SURVIVAL QUEST (1989)
(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)
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.