Review Date: April 13, 2008
Released by: Code Red
Release date: 04/13/2008
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
Thom Eberhardt is like so many of those other directors whose careers were born in the early-eighties independent movement and slowly died in TV movies of the mid-nineties. Gary Sherman , Jeff Lieberman, Ken Wiederhorn, Tom McLoughlin, Lewis Teague and a laundry list of others can be said to be in the same company, but all of them did not direct Captain Ron
. That movie was awesome. If anyone wanted to see Snake Plissken on a boat, that was your ticket. Eberhardt also did Night of the Comet
, which still has a sizable notoriety, and until last year remained DVD petitioners' cause celebre. Eberhardtís maiden voyage though, Sole Survivor
, which he wrote, edited and directed, is finally being revived on DVD thanks to Code Red (which is also being revived thanks to BCI). While Eberhardtís films will mostly be remembered for comedy and camp, his somber debut will surprise many with its restraint. All aboard?
The film begins with a gasp for breath as Karla Davis (Caren L. Larkey
) awakes from a terrible premonition. In her dream was a plane accident. Limbs strewn everywhere. Amidst the wreck was a sole survivor, Denise Watson (Anita Skinner
). Denise was to be directing Karla in a big commercial shoot in the following week and Karla vows to inform her. When her colleagues call her a cook though, her vision goes unreported, and sure enough, Denise emerges from a real plane wreck as the only living victim. The only problem though, is that none of the dead seem to stay that way.
Now it seems that wherever Denise goes, echoes of former lives stand vacant on street corners, hallway corridors and backyard pools. The people have died days before, but yet they remain, propped up, watching, and waiting for Denise to join them. She cheated death, and like a missed payment, itíll always catch up with you in the end. Thereís nowhere for her to run, because wherever she is, accidents happen, trying to reverse the good fortune of her survival. With friends, colleagues and lovers popping up dead, itís only a matter of time before she looks death straight in the eyes. That look may be her last.
Code Red rightfully emphasized the filmís superficial connections to Final Destination
, but in truth Sole Survivor
is much more in line with the surreal life and death balance of Carnival of Souls
(with the lead a dead ringer for Candace Hilligoss). Like the Herk Harvey film, Sole Survivor
seems more interested in that transitional state after death, where lives lie in limbo, their bodies gone but their souls not yet grounded. Who knows if the sole-soul homonym implications of the title were intentional, but they definitely seem fitting in this case.
Visually, Director Thom Eberhardt and future Titanic
DOP, Russell Carpenter, presents the subject matter in a similarly awkward state. In general, horror films rely on the suspense of a killer lurking, plotting a next attack. In Sole Survivor
though, Eberhardt is more interested in the acts that have already happened. He holds his camera on the dead, watching them so long as if to look for a sudden bit of movement. Thinking that maybe, if you look into death long enough, youíll see the life that must exist on the other side. Thereís a moment near the end of the film where someone playing dead clearly flares their nostrils. Iíd imagine if enough people would have seen this, it would be listed as an IMDb goof, but really itís that perfect bit of subtle surrealism that forces us to question what we see and what we believe when it comes to our conceptions of the afterlife.
For further proof of Eberhardtís forensic-like focus on death rather than forecasting suspense, look no further than the opening plane crash. In Final Destination
it was a bombastic moment of screaming, CGI and loud, abrasive explosions. We waited as Devon Sawa boarded the plane and slowly started to question his fate. In Sole Survivor
, we donít even see Denise on the plane and we see nothing but a blip on a airport monitor for the crash. The blip too, is fitting, since in a radar those electron phosphors burn on a moment after the signal stops, like souls in transition. What Eberhardt shows of the plane instead though, is the actual wreckage in a bravura dolly of carnage. We see catastrophe in broken plane parts, littered luggage and eviscerated body parts and yet we see it all in the calm of silence. Itís that duality between calamity and calm, life and death, that gives the film its real eerie resonance.
is a simple film, but in the eighties thatís all that was needed to get under the skin. Itís a skillful example of how a vacant stare, a howl of wind or a gasp for breath can be infinitely more frightening than a jarring sound cue, a slinging of gore or a knife wielding killer. Observing Anita Skinnerís convincing look of horror as she sees the dead continue to linger insights the greatest realization of all. That the idea of death is infinitely more frightening than death itself.
