Sole Survivor (2000)

First of all, that’s “Quartermass,” not “Quatermass.”

Dean R. Koonz isn’t quite the famous superstar horror author that Stephen King is, but I’m not sure which one actually sells more books.  He’s had quite a few of his novels adapted for the big screen, although not as many as King.  Mind you, those adaptations do seem to suffer from the same problem King has had — that many of them just aren’t that good.

Sole Survivor was a television miniseries based on Koonz’s novel, and it uses its generous running time to explore its characters and build up its mysteries slowly.

Now that’s something I always approve of.

It starts with Joe Carpenter (Billy Zane), a man who’s given up on life because he lost his wife and daughter in a terrible plane crash.  But then he meets a woman who died in the crash — and a mysterious government agent who is trying to kill her.

The next thing you know, he’s dealing with a mysterious epidemic of suicides, a deadly cover-up, and the sinister Quartermass Institute.

Now, remember, you have to be careful with the spelling here.  Don’t forget that extra “R”…

I’m always intrigued to find evidence of the influence of the classic Quatermass serials in the work of modern horror and SF writers and directors.  One notes, for example, John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, whose script he wrote under the pseudonym, Martin Quatermass; Dan O’Bannon’s failed attempt to make a Quatermass movie; and Tobe Hooper’s homage to Quatermass and the Pit in Lifeforce.  So it’s a pleasant surprise to see Dean Koonz give a tip of the pen to Nigel Kneale’s creation.  I really don’t know how deep the connection really goes as the ultimate revelations might seem a touch closer to another famous British horror film of the Sixties — or perhaps to another well-known Stephen King novel…or to a film by David Cronenberg…

However, Koonz’s Phantoms (or at least the movie version of the book), does share an idea or two with  X the Unknown, the film Hammer intended to be a sequel to their version of The Quatermass Xperiment. 

Although, of course, Hammer Films’ monster never decided that it was the Devil.

A lot of people will be put off by the fact that this one takes its time telling its story, particularly in our speed obsessed age.  However, for those with a little patience, the story does build nicely, and ends up in some surprising places.  What is also remarkable is the strongly religious tone to the film.  Even in 2000 that was rare enough, particularly in Science Fiction.

Billy Zane gives an earnest performance, although the real standout is John C. McGinley as the government agent sent to “clean-up” the situation, who is by terms pleasant, comic and scary.

Admittedly, as you’d expect from a television production, it lacks a little compared to an actual movie, but it works well enough on the small screen, particularly as this is a fairly intimate drama for much of its run, more interested in character and human drama than the action scenes.

Not that it doesn’t have a fair amount of those.

All in all, it’s an interesting effort, and worth a watch for Koonz’s fans and horror buffs.

Those, that is, who value story, suspense and mysteries more than special effects.

Buy from Amazon

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