Steve Bisley. A name I would generally associate with only Water Rats. Maybe, just maybe I might
think of Mad Max or Red Hill. But generally, if you said to
me, “remember Steve Bisley”? I would reply with, “the guy from Water Rats”? But no more. I will no
longer utter Bisley’s name as if it does not belong up there on the Australian
actors pedestal with his previous Mad Max
co-star Mel Gibson or Crowe, Jackman, Kidman or Blanchett. You see, I recently
watched a film in which Steve Bisley was the star – The Chain Reaction (1980) – and it was glorious.
The Chain Reaction
follows Larry (Bisley) and Carmel (Arna-Maria Winchester) as they try to help
Heinrich (Ross Thompson), a man who they discover one night, who unknown to
them, has been infected by radiation poisoning. Their efforts to save Heinrich,
however, are heavily thwarted by Grey (Ralph Cotterill), a man who is
attempting to cover up the corporate accident that poisoned Heinrich in the
first place, as well as the widened effects it will have on the general public.
Hailing from the year 1980 it’s easy to confuse The Chain Reaction for a low budget B-grade
movie that isn’t really worthy of a second look while you’re perusing the DVD
section at JB Hi-Fi but I can assure you, it certainly is worth a look. Sure,
it’s got some dodgy sound affects – the lightning sounds like ripping paper –
and Bisley’s pants are so tight that it makes you think they could only afford costumes
from the kids section at Trims. I imagine that if Jay and Silent Bob watched
this movie that Jay would be quick to point out the trouser snake. Also keep an
eye out for a young Mel Gibson, Frankie J. Holden and Kym Gyngell.
Bisley, as Larry, is perfection. An everyday average Joe that’s
been sucked into a bad situation he can’t get out of. He portrayed the Aussie larrikin
who refuses to get pushed around like no other could and it was awesome. While
under arrest, a police officer who’s trying to drive his sick Holden Ute asks
if ‘the car even goes’, to which Larry replies ‘into orbit mate’ with perfect
sarcasm. When Gray asks him a vague question he replies with robustness ‘ don’t
understand your Jargon mister’. It rolled off his tongue with all of the might
of an A-list Hollywood actor (I literally used the line the next day at work)
but sadly, Steve never really experienced Hollywood. I’m not saying that Bisley
hasn’t enjoyed a long and well received career that he himself would be surely
proud of. What I am saying, is that Hollywood has missed out – but for all I
know, Hollywood came knocking and Steve turned it down in favour of sticking to
Arna-Maria Winchester as Carmel is also quality. She is
tough and rigid and is the perfect match for Larry’s personality. Carmel is
also a nurse and shows great care in taking care of Heinrich – standing up for
him when in the face of danger after Gray has taken over their cabin. Ross
Thompson as Heinrich is competent at best, he isn’t the best performer in the
film, but certainly isn’t the worst. His struggles to remember what has
happened (due to the short term amnesia he suffers after a head injury) are
sometimes frustrating but he does manage to keep you engaged in the character.
Ralph Cotterill is uncompromising as Gray, he is a methodical killer with what
seems to be a never ending production line of bad guys. If only he had a pack
of Tim Tams. There is also a suave performance from Hugh Keays-Byrne as Eagle.
The car chases and stunts were also great. Larry’s modified
Holden 1-tonner goes like a bat out of hell, with George Miller (Mad Max), taking care of stunt
co-ordination after being unavailable to direct full-time due to his already
busy schedule. Ian Barry however, who
wrote and directed this film – his first feature – did a great job. Its
schlocky here, looks cheap there, but it’s great fun. He did so well that when
the film sold at Cannes Film Festival, Producer David Elfick said “it could
have been sold three times over in every territory in the world”. After the
sale the film immediately started to make a profit – if that doesn’t tell you
it is worth a look, then nothing will.
Finally, I NEED to talk about the already well noted
soundtrack. Back when it was released the soundtrack was so well thought of it
was even advertised on the movie poster in bold writing. You don’t see that too
often these days. The electronic sound track is great, it compels itself into
the film. The original music by Andrew Thomas Wilson was phenomenal. Remember,
this film is just under 40 years old, it is nothing like what we see today, and
personally, it’s part of what made seeing it the first time so special.
But it’s not just the film you need to watch. The new
Blu-Ray release from Umbrella Films includes some very cool special features.
To start with there are some deleted scenes. They don’t
really add a whole lot to the essence of the film but there is more of Bisley
acting out against authority and seeing more of his larrikin Larry character so
it is worth giving them a look. There are also a few trailers and a TV spot.
The TV spot is awesome, if the same TV spot came out today it would certainly
garner more than a few YouTube hits. It was exciting and it made me want to
watch the film (again).
There is also a new featurette – Thrills and Nuclear Spills which provides some great insight into
the making of the film and the extended Not
Quite Hollywood interviews with cast and crew are also fascinating. But what
is truly worth your time and money is The
Spark Obituary featurette. After an introduction from writer/director Ian
Barry you’ll stumble across a short film (just over 20 minutes) which will blow
your mind. If I was reviewing that by itself, I’d give it 5 out of 5 stars.
The Chain Reaction
is a fun ride full of high octane chases and faceless bad guys and keeps you
engaged with great stunts and an awesome soundtrack. The film is completely
enjoyable and is definitely worth picking up with the new release Blu-Ray full
of special features make it all that much sweeter.
Director: Ian Barry Cast: Steve Bisley, Arna-Maria Winchester, Ross Thompson Writer: Ian Barry
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