• The Chain Reaction (Umbrella Entertainment) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: November 7th, 2018.
    Director: Ian Barry
    Cast: Steve Bisley, Arna-Maria Winchester, Ross Thompson, Ralph Cotterill, Hugh Keays-Byrne
    Year: 1980
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Chain Reaction – Movie Review:

    Released two years after the box office smash that was Mad Max and after the international success of The China Syndrome, Ian Barry’s 1980 Ozploitation picture The Chain Reaction begins after a serious Earthquake in the wilds of Australia causes a deadly leak at a facility being used to store dangerous nuclear waste.

    One of the engineers on site, Heinrich Schmidt (Ross Thompson), knows firsthand through personal experience how dangerous exposure to this material is and is rightfully concerned that the leak is going to get into the area’s water supply. As such, he sets out to warn the population about the dire effects of the incident, but his evil employers don’t want him to do any such thing. As they put into place a cover up, Schmidt goes on the run, even though he’s been seriously wounded. While in the middle of nowhere and seemingly on his last legs, he’s found by and auto mechanic named Larry Stilson (Steve Bisley) and his wife Carmel (Arna-Maria Winchester) who just so happen to be vacationing in the area. Heinrich, suffering from amnesia, tries to explain what’s happened to the Stilson’s while heavily armed goons give chase, hoping to stop them from exposing what’s happened, no matter the cost to the environment, or even human life.

    Briskly paced, atmospheric and surprisingly ambitious, The Chain Reaction is solid drive-in fare and a very entertaining mix of action, science fiction and horror movie elements… with just a few dashes of romance and comedy thrown into the mix for good measure. Writer/director Ian Barry, in his feature length film debut, proves adapt at maxing out the film’s modest budget and getting every penny up there on the screen.

    The Mad Max Connection includes actors Steve Bisley, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Roger Ward, Tim Burns, David Bracks and, yes, even an uncredited Mel Gibson (he has a very quick uncredited cameo in the film as mechanic) as well as the involvement of producer/second unit director George Miller (brought on by Barry and his producer specifically for his car chase and stunt expertise). It’s Miller’s contributions that really stand out here. Not to take away from what the cast members are able to bring to the production but the car chase and stunt set pieces have Miller’s name all over them – and they are definitely one of the film’s strongest selling points. They’re impressively choreographed and feature that trademark Miller feeling of just barely controlled chaos – in short, they’re beautiful.

    But yes, the cast are good. It’s fun seeing Bisley play the lead here after he was second fiddle Jim Goose in Mad Max. He’s got good screen presence and makes for a likeable tough guy. He handles the material well and he looks cool doing it. He and leading lady Arna-Maria Winchester, of Michael Pearce’s 1987 horror film Initiation, have enough chemistry together to make their on-screen relationship work. Ross Thompson’s work in the picture is also quite good.

    The film also benefits from a truly wild electronic score from Andrew Thomas Wilson. It was released on vinyl in 1980 in Australia by 7 Records and reissued in 2014 by Dual Planet Records. It’s a genuinely strange selection of music, almost disco-infused at times, but it somehow manages to suit the tone of the film really well and the movie is all the better for having it. Hugh Keays-Byrne is also memorable in his supporting role.

    The Chain Reaction – Blu-ray Review:

    Umbrella Entertainment brings The Chain Reaction to region free Blu-ray on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed in the film’s original 1.85.1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. It’s hard to find much to complain about here, the transfer is a very strong one. Detail and texture are both frequently impressive and there’s a lot of depth to the image as well. The whole thing has a very film-like quality to it, the natural film grain inherent in the elements an omnipresent factor, of course, but very little actual print damage outside of the odd white speck here and there. Skin tones look good and black levels are more than fine. Color reproduction in general is spot on here. The image is free of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement issues and aside from some very minor compression artifacts that most won’t even notice, this looks damn near perfect.

    The only audio option provided for the feature is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 track. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Again, no complaints. Quality of the audio here is also very strong, particularly during the more action-intensive sequences like the car chase footage. Dialogue stays clean, clear and easy to follow and the levels are nicely balanced throughout. Hiss and distortion are never a problem. A fine track, overall.

    Like seemingly ever Ozploitation Blu-ray release, the extras on this disc include some extended interviews from Not Quite Hollywood – seventy-five-minutes of them, in fact. We hear from cast members Steve Bisley and Arna-Maria Winchester, director Ian Barry and associate producer Ross Matthews and it’s interesting stuff. They cover George Miller’s involvement in the film, the more exploitative elements of the picture including the nude scene, the themes that the film deals with and the genuinely strange New South Wales locations that were used for the shoot.

    The thirty-three-minute Thrills & Nuclear Spills gets Barry and Bisley back in front of the camera alongside producer David Elfick to talk about the genesis of the project and how the film came to be in the first place. There’s a good bit of talk here about the movie’s message, how it blends science fiction and action with other genre conventions and how Australian politics and environmental concerns of the day in which the film was made worked their way into the finished product, the film’s unique funding and distribution history and more.

    Barry and Elfick had, in 1978, also collaborated on a twenty-five-minute short film called The Sparks Obituary that is also included on the disc. Barry also provides a quick introduction to the film to give it some context. It’s a quirky and clearly low-budget sci-fi piece but it is an interesting addition to the supplements here, and it’s always interesting to see were an accomplished filmmaker got his or her start. This opens with a newspaper obituary for one Harry Stewart Sparks, placed by his wife, noting that he passed away January 9th, 1978. From there, we meet and hear from his wife and learn about what the Greenboe Corporation may have had to do with all of this. It gets weird from there, almost channeling A Clockwork Orange in some of the visuals employed in a couple of laboratory scenes, and it also does an interesting job of exploiting the news media as a storytelling device.

    Umbrella has also dug up The Man At The Edge Of The Freeway, which is an earlier cut of the movie that is presented in a 1.33.1 fullframe transfer taken from a tape source, likely the only existing available elements for this version. It runs two-minutes longer than the ninety-two-minute ‘feature attraction’ version of the movie.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are nine-minutes of deleted and extended scenes, a theatrical trailer, a VHS trailer, a TV spot, menus and chapter selection. It’s also worth noting that Umbrella has packaged this release with some slick reversible cover sleeve art.

    The Chain Reaction – The Final Word:

    If The Chain Reaction borrows a little bit from The China Syndrome and other nuclear-themed thrillers of the era, so be it – there’s enough uniqueness here not just in the Australian cast and setting but in the storytelling as well to make this work. Some great action and stunt set pieces combined with a few truly chilling moments and solid performances combine to make for a genuinely entertaining genre mashup. Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray is excellent, presenting the restored feature in great shape, with strong audio and a very impressive array of extra features. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized The Chain Reaction Blu-ray screen caps!