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survival quest



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Survival Quest is an outdoor adventure/thriller from Phantasm series writer/director Don Coscarelli that may be a bit corny at times but, is also quite charming and has a lot of heart. The movie opens with a group of people converging for a month long survival course called Survival Quest, run by passive outdoorsman Hank (Lance Henriksen). Among the participants are ex-con, Gray (Dermot Mulroney), Olivia (Traci Lin), a rich girl trying to prove she can handle herself and Cheryl (Catherine Keener), a divorcee who wants to prove she can survive on her own. Unfortunately, they are in the same vicinity of a para-military survival group run by ex-mercenary Jake (Aliens’ Mark Rolston). Run-ins between the two groups become increasingly heated and when one of the jack-booted thugs proves to be mentally unstable, blood is spilled and it turns from a wilderness survival course into a fight to stay alive.

Both written and directed by Coscarelli, this is a fun little adventure movie that overcomes some stereotypical characters and situations by simply having it’s heart in the right place. It’s a basic wilderness adventure with a slight edge, whose scant few curse words, brief nudity from the vivacious Miss Lin and moderate bloodshed would probably not even earn it’s R-rating in today’s world. It’s a bit of a departure for Coscerelli, being even less violent and more light-hearted than his Beastmaster and is actually very entertaining for the simplicity of it’s story. That story being of some likable characters from different walks of life having to bond and trust each other to survive under dangerous circumstances. That is also what makes it work so well. Despite being stereotypical, the characters are very endearing and we like them a lot. We’ve seen this story before but, it is the characters that drive it and so Coscarelli gives us a bunch we want to see make it against the arrogant and unhinged para-military bad guys…and he doesn’t turn the group into vicious killers as most filmmakers would be tempted to do in a story like this. There is also some welcome humor, especially in the first half, before things get a bit darker and there is a nice nostalgia, at this point, of some familiar faces before they made a name for themselves.

As for those faces, Henriksen was already known to genre fans for Aliens and Terminator and he is really good here as the outdoorsman who can take care of himself and look out for his charges. Mark Rolston is effective as the tough guy instructor/mercenary and his character may surprise you a bit later on. Dermot Mulroney makes for a good “bad boy” hero as his Gray has a lot more integrity than he is given credit for. Traci Lin is charming and hot as Olivia. The character may be a cliché but, Lin’s portrayal is not, as she avoids the ‘rich bitch’ persona and gives us a young woman who wants more than the posh life. Keener is also strong as the meek divorcee who finds the strength she is looking for but, not in the way she figured and, of course, this wouldn’t be a Don Coscarelli movie without Reggie Bannister and he appears here as a pilot. A good cast that elevate their characters above the clichés they first appear as.

I am a fan of Coscarelli and I consider this one of his most underrated films. It’s not a classic but, it is far more enjoyable than it’s familiar story and characters have a right to be. It’s got a lot of heart and it’s charming cast elevates the characters above their stereotypical nature. It’s fast moving, yet, has a very laid back approach that is a bit refreshing when in-your-face intensity is not what you are looking for. The film actually reminded me a bit of the nature adventures they used to crank out in the 70s although with a touch of bloodshed and violence in the mix. A simple, simply told but, very entertaining movie from Don Coscarelli. Also features some nice cinematography from Daryn Okada and music from Phantasm series composers Fred Myrow and Christopher L. Stone.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

ex2 rating




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Phantasm is a true horror classic and one of my all time favorite horror films. No matter how many times I watch it, it’s just as weird and creepy as when I first saw it back in 79. It may be considered slow moving and tame by today’s standards, but I still love it.

Phantasm tells the story of the Pearson brothers, Jody (Bill Thornbury) and younger sibling Mike (Michael Baldwin) who have recently lost their parents and now are burying their friend Tommy (Bill Cone) who is said to have committed suicide, but from the opening moments, we know different. All this time spent at the local mortuary has had an effect on the already traumatized Mike, who is starting to believe that the deaths are part of some supernatural conspiracy lead by the mysterious Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), who is the ominous undertaker at the Morningside Funeral Home. But as Mike continues to investigate the creepy mortuary to prove his beliefs to Jody and their best friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister), he finds that not only may he be right about the devious goings on, but the Tall Man may now have the brothers and their pal targeted as his next victims.

Phantasm is a creepy and surreal horror tale from writer/director Don Coscarelli who also made the cult favorites The Beastmaster and Bubba Ho-Tep. It is full of spooky atmosphere and Coscarelli and crew achieve some really nightmare worthy visuals and SPFX on a small budget. From it’s freakish horde of hooded dwarves…whose creation is a disturbing part of the Tall Man’s plan…to the murderous silver spheres that patrol Morningside’s hallways, Phantasm delivers an original and offbeat fright flick with plenty of chills and thrills. The cast for the young protagonists are basically amateurs and are fine, but it is Scrimm and his evil Tall Man that really helps make things work by crafting a malevolent and memorable villain who is now considered a classic horror icon. There is a decent amount of gore throughout the flick, but it’s rather tame compared to more modern horror…though ironically, back in the day, critics sighted it along with Alien and Dawn Of The Dead as examples of horror violence going too far…and the story nicely combines the supernatural with the extraterrestrial to make for a delightfully weird tale. The film does have a dream-like quality and doesn’t always follow a traditional straight and narrow narrative, but it is never hard to follow and it’s surreal tone adds to the overall effectiveness of the film. Phantasm’s equally goose-bump inducing electronic score by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave also adds a lot of atmosphere to an already atmospheric film and the sound effects guys came up with some pretty unsettling sound effects to accent the bizarre events occurring onscreen.

Obviously Phantasm now also comes with that late 70s, early 80s nostalgia too and that only adds to the fun and while I understand why the newer generation of horror fans may not quite get what the fuss is about, this film for me is an influential classic that has yet to ever really be matched, even by Coscarelli’s own four amusing, but not quite equal sequels. One of my top 5 Halloween season must watches!…and I still want the black 1971 Plymouth Barracuda the Pearson Brothers cruised around in!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) silver spheres!

phantasm rating



Maybe the coolest car in horror history since The Munster Mobile!