The Chain Reaction (1980)
By: Paul Ryan on February 14, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.66:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 88 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Ian Barry
Starring: Steve Bisley, Arna-Maria Winchester, Ralph Cotterill, Hugh Keays-Byrne
Screenplay: Ian Barry
Music: Andrew Thomas Wilson
Tagline: A fast drive to paradise turns into a nightmare!
Country: Australia
"I need some negotiating power – twelve gauge!"- Larry Stilson (Steve Bisley)

Sydney mechanic Larry Stilson (Steve Bisley, of tight pants and unrepentant mullet) and his wife Carmel (Arna-Maria Winchester) hit the countryside for a bit of a dirty weekend. Unfortunately for them, the country town they have picked just happens to be close to the Western Atomic Longterm Dumping Organisation, or WALDO. WALDO has just experienced a waste spill following an earthquake, contaminating senior engineer Heinrich Schmidt (Ross Thompson). With not long to live, Schmidt escapes, desperate to warn the outside world. Of course, Schmidt crosses paths with Larry and Carmel. The three of them find themselves in mortal danger from the ruthless officials behind WALDO, led by the noticeably Aryan baddie Gray (Ralph Cotterill)…

The Chain Reaction is yet another example of vintage Ozploitation left to gather dust for far too long. This is an entertaining fusion of action, eco-thriller and suspense. Making his feature debut, Ian Barry keeps things moving at a furious pace and makes great use of the Glen Davis settings. Many hands from Mad Max (released only a year earlier) contributed to the film on both sides of the camera. George Miller, who served as a co-producer, also helped stage the exciting action scenes, whilst the cast also features appearances by Hugh Keays-Byrne, Roger Ward, Tim Burns and an uncredited cameo by Mel Gibson. It's very much a product of its era, from the hair and costumes to the old-style Telecom and Channel Seven logos, but it still delivers the goods after all this time.

It's a shame that this film has been out of circulation for so long (having only been released on video once in the early 80's), but the fine folks at Umbrella Entertainment have rectified this oversight with a top-notch DVD release. Here's hoping the film gets more acknowledgement from here on.
Video
Aside from a few instances of film artefacts and minor print damage, this is an excellent anamorphic transfer that does full justice to Russell Boyd's moody camerawork.
Audio
A fine Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is on offer here. You'll really notice how good the soundtrack is when you sample the audio on other features such as the deleted scenes.
Extra Features
Thrills and Nuclear Spills: The Making of the Chain Reaction. (4X3 WS, 31.38m) We begin the extras package with an exhaustive retrospective documentary on the making of the film. Barry, Bisley, Boyd and producer David Elfick all contribute frank and candid anecdotes on the film's chaotic production. All making-of featurettes should be this honest. It's also worth it just to hear Bisley remark that "we did a fair amount of nude work." He ain't kidding.

The Sparks Obituary. (4x3 FF, 24.50m) This rare 1978 short represents Barry's first work as a director. The tale of a brilliant – but now blind – filmmaker used as a guinea pig in an experiment in converting brain images to film, this is imaginative and well-acted. The film is also notable as an early credit for acclaimed documentary filmmaker George Gittoes. Barry himself contributes a 90-second introduction for this DVD.

Deleted Scenes. (4x3 WS, 8.15m) Fifteen deleted scenes, most of them extensions of scenes from the finished film. These are all generally interesting, but not essential to the film. Taken from a video source, the picture quality is very ropey (full of flickering and tracking) and the audio is occasionally rough.

Theatrical Trailer. (16x9, 3.19m) An amusingly 80's trailer, with loud synthesiser beats and a faux-American voice over, though still quite tense.

TV Spot. (4x3 WS, 31 sec) Pretty much a cut-down version of the theatrical trailer, though I wouldn't be surprised if this was taken from an old Roadshow video tape rather than a TV broadcast.

Poster and Still Gallery: A large collection of international poster art and production stills. Definitely worth a look.

Additional Trailers: Bonus trailers are included for Umbrella's releases of Road Games (16x9, 2.07m), The Survivor (16X9, 3.17m), The Time Guardian (4x3 WS, 1.27m) and The Cars That Ate Paris (4x3 WS, 3.30m).
The Verdict
By turns a textbook example of vintage Ozploitation and a tense, intelligent thriller with something to say, The Chain Reaction is well worth the rediscovery on DVD. Umbrella Entertainment continues its tradition of quality releases of Aussie cinema with an excellent video and audio transfer and a generous selection of extras.
Movie Score
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