deadenddriveinA fast drive into paradise turns into a nuclear nightmare – an enthralling tagline to an entertaining eco-thriller. The Chain Reaction features the kind of elements modern Australian cinema lacks. Thrills, spills, car chases and Steve Bisley’s junk.

Australia, 1980, Ian Barry

The Chain Reaction Poster

I was on assignment for Mondo Exploito (I wasn’t really but stay with me) to review another Australian genre film, Outback Vampires. As tantalising as that title sounds, the tedious pantomime was putting my ladyfriend and I to sleep. I decided to thumb through my ever-reliable Umbrella Entertainment Oz-Ploitation box sets to find something I hadn’t seen. Lo and behold I found The Chain Reaction.

Not to be confused with the 1996 Chain Reaction starring overused-narrator Morgan Freeman and walking-forehead Keanu Reeves. Nor should it be confused with the John Farnham song:

Chain Reaction John Farnham

It is a little known fact Farnham’s song was based on this film. I haven’t researched it, nor should you, but I’m sure I’m right. Just read the lyrics:

I got a fever, ohh, a fever in my soul
No I don’t want to die
Before I get old
It took some time just to bring me here
Nobody’s gonna put me down
Do I make myself clear

The lyrics follow the point of view of Heinrich Schmidt (Ross Thompson) who sets this film’s story into motion. You’re right, John Farnham is a plagiarising cunt.

Heinrich works at WALDO, a nuclear waste storage facility, when a tremor busts a pipe and showers him with radiation and synth sound effects. With only three days to live, Heinrich makes a dramatic escape from the facility in order to spread the truth about the underground nuclear spill. Unfortunately, his fiendish boss Gray (Ralph Cotterill) wants to cover up the mess, setting out to destroy Heinrich and anyone who comes in contact with him.

Meanwhile Larry (Steve Bisley) is preparing for a dirty weekend with his wife Carmel (Anna-Maria Winchester). Little to do they know they’re about to cross paths with Heinrich.

Chain Reaction Still Heinrich White Face

As Heinrich struggles with amnesia (that’s what happens with you get radiation poisoning apparently), Larry is set up for the murder of a WALDO employer. In a cell, he meets Eagle (played by Australian genre hero Hugh Keays-Byrne), who’s a reporter/nuclear protester and confuses/helps Larry.

What follows is a tense and sometimes naked adventure as a white coat horde pursues Heinrich and Carmel, forcing Larry to breakout and save the day. I mean save the day in the loosest sense. Yes our heroes flee from the evil corporation in a souped-up ute and unleash the truth about the contaminated water supply, BUT THE WATER SUPPLY IS CONTAMINATED. Thanks for nothing Steve Bisley.

Fresh from Mad Max, Bisley is a joy to watch as the leading man. The blonde locks, the cool jacket, the fast car. He’s kind of like a rubbish version of Ryan Gosling’s character from Drive.

Some fans/reviewers like to think of The Chain Reaction as a quasi-prequel to Mad Max. It’s an interesting but inaccurate theory, seemingly perpetuated by the internet. Though Mad Max and The Chain Reaction do share some of the same crew and cast, including Bisley, Keays-Byrne, Patrick Ward, Roger Ward and even Mel Gibson.

Chain Reaction Mel Gibson

That’s right Mel Gibson appears in an un-credited cameo when he rolls out from under a car, wearing a mesh top, and up-trousers Steve Bisley. According to this DVD cover Gibson is the star of the movie.

Chain Reaction Misleading Cover

Also in the mechanic scene with Gibson is Frankie J. Holden, who plays his best-ever named-character: Farts.

Ian Barry, who edited Stone (also featuring Hugh Keays-Byrne), directed the movie from his own script. There are questionable character decisions and shonky dialogue throughout, however the story and themes haven’t aged. They may have become more relevant with the recent Japanese nuclear disaster.

George Miller associate produced. He also directed the awesome car-chase sequences, with the same flare and force as the Mad Max chases. The low angles, the roaring engines – it’s all there. This was decades before CGI molested car-chase sequences. Award-winning Russell Boyd delivers on the cinematography front, shooting Glen Davis, an abandoned mining town, to great effect.


The film couples as an entertaining thriller and statement about the perils of nuclear waste. Thematically Chain Reaction and Mad Max are somewhat similar. The former set in a pre-apocalyptic world, the latter in a post-apocalyptic one. Instead of thinking the film as a prequel to Mad Max, think of it more as a delightful double, and a chance to witness Steve Bisley’s revealing trousers.

Check out the action and amazing electronic noises in this trailer:

Ozploitation Set 2

Availability: The Chain Reaction was available on DVD in Umbrella’s Entertainment Oz-Ploitation Box Set Vol. 2. It’s out of stock on the Umbrella site but there are some copies still around. The package includes Stone (1974), Long Weekend (1979) and Razorback (1984).