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Cinema

Frank Sidebottom The Home of the Retrospective

ON DVD & BLU-RAY

Def-Con 4 (1985) dir: Paul Donovan Blu Ray (Arrow)

Landing on Earth after the apocalypse

This science fiction adventure features Kate Lynch, John Walsch and Tim Choate as a trio of astronauts stationed aboard a nuclear defence satellite who are forced to watch helplessly as the Earth plunges into nuclear war, wiping out most of humankind in the process. Some time after this catastrophic event has subsided, an automatic program causes their ship to plummet back towards the planet.

After crash-landing on a sandy beach, they make plans to locate a boat and sail to a part of the world which is safe from radioactive fallout. Unfortunately, they also discover that the remnants of humanity aren’t the most hospitable of folk.

Watch a trailer:

This cheapie fails to live up to its initial promise

This low-budget Canadian production attempts to blend two early 1980s cinematic crazes: the space movie and the post-apocalyptic adventure. The first third of the film nods at the former of these trends and, against all odds, isn’t a half bad effort. Despite budgetary limitations, the special effects are convincing and the low-key depiction of everything going to hell in a handcart down on Earth (evoked largely through a series of TV and voice transmissions which keep breaking up) is chillingly effective. There’s also some dramatic tension as the central trio argue and fret over whether or not to fire their own missile payload.

Unfortunately, once they return to the now-lawless world, the film turns into one of the dullest Mad Max clones imaginable. Put it this way: it isn’t a patch on second-class genre entries such as Damnation Alley, Battletruck, 2019: After the Fall of New York or Cyborg, let alone George Miller’s much-beloved series. Unlike some of the other post-apocalyptic cheapies which littered videos shelves around this time, there isn’t even much action either. Instead, our heroes spend much of the runtime being captured and held in various singularly unappealing settings by an assortment of grimacing ruffians.

Def-Con 4 (1985)

The only aspect of these sections that warrants any praise at all is the acting - and even then, it only reaches the level of “reasonable” rather than “great”. Tim Choate is OK as a resolute but not-too-macho hero, Kate Lynch is endearingly sarcastic as his tomboy colleague and Maury Chaykin makes for a believably slobbish type. Unfortunately, Kevin King’s head villain comes across more like a petulant school bully than a tough, menacing bandit leader.

One gets the feeling that the first half-hour of Def-Con 4 started out as a promising short which was then foolishly expanded to feature length in the most cheaply uninspiring manner possible.

Runtime: 88 mins

Dir: Paul Donovan

Script: Paul Donovan

Starring: Lenore Zann, Maury Chaykin, Kate Lynch, Kevin King, John Walsch, Tim Choate

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

This 2K restoration looks reasonably decent at times (notably in the scenes set in space) but suffers from grain and poor contrast at others. The sound is considerably better; it’s clear and well-balanced.

Extras

A Brave New World

Michael Spence talks about his career as an editor. He started out working on trailers for Sunn Classic Pictures pictures releases before editing some of their features. He then jumped aboard New World Pictures where he cut 30-40 trailers (including House and Hellraiser), as well as recutting a few films which the company had picked up for distribution (amongst them being Def-Con 4). While this featurette is rather tangental to the main film here, it’s of some curiosity to cult movie buffs.

Nemesis Descending

Composer Christopher Young discusses his time working for New World Pictures. He reveals that Def-Con 4 was the second of several Canadian acquisitions which the company asked him to rescore. He also provided scores for a number of their in-house productions, most notably Hellraiser.

Exploring the New World

Chris Poggiali, film historian and founder of the blog Temple of Schlock, provides us with this enjoyable whistle-stop tour through the history of New World Pictures, from its origins as a low budget film company founded by Roger Corman (yay!) through to its acquisition by Rupert Murdoch (boo!). The definite highlight of this disc.

The other extras here are a trailer and collector’s booklet.

Overall:

After a promising early stretch, Def-Con 4 plummets to Earth in more ways than one. The extras are ok but it’s strictly one for the more easily-pleased of B-movie buffs.

Movie: ☆☆

Video: ☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆1/2

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