Six Californian teens, a van and a desert: it's a combination for a party as far as they are concerned, as they have been planning to take this trip for some time and without telling their parents where they are going, they leave school with the express ambition to get high and horny out in the sand. They need some beer first, so visit the store closest to their destination and thanks to fake I.D. they attain their goal, then start driving out into the middle of nowhere. But what they don't know is that last night there was a killing in Los Angeles where two government narcs were executed by drug-running mobsters. And those mobsters happen to have set off for the desert as well...
Sometimes the best thing about a film doesn't necessarily have to be prominently featured in the work itself, it can be peripheral, like a behind the scenes point of interest, an anecdote you have to share about the time you saw it, or something in the advertising. Survival Run is not the most celebrated thriller in the world, but had you seen its superb poster you might have been enticed into spending ninety minutes with it, a beautifully painted, utterly dramatic representation of two of the teen characters zooming through the aforementioned desert on a motorcycle underneath a blood-red sky. Naturally, the film itself didn't have a hope in Hell of living up to that striking image.
What you had here was an exploitation item that had somehow landed the services of a couple of famous, if getting on a bit, names, Ray Milland and Peter Graves to be precise, who headed up the bad guys, in this case a bunch of Mexicans led by Pedro Armendáriz Jr living up to every greasy, untrustworthy stereotype that Mexico had suffered since even before The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The curious thing was that this was a Mexican-United States co-production, presumably the motive for including a nice Mexican-American character among the young folk who were simply out for a good time and not looking to get involved with criminals who are armed to the teeth.
She was played by Marianne Sauvage who had been in a few saucy Mexican flicks, but there was no real lead character here, it was more an ensemble piece as the good guys - the teens from Tarzana - were pitted against the bad guys - louche Milland, no-nonsense Graves, and plenty of nonsense everyone else. These two camps meet up thanks to an unintentionally hilarious scene involving Star Trek: someone in the van starts reciting Captain Kirk's big speech, they all start singing the theme tune, and somehow this overturns the vehicle and sends it rolling over an embankment, writing it off as far as getting back on the road goes. The seventies van was so much a part of driving culture, especially in movies like this, that nostalgists may feel a pang of anguish to see a fine example of the art take a tumble.
But there's worse to come as after stumbling through the baking heat they arrive at the villains who are waiting to meet their contact and sell off a huge stash of narcotics. The kids don't know that, and they're a friendly, some would say goofy, lot so before long everyone is sharing a brew and having a singalong with the handy guitar (was there a soundtrack album to this? There's a bunch of FM-radio-friendly, mediocre folk rockers littered throughout). Then the blonde (Susan Pratt) wanders off with some of the Mexicans, her boyfriend (Cosie Costa) objects, and before you know it he has been fatally stabbed and she has been gang-raped (offscreen). There were apparently a PG and an X version of Survival Run, which went under other titles like Spree, but it's the X you'll be most likely to see these days (if at all), though both included a lot of gunshot wounds as the teens try to better the crims in stunt-filled sequences that appear to be the point of the exercise. There was a plenty of this about in the seventies, and this example was fairly junky, but you'll know if it's up your street. Music by Gary William Friedman.