Survival Run (1979)

Spree is one of those movies that has fallen through the cracks and landed in cinematic oblivion. The only people who seem to remember Spree are those who found it distasteful or exploitative. The reason for Spree’s surprising inability to find a cult following probably has something to do with the fact that the film straddles the no man’s land between the mainstream and the video nasty. This is unfortunate because Spree is a good film and, even by today’s standards, still packs a punch.

Like many films of the period, the basic set up involves a group of teenagers meeting the wrong people, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. In Spree’s case, a group of friends drive into the desert for a weekend away. The film begins tamely enough, with conversations about condoms and a run-in with the police. Spree even has its own hilariously upbeat theme song which admittedly helps give the impression that the film is some kind of demented teen comedy. The tone changes rapidly, however, when their van crashes and they are forced to walk through the desert to find help. Unfortunately the saviours they stumble across are drug dealers, who are none too happy to have witnesses to their business dealings.

From the time the teenagers land in Kandaris’ drug camp, the film becomes increasingly tense. The hospitality shown to the group rests on a knife’s edge and it becomes glaringly obvious that everything could turn very bad, very quickly – which, of course, it inevitably does. This is the point at which the film briefly enters the horror realm. One of the girls is gang raped and her boyfriend is killed. The others flee into the desert but are pursued by Kandaris. This kind of chase and kill scenario is an old horror favourite and the film manipulates the situation for the most suspense possible. The desert location is beautifully filmed and some of the car and motorbike chase scenes are reminiscent of “Mad Max”. The film has a reasonably high body count and the various shoot outs are well choreographed and bloody.

Spree is a very well paced movie. As soon as the action begins, it never lets up. The result is pure entertainment, the likes of which Hollywood inexplicably finds impossible to replicate these days. This film is lean and mean, without crossing over into realm of pure horror. Which is actually the film’s biggest problem – it is too tame for horror fans, yet possibly too excessive for viewers who like their teen movies rape and murder free. The biggest surprise is the quality of the acting and directing.

Peter Graves is great as Kandaris. He is menacing without being ridiculous and his helicopter retreat scene is a delight. Ray Milland more than matches it with Graves, as Kandaris’ business partner, “the professor”. Milland gives the film a huge dose of class and he seems to thoroughly enjoy one of the better roles of his latter career. The teenage actors are adequate without being brilliant, while the actors who play Kandaris’ henchmen inject the film with some real bile. Larry Spiegel’s direction, particularly of the initial car crash and subsequent chase scenes, is excellent. It’s perplexing to learn that he only made one more film after this.

Spree might have been a hard sell back in the glory days of the video nasty. However, given the increasingly lame nature of mainstream horror, the film packs more punch today than it did on release. Spree is the perfect anecdote to the comedy/horror currently being churned out en masse. This movie is definitely worth checking out.