During the notorious Dr. Scholl's war of '96, Appellate Judge Tom Becker became an insole survivor.
It wants her…it's waiting…it won't be long now.
"No one can stop it, Denise. And anyone who gets in the way, or anyone who knows about it, or anyone who even suspects, will be dealt with."
Facts of the Case
Actress Karla Davis (Caryn Larkey) is having dreams about Denise (Anita Skinner), a woman she's never met but who has cast her in a commercial. In one dream, she Denise surviving a plane crash.
Sure enough, Denise is in a plane crash and winds up being the Sole Survivor. Grateful (naturally) to be alive, she has a feeling that something isn't right. She's having trouble sleeping, and she's uncomfortable being alone.
Worse, though, she begins seeing strange people—people who don't speak or react, but seem to be pursuing her.
Is Denise suffering a severe case of survivor guilt? Or is it her survival that was the real accident?
If there's a special place in Hell for all the shoddy, derivative, unscary horror movies churned out each year, then Sole Survivor must have a seat reserved in obscure movie heaven. Co-opting bits of cult favorites Carnival of Souls and Night of the Living Dead with a plot that pre-dates the insipid Final Destination franchise by almost two-decades, this is a chilly and effective little creeper.
Sole Survivor was released in the slasher-happy '80s, when films like Friday the 13th had ratcheted up what was not only acceptable in terms of violence, but what was expected in a horror movie, while effects wizards like Tom Savini became legends by trying to out-gore their previous efforts. Sole Survivor is not a slasher movie; it's an old-time existential horror-cum-paranormal chiller, and in the glutted grue market, it didn't stand a chance. Add in a less-than favorable distribution deal from a low-tier independent releasing company, and the film just fell by the wayside. A VHS from Vestron didn't help bring it to the forefront, either.
Fortunately, Code Red has resurrected this gem and given it a spiffy DVD release complete with decent tech and a good slate of extras.
I'll admit, I'm a sucker for low-budget, late '70s/early '80s horror films, and Sole Survivor is a veritable compendium of everything I cherish about the genre:
• The Old Days
• The Non-sequitors
• Gratuitous Nudity
Independently produced on a micro-budget by star Larkey, her husband Dan, and acting teacher Sal Romeo, the film looks very good on DVD. Audio is the original mono, and it's clear, but—as always—I wish they'd provided subtitles. For supplements, we get an intro to the film by Larkey, an interview with Larkey and Romeo, and a commentary with Larkey, Romeo, film historian Jeff McKay, and director (Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) Jeff Burr, plus trailers for this film and a few others, include The Dead Pit and The Silent Scream.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Obviously, I really enjoyed this film, but it's certainly not the second coming. It's still a low-budget horror movie with its share of flaws.
Anita Skinner isn't bad in the lead, but she's not great, either. As awful things happen, she often seems more like an annoyed soccer mom than an increasingly terrified heroine. A little more vulnerability would have helped this performance.
Also, while I applaud the film for giving us something different, there are a few logic problems here. At the risk of presenting spoilers, I'll leave this to the viewer, except to say that Carnival of Souls approached things more cohesively.
Sole Survivor is a fun and creepy thriller primed for rediscovery. Code Red's disc is impressive. Pick it up.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Code Red
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