DEF-CON 4 / BD / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: PAUL DONOVAN / STARRING: LENORE ZANN, MAURY CHAYKIN, KATE LYNCH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Post-apocalyptic movies are making a comeback, largely due to the dystopia we currently find ourselves living in; the inference being that either we need tips for survival or that spending time in an atomic wasteland might be preferable to Trump’s America or Brexit Britain.
Def-Con 4 was made at the dirty end of the Cold War, when fears had relaxed to the point that such movies could be made and released, unlike two decades before when such things were taboo and verboten. A Canadian production – part of the VHS-boom wave of “Canuxploitation” films - from young director Paul Donovan, whose Salter Street Films company later produced comedy show This Hour Has 22 Minutes and genre fave Lexx.
Def-Con 4 opens with three American astronauts, orbiting the Earth as part of the US’s missile defence system. When nuclear war breaks out, they survive an attack by a Russian missile, and spend the next few months in isolated safety. A glitch in the spaceship’s programming brings them back down to Earth, landing in an unspecified location in the north east of the North American continent (the film was made in Nova Scotia).
From there it’s a race to survive, as things have gone to ruin very quickly, with society falling apart and cannibalistic feral humans roaming the countryside. Some humans have banded together in relative safety, though, but how will they respond to outsiders..?
It’s from that premise that the film’s action and terror spring, and Donovan does a fair job – on what must have been a very limited budget – of keeping the viewer’s blood pumping. The most well-known of the cast is Maury Chaykin, who plays armed farmer Vinnie, and went on to play Nero Wolfe in the TV series based on the Rex Stout novels. The rest of the cast is a mixed bag, although they all give eager performances, especially Tim Choate as astronaut Howe, and Lenore Zann (who would go on to become a representative in the Nova Scotian parliament) as tough schoolgirl JJ.
The second half of the film does often resemble Mad Max, particularly in its representation of a ramshackle rebuilt society, but Def-Con 4 was filmed in 1983, long after any initial cash-in opportunities had slipped away. Unreleased until 1985, some rather misleading but absolutely beautiful poster art by painter Gary Pullin helped it make back over five times what it cost to make, and it has been a staple of low-budget sci-fi diets ever since.
The Arrow Video Blu-ray release comes with a handful of very interesting extras, including interviews with New World picture editor Michael Spence, and author Chris Poggiali on the history of the distributor, and especially an interview with composer Christopher Young, who also scored Hellraiser and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 for the company.
Def-Con 4 is eighty-eight minutes of schlocky fun, time spent in the company of some sympathetic – and not so sympathetic - characters that will not stick long in the memory after you’ve watched it. And, let’s face it, in these days of living in the worst possible timeline, that’s exactly what you need.
Special Features: Original lossless mono soundtrack / Brave New World video interview / Nemesis Descending video interview / legacy of New World Pictures video interview / Theatrical trailer / Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin