Bats. I don’t know how to spell the sound that comes out of my mouth when I watch a movie with bats, as I curl into a ball shuddering in my seat. I don’t cover my eyes, but I raise my hands to my face in case I have to suddenly duck and cover should those creepy little monsters fly off the screen and attack. In Chosen Survivors (1974), there are hundreds of them, most of the time looking real instead of crudely animated like those you see in most horror movies.
It’s the end of the world due to thermonuclear attack and 11 people have been computer-selected to live in a bunker 1,758 feet below the New Mexico desert until it’s safe to return to the surface and repopulate Earth. It’s supposedly a state-of-the-art installation with 26 rooms within its 18,000 square feet, yet they’ve got a pest problem and hungry vampire bats invade through its vents when the lights go dark.
When they first arrive, apparently drugged and dazed during their helicopter journey, they view effects of the disaster that’s happening above them on three big monitors. In this version of the apocalypse, nuclear war apparently turns the planet into a big volcano that erupts and spews hot lava. The footage elicits such responses as, “The atmosphere is on fire” and “It looks like a change in atmosphere is taking place.”
If those statements seem a little too scientific for a random group of people, it’s because this isn’t a random group of people. There are doctors and scientists; ecologists, biologists, and nutritionists; as well as a novelist, congresswoman, Olympic gold medal winner, and “corporation genius.” The title of the last one means he’s also an asshole that doesn’t believe any of this is real and offers to buy his way out of it to anyone that will listen.
He’s played by Jackie Cooper, who does a good job of being mean and drunk. He performs one act so despicable that I’m honestly surprised it remained in the movie. It makes it hard to cheer for him later when he mellows, and even harder to accept that he never really gets what’s coming to him. He leads a cast of familiar names and faces, but none that are particularly A-list. This makes Chosen Survivors feel like a poor man’s 1970s epic disaster movie.
Spoiler alert! In fact, the finale is right out of The Poseidon Adventure as one man makes a sacrifice to save everyone else… except you don’t know at first that it’s going to be a sacrifice. That makes it quite suspenseful as he throws his grappling hook and climbs up the elevator shaft. Others may not agree, but when one of those scary bats squeezed his way through a crack right where the would-be hero was placing his foot so he wouldn’t fall… well, that was almost too much for me.
He grabs the bat and bashes it against the rock wall, then stuffs a glove in the crack. Before you know it, though, those little bastards push it out and the shaft soon becomes a tunnel of flapping terror. As they persist with their bloody attack, our hero leaps across to the other side, reaching for the button that will open the hatch to the outside. Spoiler alert! This is where the sacrifice comes in, and before you can say, “Gene Hackman,” he takes a horrible fall down 1,758 feet.
Chosen Survivors is a Mexican-American production directed by veteran television director Sutton Roley and filmed in Mexico City. More notable is its screenwriter, H.B Cross, pseudonym for prolific horror and sci-fi writer Harry Spalding. Spalding was a short story and newspaper writer who quit to become a film booker/buyer in San Francisco. In 1956, he crossed paths with producer Robert Lippert.
Lipper had just been given the green light to make a series of “bottom of the bill” movies for 20th Century Fox when Spalding became his right-hand man, writing such genre fare as The Day Mars Invaded Earth, House of the Damned, Witchcraft, The Earth Dies Screaming, and Curse of the Fly. Chosen Survivors came later, but would have fit perfectly with the others. (Even later than that, Spalding wrote the screenplay for Disney’s The Watcher in the Woods.)
In an interview with Tom Weaver, Spalding said,
The thing I remember most about writing [horror and science fiction] was how much fun it was. It’s an interesting kind of writing because you don’t use much of your own life and experience in it; it’s out of your head, it’s fantasy, it’s imagining. I was very fortunate that so much of what I wrote got on the screen.
When it was released at the Loews State and other theaters in Manhattan, The New York Times wrote, “If the chills are intermittent, the combination of the voracious vampires and fumbling scientists as unwitting partners in disaster gives some novelty and a sardonic twist to this latest manufactured view of a possible doomsday.” The review also said that the cast gave “properly taut, if not memorable, performances.”
I agree. It’s an interesting mashup of genres that generates some unique chills and thrills. As I mentioned earlier, the bats seem real. The only fake-looking shots are one of San Francisco during the apocalypse and some superimposed characters in front of swarms of bats during the third act. Even if you don’t share my unnatural fear of the creatures, the movie itself presents concepts and situations that are scary without them.
Written by Harry Spalding & Joe Reb Moffly
Directed by Sutton Roley
Starring Jackie Cooper, Alex Cord, Richard Jaeckel, Bradford Dillman, Pedro Armendariz Jr., Diana Muldaur, Lincoln Kirkpatrick, Barbara Babcock, Kelly Lange
RT 99 min.
Released on May 24, 1974
Home Video KL Studio Classics (Blu-ray)
Tom Weaver, Double Feature Creature Attack: A Monster Merger of Two More Volumes of Classic Interviews
2003, United States, McFarland
Invasion by Bats in "Chosen Survivors", The New York Times
May 23, 1974