Getting a lively boost over its previous decade old VHS release, Sole Survivor
looks solid on DVD. Code Red presents the film in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the first thing to be noticed is how clean the transfer looks. Thereís narry a blemish, scratch or bit of dust to be found on the entire print. It looks spotless. Colors are a tad muted and dull at times, but this is more a product of the meager production than it is the transfer. Colors are mostly consistent, save for a few frames at the tail end of shots. The transfer is pretty sharp considering this is an interlaced transfer, and Code Red should be commended for yet another fine bit of restoration for a forgotten film.
English mono only. It sounds pretty clear. No noticeable problems.
Code Red is back, and not much has changed from their Shriek Show days. Included here is an amateur looking interview, a poorly modulated audio commentary and a bunch of old ratty trailers. But theyíve been doing that since Donít Go in the Woods
, and thatís what we love about them. Their supplements always have an affectionate, personal appreciation for the movies they cover, and itís often infectious. The participants this time though, for Sole Survivor
, arenít nearly as important or endearing as those featured in other Code Red releases.
Actress and producer, Caren Larkey partakes in the commentary and interview (and also offers up a welcomed introduction), as well as her acting teacher turned Producer for Sole Survivor
, Sal Romeo. Both are kind and initially offer up some nice talk about the production, but for the most part speak only in short, conservative bursts. In the commentary particularly, moderated by historian Jeff McKay and cult director Jeff Burr (Leatherface
), Burr and McKay constantly try to prod them to talk about the film, but the two subjects spend most of their time pointing out old friends and remembered locations. Both confess to not liking horror films, so you can tell this was more of a business investment for them rather than a labor of love. They donít know much of the genre, so any potential discussion gets stopped dead with a few words whenever Burr or McKay try to kick things off.
The commentary is frustrating at times since many of the good conversation topics get sidetracked by relative disinterest or lack of knowledge on Romeo and Larkeyís behalf, but it still has a lively and energetic feel. Everyone is having fun, even if not that much information is being expunged. The interview is just over 8-minutes, and covers most of the major topics from the commentary Ė the budget, release, genesis and re-editing of the film, but in a more manageable length. A note to Code Red though Ė raise your lights to cut down on those harsh back shadows. A fill light from the other side would help, as well.
Liner notes are included by Stephen Thrower, and serve as a nice tribute to the film. Itís not all hot air either, with Thrower frankly stating that the film is no masterpiece, but one with many notable qualities. This was a nice addition from Code Red, and I hope to see more notes on future releases.
The disc is rounded off with the original theatrical trailer, which has a bunch of footage shot specifically for the trailer. Itís quite enjoyable and a perfect example of the early eighties model of film advertising. Also included, most notably, are a bunch of trailers for upcoming Code Red releases. The Unseen
, The Dead Pit
, The Human Experiment
, Silent Scream
and the hilarious looking The Farmer
(ďBut when they killed his best friend, and attacked the woman he loved, the farmer became the avenger!Ē). All these trailers are a blast, and if Code Red can actually manage to get these out, itíll be a great year for genre fans.
is a quiet, chilling and downbeat update of Carnival of Souls
, with a similar fixation on the hazy ground between life and death. Code Red does another solid job with this DVD, with a very clean video transfer, good audio and more of those no-budget-but-personal supplements. It would have been nice to hear from Thom Eberhardt, especially since the participants in the extras arenít particularly versed in horror, but letís just hope itís because heís busy prepping another horror movie. Or at least Captain Ron 2
Movie - B
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B
Supplements - B-
- Running time - 1 hour 25 minutes [Not the 98 minutes advertised on the DVD]
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Audio commentary with star Caren Larkey and producer Sal Romeo
- Interview with Caren Larkey and Sal Romeo
- Theatrical trailer
- Code Red trailers
- Liner notes by Stephen Thrower