The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - DEF-CON 4 (1985) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - DEF-CON 4 (1985)

def-con 4 review
The crew of a satellite armed with nuclear warheads return to an apocalyptic earth.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Paul Donovan, Digby Cook

Starring: Lenore Zann, Maury Chaykin, Kate Lynch, Kevin King

def-con 4 blu-ray

In the mid-80s, as the 40th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki approached, the Cold War was as hot as it had been since the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the threat of nuclear obliteration hung over the populace like a mushroom cloud. On US TV, director Nicholas Meyer brought the horrors of nuclear war into American living rooms with The Day After, which detailed the horrific aftermath of a nuclear strike on US soil, while in the UK, Mick Jackson's Threads performed the same task in even grittier detail. Peter Watkins' pseudo-documentary The War Game received its UK TV premiere 20 years after it was initially banned for fear of striking terror into the British public, as was of course its intention.

With such an existential threat so prevalent in the public consciousness, it's no surprise that exploitation filmmakers decided to cash in. 1985's Canadian post-apocalyptic thriller Def-Con 4 is a product of New World Pictures, the independent studio founded by Roger Corman, and like much of the product of that studio, it promises much but fails to deliver on its premise.

def-con 4 review

High above the earth floats an American satellite equipped with nuclear warheads, its crew - astronauts Howe (Tim Choate) and Walker (John Walsch), and doctor Jordan (Kate Lynch) - charged with the task of launching a retaliatory strike on Russia should America find itself under atomic attack. When said strike happens, the crew realise they are now among the last humans left alive and that a return to a now nuclear ravaged earth is probably pointless.

Let's pause at this point and consider what a potentially thrilling setup this is, one that with its single location should be tailor made for low budget filmmaking. Debates break out between the three crew members as to whether a return to their home planet is worthwhile, and it seems we may have a surprisingly smart drama on our hands.

def-con 4 review

Sadly, circumstances force our heroes to crash land on earth a couple of months later, at which point Def-Con 4 morphs into a turgid Mad Max knockoff. When Walker is killed by mutants and Jordan is knocked unconscious, Howe heads off to find help. What he finds however is a terrifying new dog eat dog world, where the local region is over-ruled by former rich kid Gideon Hayes (Kevin King).

Howe finds himself a prisoner, first of survivalist Vinny (Maury Chaykin), who keeps a young girl, JJ (Lenore Zann, now a Canadian politician), captive in his basement; and then of Hayes and his militia, who take an interest in Howe's crashed spacecraft.

def-con 4 review

The remainder of Def-Con 4 is a combination of post-apocalyptic action movie and prison drama, but fails to inject any energy or excitement into such an intriguing premise. Even the matter of a warhead counting down to self-destruct while still attached to Howe's crashed craft can't add any suspense, as it's largely forgotten about until the explosive climax. Howe is a bland lead, the repulsive Vinny is given a redemption arc unbecoming of the sex criminal he's been shown to be, and twentysomethings Zann and King are laughably miscast as teenagers who were attending high school when the bombs dropped.

In our own age of uncertainty, the threat of nuclear annihilation is making something of a minor comeback, which may lead viewers to seek out Cold War era dramas which addressed such concerns. There are plenty of good ones worth rediscovering, but if the post-bomb world is as dull as Def-Con 4, you'll probably want to die in the blast.

Interviews with editor Michael Spence, composer Christopher Young and author Chris Poggiali; trailer; collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Neil Mitchell.

Def-Con 4 is on blu-ray June 10th from Arrow Video.