A gonzo hybrid blending creature-feature elements with the tropes of post-apocalyptic melodrama, Chosen Survivors features a doozy of a plot—several individuals who were unknowingly handpicked by the government to restart the human race get kidnapped, drugged, and stashed inside an underground fallout shelter just before a devastating nuclear attack, only to discover that the shelter is infested with vicious vampire bats. Predictably, the pressure of the horrific situation brings out the best in some people and the worst in others, so Chosen Survivors ends up borrowing narrative DNA from a third major genre, the disaster movie. Given the far-fetched premise, it should come as no surprise to say that Chosen Survivors fails to achieve anything resembling credibility. This thing is outrageous and even a little bit silly from start to finish. Nonetheless, what Chosen Survivors lacks in quality, in makes up for in vibe. The picture is dark, fast, and nasty, so it feels a bit like an early John Carpenter movie, right down to the lean and ominous musical score. Enjoying the movie requires that viewers ignore major lapses in logic, but it’s a fun ride for those willing to follow Chosen Survivors down its bizarre path.
The movie begins enigmatically, with helicopters landing in a remote site and discharging the principal characters, who are then roughly escorted into an elevator shaft by military personal. The drugged states of the characters are depicted with distorted slow-motion images, jarring edits, and weird music, so the long trip the characters take from the surface to their new subterranean home is fairly trippy. Eventually, the caretaker of the fallout shelter, Major Gordon Ellis (Richard Jaeckel), explains that the “chosen survivors” were doped because there wasn’t time to risk the participants refusing to cooperate. According to Ellis, the surface of America has been obliterated by nuclear bombs, so the “chosen survivors” must live underground and procreate until it’s safe to emerge from the shelter. Among the eclectic gang are scientists Lenore Chrisman (Barbara Babcock), Alana Fitzgerald (Diana Muldaur), Peter Macomber (Bradford Dillman), and Steven Mayes (Alex Cord); wealthy businessman Raymond Couzins (Jackie Cooper); and Olympic athlete Woody Russo (Lincoln Kilpatrick).
Friction between these people materializes even before the first bat attack, with Cooper’s unhinged character trying to bribe others into releasing him because he doesn’t believe a nuclear attack occurred. Then, once the bats start biting, people go completely off the deep end. Cooper’s character tries to rape one of the female doctors, Dillman’s character retreats into analytical mode by observing the dissipation of the group instead of helping solve problems, and Cord’s character becomes morbidly philosophical. (In one of the movie’s most quintessentially ’70s moments, Cord purrs hippy-dippy musings about the inherent faults of the human race: ‘”The world’s too big. People don’t have time. People don't even have time for people. That's why I got so hyped on this place. It’s not too big.”
Interspersed with the quiet scenes are wild action/horror sequences, some of which gain a surreal quality thanks to the use of cheesy and unconvincing special effects. In fact, whenever Chosen Survivors hits a groove of optically inserted bats chomping victims to the accompaniment of jittery electronic music, the picture becomes cartoonishly nihilistic—think Saturday-matinee action viewed through the prism of a nightmare. Further, the movie is stylishly shot, with lots of claustrophobic compositions and dense color filters and oppressive shadows, while the cast of mostly B-level actors contributes appropriately over-the-top acting. Dillman is enjoyably twitchy, and Kilpatrick has a great moment when his character makes a sweaty climb up the elevator shaft while besieged by bats.
Chosen Survivors: GROOVY