Who the hell is Chip Mayer?
After a global nuclear war, an astronaut returns to our scorched earth. Roaming the desert wastelands, he sets forth in search of a mythical promised land. Unfortunately for him, he’ll find a little more than he bargained for. And yes, of course, as always, a woman is involved.
“Who the hell is Chip Mayer?”
That’s what I asked myself when I saw the cover-art for ‘Survivor’. The box just screams “Chip Mayer is… SURVIVOR”! Well, turns out that Christopher“Chip”Mayer played Vance Duke in the early ’80s TV show ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’. I found it of no importance as that particular show was just a bit before my time and I had only seen a couple of re-runs of it. ‘Survivor’ was Chip’s feature film debut, but after that it was pretty much back to TV-work for him. He appeared in a whole lot of TV-series throughout the ’90s, but never as a regular. So that might make one suspicious about the man’s acting abilities.
Anyway, on to ‘Survivor’. This is one of the most off-beat movies set in a post-apocalyptic future you will ever encounter. It just might be the weirdest one I’ve come across and it’s also a bit of a mess. So, Chip Mayer stars as one of the few survivors of World War III. The reason he survived the war, is because he was a biologist/astronaut who was safely on board a shuttle in space when the war happened. We see nothing of his space adventures and Chip’s character is introduced roaming the desert wastelands on his self-made vehicle driven by solar-energy. He nearly dies in a gun battle with another nomad and gets picked up by this silent, lonesome woman (Sue Kiel) who lives on a stranded ship.
Now, this may all seem your standard future wasteland stuff, but by then you have already seen stock-footage of a space shuttle launch and devastating mushroom clouds, presented as flash-backs from our protagonist. You’ve also seen strange flash-forwards of unexplainable scenes that have yet to happen in the movie (Why? Don’t ask me. Maybe Chip has the power to dream of things to come… too much radiation, I guess). And the weirdest thing of all: monologues and even dialogues are not seen being spoken. We hear them as the character’s thoughts and reflections. Even when they’re together the voices often can be heard off-screen. Strange.
The movie actually is divided in two parts. The first part is slow and shows a lot of scenes portraying the desolate wasteland and the silent couple on the boat. The cinematography is overall pretty beautiful. Once on the boat the movie slows down even more. The female doesn’t seem to like Chip’s company very much (she likes to be alone on her boat). But inevitably they get really naked and end up having sex in a cheesy soft-core scene, that – and I thought I would never say this – drags on way too long. And just when you start thinking “happy end”, the girl gets kidnapped.
This is where we get to the second part of the movie. Supposedly, Chip was searching for a promised land of some sort. He never finds it, but he does stumble upon an underground community living in a subterranean power station. Then the inhabitants explain to Chip that they were living their lives in peace, denying access to any outsiders. That is until the evil Kragg (played by the inimitable Richard Moll) showed up, took over and started terrorizing the inhabitants. Chip figures out that it was Kragg who stole his girlfriend and is forced into the role of hero. He must kill Kragg, save the enslaved inhabitants and find his girlfriend. Will he succeed? It’s up to you to find out by sitting through this flick (don’t complain, I had to do the same).
Now that second part feels like a different movie all together. The cinematography is darker. There’s a bit more fighting (the fight between Chip and some of Kragg’s scum boys hanging and swinging from chains was pretty cool). The strange off-screen voices are less present and there’s even some room for spoken dialogues. We’re also shown the complete scenes we saw fragments of in those incomprehensible flash-forwards during the first part of the movie. So, in a way, this all is mildly entertaining, because it keeps you wondering where it will all lead to eventually.
But I can’t say ‘Survivor’ is a good movie. There might be some interesting ideas and subplots present, but nothing is really done with them. It all basically leads to nowhere. And in the end not much happened during the whole movie and you’ll be left wondering what the hell it was you have just been watching. Chip Mayer can’t act, but that’s covered up by making him say almost nothing throughout the whole movie (except for his silly thoughts). Kragg himself is a rather menacing figure, portrayed by a very grim-looking Richard Moll. He has a nice monologue and he provides the end-boss fight for Chip. A rather peculiar fact is that Richard Moll also starred in another post-apocalyptic, more sci-fi orientated movie ten years later, called… ‘The Survivor’ (1998). There he played an almost identical role as an evil character named Kyla. Needless to say that movie was also pretty bad. On a final note I’d like to mention the musical soundtrack, which can most of the time be described as the rest of the movie: off-beat and weird. But on at least two occasions the filmmakers mess it up completely by putting this really bad and cheesy 80′s soft-rock song on the soundtrack. Extremely bad move, as it is totally inappropriate and lowers the quality of the scenes its used in.
So, yes, ‘Survivor’ might be considered a movie with cult appeal within the post-apocalyptic genre. But often the line between “cult” and just plain “bad” is very thin. ‘Survivor’, mostly, hangs with its full body in common badness, and occasionally peeks with its head over the border into the cult regions.