Director: Paul Donovan
Script: Paul Donovan
Cast: Lenore Zann, Maury Chaykin, Kate Lynch, Kevin King, John Walsch, Tim Chote
Running time: 88 minutes
Back in the eighties post-apocalypse films were very popular, especially after Mad Max 2 (1981) blew us all away with its super-charged blend of crazy vehicular-centred action sequences and over-the-top characters that felt like they were ripped from the pages of an obscure Australian graphic novel/comic. While the Italians continued putting out Mad Max rip-offs at an alarming rate throughout the decade that taste forgot other countries also leapt onto the apocalyptic band-wagon, including the Canadians with this little-known gritty sci-fi adventure film, Def-Con 4.
The Nemesis space mission has a crew of two men, Walker (John Walsch) and Howe (Tim Chote) and a woman, Dr Jordan (Kate Lynch), and circles the globe in a satellite armed with a multitude of nuclear devices. When World War III breaks out below them the astronauts are undecided as to what to do. They fire off one of their missiles at an incoming projectile, and then discharge the rest of their weapons into space, feeling that enough damage has already been done at ground level without them contributing to the mayhem any further.
A few months later their satellite ship is forced to crash-land back on Earth. They survive the crash, but Jordan is knocked unconscious and the men are quickly besieged by what seem to be survivors turned into raging cannibals. And things are going to get a hell of a lot worse when they are captured by an egomaniac nut-job, Gideon (Kevin King), who leads a group of power-hungry punks. And, to further add insult to injury, one of the warheads didn’t disengage from their ship and it’s primed and ready to go off in less than 60 hours!
Def-Con 4 certainly crackles along at a brisk pace with the astronauts being thrown from one dangerous situation to another every few minutes; hence it definitely holds the viewer’s attention. While characterisation isn’t great, and the dialogue is nothing to write home about, the film gets by on committed performances from its enthusiastic cast – Kevin King (a weird mix of Kevin Bacon and Kiefer Sutherland) is certainly enjoying himself as the main bad guy – and on its set design, design that has the right mix of grubbiness and inventiveness, which I guess survivors of a nuclear war would need in order to keep going.
The film is well shot, for the most part, despite the colours being quite subdued a lot of the time; although I guess this was probably intentional. Sadly, it shows its lesser budget at times with scenes that feel a bit rushed, such as a later battle sequence that suffers for it and doesn’t overly convince.
Fans of Mad Max and its ilk will most definitely enjoy Def-Con 4, which certainly has the feel of being another undiscovered Ozploitation classic, despite the fact that it was actually shot in Nova Scotia under the Canadian Tax Shelter Fund.
Arrow Video is distributing Def-Con 4 on Blu-ray. As per usual with Arrow Video there are some decent extras on the disc including:
Theatrical trailer (1.5 mins) – A bit ambiguous, but it nicely shows off the decent low-budget special effects.
A Brave New World (9.45 mins) – An interview with New World Pictures editor Michael Spence who talks about his career, obviously focussing on the time he spent with New World Pictures. He reveals that Def-Con 4 was a film that he had to re-cut as New World felt it needed work when it came to them.
Nemesis Descending (11.07 mins) – An interview with composer Christopher Young, who‘s probably more famous for creating the scores for the first couple of Hellraiser films. He tells us that he particularly enjoyed working on Sci-Fi films and was inspired by the music from the original The Planet of the Apes movie when composing the score for Def-Con 4.
Exploring the New World (16.5 mins) – An interview with film historian Chris Poggiali who takes us through the history of the New World Pictures company, through all of its different incarnations. Interestingly New World Pictures once owned the Marvel Entertainment Group!