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Case Number 23629: Small Claims Court

Buy Katarina's Nightmare Theater: The Survivor at Amazon

Katarina's Nightmare Theater: The Survivor

Scorpion Releasing // 1981 // 99 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // April 6th, 2012

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker's survival is dependent on a steady supply of junk food and bad TV.

The Charge

Pilot error…or supernatural terror?

The Case

A 747 goes down in a field. It's a devastating crash that leaves everyone dead—except the pilot, David Keller (Robert Powell, Tommy), who walks away virtually unscathed. Keller has no memory of the crash, and no one can figure out how he survived.

The Survivor is a creepy, compelling, but ultimately unsatisfying little chiller from Australia. Directed by David Hemmings—better known as the star of Blow-Up and Deep Red—the film's got its heart in the right place, but its muddled narrative and confused, perfunctory reveal keep it from becoming the fully realized shocker it should be.

Hemmings gives us a lot of stuff to chew on. The plane crash (an impressive looking wreck) yields a field of charred bodies, and the scenes of the emergency crew removing them are horrifying and haunting. Later, some people peripherally involved meet mysterious deaths. There are malevolent children, ghostly apparitions, and a psychic (Jenny Agutter, Walkabout) who offers to help Keller understand what's going on.

The film is based on a novel by James Herbert. Though I haven't read the book (perhaps the film would have made a bit more sense if I had), this series of eerie scenes demand a stronger explanation than they get. When we do get the wrap up, it's forced and unconvincing.

I appreciate Hemmings' restraint and reluctance to give in to genre tropes, but he seems so intent on making a serious non-genre film that he ultimately misses the mark. The performances are good, and the film's quite atmospheric, but the scares don't jolt the way they should, and this ill-defined story makes it tough to get involved in the goings on. The loose ends aren't thought-provoking; they're just frustrating. In the plus column, The Survivor boasts excellent cinematography by John Seale (The English Patient) and a fine score by Brian May (Mad Max).

Scorpion's release of Katarina's Nightmare Theater: The Survivor showcases the company's attention to quality. The film had been released in the U.S. as an 87-minute cut that removed a subplot which ends up being significant to the resolution. This release is the original 99 minute cut. While the print isn't exactly a digital marvel, it's overall decent. Other than trailers, the disc offers a commentary with producer Anthony I. Ginnane, moderated by host Katarina Leigh Waters.

The Survivor is not a "must see," but genre fans will want to check it out. The film has its problems, but Scorpion turns out another impressive disc.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 73

Perp Profile

Studio: Scorpion Releasing
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Cult
• Foreign
• Horror
• Mystery
• Paranormal

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Trailers


• IMDb

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