Monday, July 13, 2009

Film Review: SURVIVAL QUEST (1989, Don Coscarelli)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 96 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Director Don Coscarelli (PHANTASM series, THE BEASTMASTER, BUBBA HO-TEP), Lance Henriksen (APPALOOSA, ALIENS, HOUSE III), Catherine Keener (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH), Dermot Mulroney (YOUNG GUNS, ZODIAC), Ben Hammer (JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN, MANNEQUIN), Reggie Bannister cameo (Reggie in the PHANTASM series), Steve Antin (Troy Perkins in THE GOONIES).
Tag-lines: "In the wilderness you can't dial 911 ."
Best one-liner: "Take a good look around you. Because when you come back from this trip, nothing will look the same to you again."

"Survival in the wilderness is a matter of heart, not hardware. You're not that far gone, are you? There's a lot more going on out here than meets the eye." Don Coscarelli's SURVIVAL QUEST embarks on a most difficult task: making a movie about survivalism, orienteering, and teamwork, without making it seem like a lameass weekend at camp Y-NOAH. And he avoids these pitfalls due to two important elements:
1. Inserting action movie narrative devices. Coscarelli decides that the elements of nature are not enough of a villain, so he inserts a paramilitary training cadre to terrorize and provide contrast to the yuppies turned hippies on their survival quest.
2. Lance Henriksen.

As the nature-loving hippy leader, this is a side of Lance that I, for one, had never before really seen. And I like it. He exudes a calming peacefulness through his very pores and is this film's center, his presence lifting it from possibly mediocre to very well done. And one monologue about his childhood especially rings true: Lance's real-life story is particularly fascinating. It includes a troubled childhood without much parental guidance, several vagrancy charges, and illiteracy until the age of 30, all of which he was able to overcome, and, from my understanding, his real-life personality is closest to his character in SURVIVAL QUEST.

Now, this is not to say that this is a perfect film: many of the characters are rather two-dimensional (but it helps to have them portrayed by talented actors such as Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, and Ben Hammer), and the film sometimes bleeds into triteness (i.e., trust falls). But anyone who has been on a similar quest cannot deny the incredible experience and the lifelong bonding that issues forth from just a few days in the wild. And as much as I adore the PHANTASM series, I'd like to see Coscarelli tackle some material similar to this in the future. Four stars.

-Sean Gill


skeelo said...

i watched this last night on netflix instant view. very very fun, yet the element of completely ridiculous rears its head a lot. a good idea was there though. what other coscarelli's do you like?

Sean Gill said...

It's all worth it to see Lance Henriksen leading the trust fall exercise. My favorite Coscarellis by far are the four films in the Phantasm series, I enjoyed Bubba Ho-tep, The Beastmaster is slight but enjoyable, and I would advise to steer clear of his Masters of Horror episode (Incident on and off a mountain road), but it does have its defenders. I've also seen Kenny and Co, which is an atypical (for Coscarelli) 70's slice of life childhood flick. It's pretty good, but has little to do with the rest of his filmography (you can see fleeting glimpses of its influence in Phantasm 1).

skeelo said...

That trust fall exercise yes, a highlight. Cool, I will check out the Phantasm series. I always meant to watch those when I was a kid raiding the horror sections at local video store but didn't get to them. Why oh why do many of the masters of horror episodes fall short? I thought it was a great idea but time after time the episodes disappoint me. Perhaps I'm taking them too seriously..