Survivor (1987)

Please take into consideration that I was huge fan of The Dukes of Hazzard (I built the AMT model kits of the General Lee and Daisy’s Jeep) and never missed one of its 147 episodes during its 1979 to 1985 run. We previously discussed the who, what, where, when, and why of how the hit CBS series came to be during our “Redneck Week” July spotlight with its cinematic precursor, the 1975 film, Moonrunners. I tell you this because I am probably saying a lot more than needs to be said about this forgotten, way-too-late entry — because of its Dukes’ connection — in the Max Mad Road Warrior races.

And here’s a factoid: Survivor isn’t the only post-apocalypse flick that traces back to those good ‘ol Duke Boys. Catherine “Daisy Duke” Bach starred alongside Sam “Flash Gordon” Jones in the 1989 Filipino Mad Max rip-off, Driving Force.

“Wait a minute, there, R.D. Now I know for a fact that Tom Wopat and John Schneider never did a post-apocalypse flick. You’re not saying that Rosco P. Coltrane or Enos did one?

Nope. But Vance Duke did.

“Who?”

Oh, see . . . you were one of the many people who stopped watching the show during its 1982 fifth season, the year when Wopat and Schneider got into a contract dispute (over show merchandising, e.g., the model kits) and walked off the show. To replace them, the production hastily created the Duke cousins Coy and Vance, played by Bryon Cherry and Christopher “Chip” Mayer, respectively, for a 19 episode arc (they were on the shortlist for the Bo and Luke roles during auditions, but lost).

Written out of the show when Wopat and Schneider returned, Mayer bounced from series to series with guest roles on U.S TV series, such as Simon & Simon and The Love Boat, eventually scoring a 180-episode acting gig on the U.S daytime drama, Santa Barbara.

But before Santa Barbara, for his leading man debut in a feature film, Chip Mayer (February 21, 1954 – July 23, 2011) found himself cast alongside another fellow, U.S television actor, Richard Moll (The Dungeonmaster), in this South African-produced Max Max knockoff that was shot in the country of Namibia and the city of Touws River (outside of Cape Town) in the South African Western Cape province. Oh, and guess who the production company is . . . Sir Lew Grade’s ITC Entertainment, the company behind Space: 1999 and Saturn 3. (What little dialog this film has, the characters mumble about Libya, Spain, and Turkey, but all intel points to this being filmed exclusively in South Africa.)

Barely recognizable with his blonde buzzcut and matching, scruffy beard (and looking like Ace Hunter in the apoc-cheese fest, Megaforce) we meet the “astronaut with no name” courtesy of your typical, low-budget straight-to-video cheat of a voiceover-flashback punctuated by a NASA stock footage shuttle launch. We come to learn the “Survivor” left his wife and child behind for a mission on the Challenger 2 to launch an anti-missile satellite system (via stock footage) — too late. WW III broke out while he was in space.

Now a nomad, he roams the wastelands on a (cool prop) solar-powered railroad handcar. Courtesy of his “inner voice,” we learn that in past ten years he’s met thirty people. Then, when he happens upon a makeshift, rusted out water tower guarded by the first man he’s seen in a year — he’s forced to kill him in self-defense.

Now if you feel you’re ready to faint from a case of post-nuke induced Stendal syndrome, that’s because we’ve seen this post-WW III astronaut swap for a Clint Eastwood-inspired future cop — many times. In some apoc déjà vu quarters, it’s opined that Survivor is a “loose remake” of The Aftermath, actor Steve Barkett’s 1982 vanity-apoc that made the UK Section 3 video nasty list. But the post-nuke astronaut genre of the Snake Plissken-Max Rocktansky-Paco Queruak ’80s dates to the far superior, German-produced Operation Ganymed from 1977 — itself pinched (IMO) to script the 1985 Canadian apoc-romp, Def-Con 4 — which was then pinched by the South Africans for Chip Mayer’s Survivor. (I just fainted on the video store floor!)

