The Chain Reaction (1980)

By this point we’re at the business end of the Ozploitation series, and also at an interesting point for “Ozploitation” itself, i.e. the post-Mad Max phase… and this bit of work reunited several key personnel from that film (watch for an uncredited, not to mention unshaven, Mel Gibson), most notably the good doctor himself as associate producer. The actual auteur, though, was Ian Barry, who we last saw as an editor on Stone, here making his feature debut; prior to this he’d made a short film (included on the DVD) as a demo reel for the feature he really wanted to make, but David Elfick convinced him it’d be easier to raise coin for the much more straight ahead suspense thriller he’d also written. And then the AFC cut about a third of the budget just before shooting started, which was neither the last nor arguably the worst thing to happen to the troubled production. At least part of the problem seems to have been Barry himself, whose visual sense seems to have been stronger than his storytelling sense; it’s a good enough story—nuclear waste facility contaminates “charming” bit of country NSW with plutonium leak, has to deal with radiation-affected scientist escaping to tell world rather than just letting them cover the affair up—but not always communicated in the best way. The thing eventually cost nearly what it was originally supposed to before the AFC slashed the funding, and the end result is perhaps unsure of whether it wants to be an exploitation film or a serious statement about the dangers of this sort of toxic waste; entertaining enough, to be sure, but hard not to think it might’ve been better had George Miller directed more than just second unit and car chases. Still, it wound up being a box office success both here and abroad, and the AFC would’ve probably been satisfied with that in the end… though it is noticeable Ian Barry apparently didn’t direct anything again for another six years after this.


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