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BLU-RAY REVIEW: “DEF-CON 4” sees Canadians going nuclear

Wednesday, June 19, 2019 | Blu-ray/DVD


Starring Tim Choate, Kate Lynch, John Walsch, Maury Chaykin, Lenore Zann, Kevin King
Written and directed by Paul Donovan
Arrow Video

The future, as we all know, is a terrible place inhabited by flesh-eating mutants.

It’s this stark fact guiding the hand of writer/director Paul Donovan (later creator of LEXX) for his 1985 Canuxploitation flick DEF-CON 4, which begins with a trio of astronauts (Tim Choate, Kate Lynch and a rugged John Walsch) slowly circling the Earth and testing each other’s patience to the giddy limit.

The tension is heightened as a nuclear crisis unfolds, with the bickering crew first weighing up whether to deploy their own deadly payload before having to listen to harrowing messages that recount death, blindness and disease. What to do once the world has spped burning, it transpires, is out of their control, because before they know it they’re being mysteriously drawn back to Earth to witness the terror first-hand.

“There’s doom, decay and marauding gangs of cannibals.”

Needless to say, things ain’t pretty back home: there’s doom, decay, marauding gangs of cannibals and a surprisingly well-organised fascist militia led by a precocious, Vivaldi-listening psychopath. It’s through this parched deathscape that our heroes must navigate, joined along the way by the world’s oldest schoolgirl (Lenore Zann, now a Canadian politician) and a kilt-wearing survivalist with abhorrent table manners (Maury Chaykin).

While rough around the edges and a far cry from Cormac McCarthy in terms of end-of-the-world gravitas, DEF-CON 4 nevertheless manages to claw its way beyond many of an 80s post-apocalyptic caper. The harried, nerve-frayed mood of the astronauts seems authentic, and the lightweight gore is offset by the quiet, queasy, off-hand cruelty with which certain characters are treated. It’s this grubby emotional resonance that powers DEF-CON 4 along, rendering it a darkly enjoyable space-age-on-a-shoestring Lord Of The Flies wherein every single character is desperately searching for some sort of way out.  

Extras for Arrow’s reliably handsome 2K restoration include interviews with composer Christopher Young (who discusses his love for the PLANET OF THE APES score, and how he pipped British avant-garde legends Coil to the HELLRAISER soundtrack gig); New World Pictures editor Michael Spence and a writer Chris Poggiali, who provides an overview of New World Pictures. For those of quick off the mark, the first pressing also includes thoughts on the film written by Neil Mitchell.


Alex Deller
Alex Deller writes about films and music. He doesn't get much sleep. Follow him on Twitter here: @dellerrr