Now, if you remember your analog audio and video duplication-production days, all those copies-of-a-copy begin to show signs of generational degradation. And those same degrades occur with screenplays. Granted, while The Aftermath, Def-Con 4, and Survivor have decent costuming and some acting, with the occasional burst of inspired budget-strapped set design, these tales tend to get bogged down to a slow, meandering boredom.

As Robert McKee opined in his screenwriting bible, Story:

Any idiot can write voice-over narration (and put text on the screen) to explain the thoughts of a character (and set up a story). You must present the internal conflicts of your character in image, in symbol. Film is a medium of movement and image.”

And that’s the flaw with Survivor: a lack of movement and image, falling back on voiceovers and non-linear storytelling (calling this “sci-fi film noir” is a stretch, so don’t) as result of its script’s ambitions over its (lack of) budget (there’s almost no speaking on-camera). Perhaps, if there was a budget and Chip Mayer portrayed an action-driven Snake instead of a philosophical Max, Survivor could have been a low-budget hit and Chip would have ignited a theatrical career (or a direct-to-video one with a Survivor II) in lieu of retreating to U.S daytime television to pay the rent. And that’s a shame: while the film he’s in has its expanses of tediousness — he’s excellent throughout. Given a decent film, he could have carried it with aplomb.

Now, that’s not to say that Michael Shackleton is inept as a director (his only film). It seems he made a creative choice of using atmosphere over action and opted to ditch (by 1987 it all got a bit silly, anyway) the ubiquitous punk-rock adorned biker gangs and desert rats rolling around in three-hundred year old auto wrecks fueled by bottomless gas pits and equipped with a bottomless arsenal of bullets (see the 1983 Filipino apoc-for-water romp Stryker for evidence of that hokum).

So it turns out that desert rat the Survivor killed in the beginning of the film tipped him off on the “The Immortan Joe” of these post-apoc proceedings, Kragg (Richard Moll), who rules a hidden industrial complex, i.e., a “power station,” (that rivals the repurposing of rusted out factories in the 1979’s Ravagers) which holds “the world’s” water supply. During his journey, Mayer meets the “woman with no name” (Sue Keil; Linda Blair’s Red Heat ) who holds up in a majestic, costal rusted-out ship wreck (that rivals the ship wreck repurposing in the zombie romp, Shock Waves). Then we see some soft-core make out action — complete with a gushy, ’80s synth-vocal tune. Kragg kidnaps her, natch, and the inevitable battle between the Survivor and Kragg ensues.

Oh, caveat emptor, ye seekers of DVDs: there is no official DVD of Survivor . . . and the U.S grey market VHS rips-to-DVD are missing between fifteen to twenty minutes of film. The European DVDs, however, which are ripped from the Euro-laser discs, which are ripped from the VHS, kept the full film intact. (My analog Stendal is coming back!) And since Survivor has fallen into the public domain and the studio/producers don’t seem to care, you’ll have to take your chances on a finding a surviving VHS copy.

All in all, Survivor is a great place to visit — with great, barren and bleak locations and a good use of pre-existing abandoned “sets” tailor made for an apoc-universe — but you wouldn’t want to live, well, replay it again after one viewing. To enjoy Survivor online, the best we’ve got are the VHS rips of its Italian dub and Russian dub on You Tube.

And if you missed our month-long September rally of post-apoc film reviews, you can catch up with a complete listing featured in our “Atomic Dustbin” recaps, Parts 1 and Part 2.

Uh, oh . . . and what’s this, pray tell?

Holy Stendal déjà vu, Batman!

Richard Moll’s Kragg was back again . . . no, wait . . . he’s Kyla this time . . . in this 1998 Puerto Rican-produced jungle-apoc romp that we’ll get into later . . . (and you can now read that January 27-post review, here).

Not be be confused with . . .
Or with . . .

About the Author: You can read the music and film criticisms of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

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