Happy New Year y’all! For my first post of 2017, I declare that on Seven Doors of Cinema, 2017 will be the Year of VHS! That means that all my posts will be centered around movies I own on VHS, AKA The Format That Wouldn’t Die.
And what better way to begin celebrating this zombified form of physical media that was supposed to be replaced by DVD 20 years ago than with a movie about reanimated corpses chasing a woman who should have died in a plane crash? There is no answer to that question, so let’s just start talking about Sole Survivor.
Sole Survivor begins with a nightmare being had by washed-up actress Carla, whose career has been ruined not only by her weeny woony drinking problem, but also by the fact that she is psychic and no one believes her! In this dream, the actress who plays the actress named Carla (for she along with her husband is also one of the producers, Caren Larkey) has spent almost the entire special effects budget of the film to show us a man whose entire lower half has been severed in a plane crash. The half man starts to move because he is undead and really wants to kill Denise “call me Dee Dee,” who is sitting in an intact plane seat amid a pile of dead bodies. Carla awakens and calls her agent to ask him for the number of the ad exec who is producing the coffee commercial which is to be Carla’s Very Last Chance at an acting career, because that ad exec is Dee Dee, and Carla needs to tell her that if she gets on the plane, it is going to crash, she is going to survive, and then death is going to stalk her (in the form of recently dead bodies) and also stalk anyone else who figures out what is going on until everyone who knows the plot of the movie is dead. Wait, does that include me?
Anyway, Carla’s agent thinks she is crazy and does not give her Dee Dee’s number, so the plane crash happens anyway and Dee Dee lives through this horrific event in some Mandela Effect/Glitch in the Matrix sort of way, complete with a change in her last name to BerenSTAIN. Not really, but did you check that the producers of this film are a married couple named Larkey? If this was not a good movie I would call them Ma and Pa Larkey but it is a good movie but I still couldn’t resist making that awful joke. Malarkey.
Dee Dee’s second chance at life goes a little bit well for about ten minutes because at least she meets a hot single doctor unicorn while she’s in the hospital and they GET IT ON and she is friends with her next door neighbor who is about 20 years old and who is also friends with Brinke Stevens who comes over just to play strip poker and take her top off and Dee Dee walks in on that game. And Brinke Stevens’s character doesn’t even have to die, so that was an easy day on the set for that scream queen.
Unfortunately, life does not go well for almost everyone else in the film. They are living in Los Angeles, which means there are dead people EVERYWHERE, just lying around. Not picking on Los Angeles, as I’m sure it’s the same way in every urban area, but I couldn’t help but think that if I Mandela’ed my way out of dying in a plane crash I’d have a pretty good chance of surviving the plague of local zombies that wanted to kill me because maybe five people die here each week and of those five at least two are probably cremated and another two are shipped out of state because we have a huge military base here and no one is from here anymore and then by the time that local zombie walked here all the way from the funeral home 20 miles away someone would recognize them walking on the side of the road anyway and say “hey isn’t that so and so let’s put them back in Oak Grove, maybe under a pile of bricks this time.” Or, the dead yokel would be so decomposed by the time they got way out here to my place in the country that I could just sort of flick them on the forehead with my thumb and forefinger and their head would fall off. Is that how you kill Berenstain zombies? I’m not sure, because none of them really die in this film, and anyway Dee Dee does live pretty far out of town and they still get her in the end by means of a slightly ridiculous twist.
I told myself I would describe Sole Survivor without using the words “creepy,” “underrated,” or “gem.” It is a bleak film, but not in a bad way. You just sit there and watch the inevitable unfold, the palpable sense of doom being magnified by the fact that not only does this take place at Christmas, which is a tragic time to get Final Destinationed, but also because Dee Dee and Doctor Love are so darn likable, and everyone else is a shithead. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Sole Survivor is making one big 80s style comment on how people are totally dismissive of each other in cities, because so many dead people show up and stand there looking menacing while everyone just thinks they’re crazy or homeless or addicts, or just old and in the way. Also, there is an actual line that underlines the uncaring and un-understanding universe of this film right in the first half hour when a nurse at the hospital tells the teenage neighbor who has come to pick up Dee Dee that “This is a hospital; we can’t just stop what we’re doing every time someone needs help.” I’m pretty sure that line is supposed to be funny in a dark way, because there are a couple of other attempts at humor such as a grumpy Santa going for a Santa audition in the same building where Carla and Dee Dee’s ill-fated coffee commercial is almost being filmed. But my point stands: everyone in the movie is horrible to one another, and the dead people are just mistaken for someone being weird. Until they stab you.
One of my favorite things that ever happens in a horror movie happens in Sole Survivor, as if I didn’t already like this movie enough. I just love it when the characters in a movie make reference to things feeling like a movie, even though I should be disturbed by it because I am definitely one of those people who is in the house watching movies instead of being out there living my life to the fullest somewhere on a hang glider in space, and so whenever anything happens I think about how it is just like that movie I saw! Dee Dee almost figures out she is in a horror movie when a little girl goes missing from the hospital morgue (because she walks away to menace Dee Dee) and Dee Dee upon finding this out says, “I thought that kind of thing only happened in the movies.” Thank God, it only does, as far as we know.