in real life. As a consequence, I kept feeling very uneasy watching one agonizing event after the other. Yet at the same time, I was hypnotized by what was happening; I wanted to see if the characters could make it to the end, how they would (if they could, though) get around the gruesome challenges they had to face. The movie is riveting from the start to the end. I can't say that I enjoyed this movie - it was hard to take at times - but I will say that it is very effective, and I don't regret watching it at all. For what it is, it's excellent.

The movie starts off with a bang, immediately bringing us to the aftermath of an airplane crash somewhere in the Mexican desert. As the camera slowly pans through the twisted and scattered wreckage, the movie cuts every few seconds to silent (except for the sound of the wind) footage of the characters we are about to meet, in their previously happy lives - a woman on an air mattress in a pool, a family barbecue, a couple getting married, etc. We then see Matt (Makepeace) numbly making his way through the wreckage silently. We then start to hear wailing, then Matt finds a woman holding her dead husband and dying. Then as we are taken all around the wreckage, we start to see more and more bloody dead bodies, dying passengers, and numb survivors. One of the surviving pilots has gone insane, but a quiet insanity, silently poking at part of the wreckage. Along with Fearless, this is one of the most well done and believable looks at an air crash I've ever seen in a movie.

With some food and water salvaged from the wreckage, the survivors huddle together for the night, confident (fairly) that help will be on the way soon. But it doesn't take long for their hopes to be severely shaken, especially when they find the emergency transmitter had a dead battery and soon afterwards a plane passing overhead missing them. They get a clue that suggests there is some kind of settlement in one direction, so Matt and four of the other survivors set on foot in that direction. Due to a miscommunication, the others that stayed behind soon get up and catch up with the five - a possible costly mistake, but it's too late to return to the wreckage.

What follows up to and beyond the halfway point is some of the most convincing agony I've seen in a movie. Of course, water is scarce, and the heat is intense. But unlike the characters in Survival Run, these characters are clearly suffering immense pain. We see them stumbling through rock and sand terrain slowly, almost like zombies. When they get across one hill, they just see more empty territory beyond them. They are dirty, covered in sores, and beragged. When things become even worse for them, the pain is still not hidden from us. One ghastly sequence shows a desperate character slowly and tiredly urinating into his empty water bottle, then with his hands shaking, slowly raises the bottle to his lips. Elsewhere, people suddenly stop in their tracks and drop dead into the sand. Some of the survivors just disappear. Finally, the remaining survivors find the remains of a building, beside of which is a well - all the water they can drink. But aside from still being in the middle of nowhere, there is still a problem concerning their survival - and that leads to its own share of problems...

As effective as A Savage Hunger is, it's not without problems. There are a few sequences where the survivors have philosophical arguments. One of them has one of the characters arguing that people can't be animals because they can love, and another survivor saying that it doesn't matter out in an environment like this. These arguments sound really artificial, and you almost expect these pseudo philosophers to pull out cocktails at any second. Another criticism I have is that we don't really get to know even one specific character; despite his billing, Makepeace is for the most part just one of the other stunned participants. We don't even learn his name until 3/4 of the movie is over. It is true that for much of the movie, there isn't a chance - or even a need - for character development. Just seeing these people go through hell is captivating by itself. When they get to the well, and have no other choice but to stay where they are, that's when we need to see more personality from these people. Their subsequent actions as a result are sometimes hard to figure out.

It is in no way a perfect movie, but there are many sequences and little moments in this movie that I will remember for a long time, long after I have forgotten these problems. Sometimes the characters make a little yet memorable observation, such as commenting that a colony of ants nearby have a better chance of survival than more advanced humans. There are even little moments of humor, as when one character decides to quit smoking before taking the big hike, figuring it's a good opportunity to do so now. What's most effective in the movie are the heartbreaking moments, and there are many. The woman seen at the beginning with her dead husband holds his corpse all through the first night. When one of the survivors is punished by having his water rations completely cut off, his mumbling and the look on his face is unforgettable. Sadder still is when one of the characters weakens during the journey, and starts crying, "I don't want to die...I just want to be home!..." Then when he later collapses and can't go on, he pleas with one of the others to, "Every once in a while....just think of me, okay?...."

Sparky Greene is one of those directors who make just one movie and then disappear to who knows where. It's too bad that he hasn't made any more movies, because he made quite a debut here. Filming in Death Valley, he managed to create one of the closest things to hell on earth anyone has done. Few times before has the desert looked so beautiful and deadly at the same time. The movie does go on an extra scene or two too long, but without those scenes we probably wouldn't have gotten that unforgettable final shot. He created a depressing movie, yes, but an unforgettable and effective one. So effective, that I am sincere when I say that you should not watch this if you are in a downer mood.


UPDATE: Mike Self sent this information along:

"I didn't know if you ever found anything else out about Sparky Greene, but I thought you might be interested to know that he owns a few apartment buildings in the West Los Angeles area, and his main gig these days seems to be collecting rent on them."

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Survival Run, Survivor, Your Three Minutes Are Up

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