Directors: Sutton Roley and Terence Fisher
Fox Home Entertainment

What if an apocalyptic event decimated most of the Earth’s population, leaving only a handful of survivors to cope with the tragic aftermath? Fox’s Midnight Movies double feature release of CHOSEN SURVIVORS and THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING tries to answer this very question. Both films present harrowing scenarios of planet-wide deaths on a massive scale, and how small groups of people come together to face – and forge – an uncertain future. While each film depicts a different approach to this set-up, both focus on the diverse personalities within the groups of survivors, as they defend themselves from constant attack by terrors both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial. Even though both productions are very modest and feature a limited number of characters, CHOSEN SURVIVORS and THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING are unique and entertaining examinations of the unthinkable.

Filmed in Mexico and directed by TV veteran Sutton Roley, CHOSEN SURVIVORS is set in the New Mexico desert, exactly 1,700 feet underground in a secret government installation. As part of a contingency plan in case of nuclear war, this installation is designed to house 11 pre-selected individuals for up to five years. These eleven “chosen survivors” are introduced to us as soldiers escort them into the complex, unaware that indeed the unthinkable has happened – a nuclear war has broken out, and they are about to become some of the last surviving members of the human race. Within their new home are all of the necessary staples, as well as books and movies, and educational and recreational facilities. But, there is one thing that wasn’t planned for – an adjoining cave filled with blood-thirsty vampire bats. It’s only a matter of time until these vampire bats exhaust their limited food supply, and turn their attention towards the distraught humans.

Since our 11 chosen survivors are tasked with rebuilding civilization, they’re made up of influential people from different critical areas of society. Luckily for us, many of these characters are portrayed by instantly recognizable faces. Richard Jaeckel (THE GREEN SLIME, GRIZZLY) plays the military officer, Jackie Cooper (SUPERMAN – THE MOVIE) is the corporate executive, Alex Cord (UNINVITED, JUNGLE WARRIORS) appears as the cerebral novelist, Bradford Dillman (THE SWARM, PIRHANA) is the behavior scientist, and Lincoln Kilpatrick (THE OMEGA MAN, SOYLENT GREEN) plays the athlete.

Even though the characterizations are somewhat trite, and the melodramatic histrionics tend to be excessive, there are still plenty of positives to be found in CHOSEN SURVIVORS. From an aesthetics standpoint, the cinematography and lighting, along with the framing and blocking of the actors, are executed in most unusual ways. Camera angles are regularly perched high above the action, or directly below. Intense blues, greens and reds often dominate the lighting scheme, while filters continually diffuse what would otherwise be considered normal lighting conditions. Numerous shots are blocked in order to present a perfectly symmetrical image, so perfect in fact that it creates an incredibly artificial look. Characters and objects are commonly placed equidistantly from each other within sparse, static settings. All of this combines to create very disorienting, dream-like visuals, which add immeasurably to the enjoyment of the film. Another plus are the vampire bat attacks, which are realized through a combination of live bats and animation, with the latter executed fairly successfully when taking into account the limited budget and available resources.

Considering the difficult lighting conditions and rampant use of filters, Fox has done a marvelous job with what must have been a difficult transfer. The 1.85:1 anamorphic image accurately presents CHOSEN SURVIVORS as the filmmakers intended. Sometimes the image is soft and grainy, other times it’s sharp and clear. But again, this appears to be deliberate, so nothing but praise should be given to Fox. The English mono soundtrack has some hiss to it, but is in otherwise fine shape. Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French. The lone special feature is a theatrical trailer running just under three minutes, and it’s also presented in 1.85:1 with anamorphic enhancement.

With a cast and crew comprised of savvy genre veterans, THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING emerges as an entertaining, and efficient, science fiction thriller. An ominous pre-credits sequence sets a deliciously-bleak tone, as we witness people literally dropping dead for no apparent reason. The setting is an English village, and we’re first introduced to an American test pilot who returns from a flight only to discover the countryside littered with corpses. He sets up camp within a local hotel, and soon joins forces with six other survivors. They quickly determine that some kind of gas attack must have occurred, as they all were in remote locations during the time the rest of the population was killed. Their search for those responsible for the attack presents them with a frightening scenario – an alien invasion force has landed on Earth, and they’re using the corpses of the recently deceased to help rid the planet of the last remaining humans.

Directed with an assured hand by the legendary Terence Fisher (THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE GORGON), THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING is a rare, but welcome, foray into the science fiction genre for him. Better known for his association with England’s Hammer Films and the horror genre, Fisher is quite comfortable at the helm of this alien invasion picture. Even with a swift running time of 62-minutes, he’s able to explore characterizations and relationships, while utilizing the confined interiors and exteriors of the small English town to enhance the isolated, claustrophobic feel that permeates through the film. Other veterans adding immensely to the production include producer Robert L. Lippert (LOST CONTINENT, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH), director of photography Arthur Lavis (WITCHCRAFT), and screenwriter Henry Cross aka Harry Spalding (THE DAY MARS INVADED EARTH, CURSE OF THE FLY). As for the cast, standouts include Dennis Price (THEATER OF BLOOD, TWINS OF EVIL), Thorley Walters (TROG, THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT) Vanda Godsell (HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, KONGA), and Anna Palk (THE SKULL, THE FROZEN DEAD).

THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING makes a fantastic debut onto DVD. The black and white 1.66:1 anamorphic image is stunning, with deep blacks, an excellent grey scale, and a very sharp picture. There’s an immediacy to the image that helps to draw the viewer in completely. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The English mono soundtrack is in great shape, with the dialogue, music, and electronic tonalities and sound effects coming through crisp and clear. A Spanish mono track is also provided, and optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French. Two special features include a battered 1.66:1 anamorphically enhanced theatrical trailer running just over two minutes, and a photo gallery comprised of production stills, behind the scenes stills, and promotional artwork.

Fox has done an exemplary job with their two-disc DVD set of CHOSEN SURVIVORS and THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING. CHOSEN SURVIVORS is suitably unique in its visual execution, and THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING is a must for fans of director Terence Fisher and British science fiction. Plus, with such a strong video presentation on THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING, this is an easy recommendation. (Matt Martell)