Tom Doty Times Columnist
A pilot mysteriously survives a plane crash that killed everyone else on board, in this eerie chiller from the Land Down Under.
The film begins with a dreamlike sequence in which a pilot, Keller, flies a small aircraft over a group of children playing “red light/green light” in a field. Then we see that same pilot taking command of a 747. The plane barely achieves liftoff, when there is an explosion on board and it comes crashing through a small, and not so sleepy now, town.
The crash brings all the residents to the scene as rescue workers begin putting out the flames. A woman, Hobbs, comes upon the site just as a weary Keller emerges from the smoke and collapses. He comes to in a hospital and learns he was the sole survivor. Unfortunately, he is suffering from amnesia and can’t recall what happened on board. Meanwhile, a team arrives to determine the cause.
Weird stuff begins to happen to the people working the site. Many hear the panicked voices of the passengers as they sift through the wreckage. The area is littered with carnage. Articles of clothing are found hanging in trees and seared corpses dot the landscape. It is a brutal landscape that was unthinkable in the year this was made, 20 years before 9-11.
Hobbs reaches out to Keller after a memorial service. She convinces him that something is wrong and pleads with him to meet her. He does and learns that she is a psychic who is being haunted by the victims of the crash. They want her to reach out to Keller and find out why they had to die.
Meanwhile, people who have worked the site begin dying in freak accidents. They are all led to their deaths by a young girl with charred hands, clutching a half-melted doll. The victims include a pair of photographers who took pictures of the corpses strewn about the crash area. One of these charred faces bears a strong resemblance to Keller.
The preliminary report reveals that a bomb did the damage. It also makes clear that no one could have survived the inferno that raged through the cockpit. Why then did Keller stumble out of the wreckage? The answer to this question makes for a fine finale, as Keller figures out what his mission is and proceeds to act on the behalf of the silent victims.
This film totally works. Some of its surprises will feel familiar, as it has been mined for material by several thrillers since it was released. The director was the late David Hemmings. He knew about horror, having starred in Dario Argento’s “Deep Red.”
He assembles a fine cast with Robert (“Jesus of Nazareth”) Powell starring as the enigmatic Keller. Powell underplays the role as if he is in a dream state throughout the movie. It is a wise choice and underlines the haunted nature of the character.
Jenny Agutter (“Logan’s Run”) is also good as the tortured Hobbs. You can almost hear the voices screaming in her head when she confronts Keller with her story.
Joseph Cotton is also on hand as a priest assigned to the tragedy and it is an all-too-brief role just before he left acting following a stroke.
The film was the most costly one ever made in Australia by that point in time and it all shows in the excellent plane crash sequence that bookends the film. Worth seeing and the highpoint of a boxed “Australian Horror 2” set that includes three other terror flicks from the land of kangaroos and “The Wiggles.”
Best line: “I would have remembered a bomb.”
1981, rated R.
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