The Chain Reaction

The Chain Reaction is a 1980 Australian independent disaster/science fiction thriller film directed and written by Ian Barry. The film stars Steve Bisley and Arna-Maria Winchester. The film's plot is about an engineer badly injured in an accident caused by an earthquake. He knows that the nuclear waste will poison the groundwater and wants to warn the public.

The Chain Reaction
Theatrical film poster
Directed byIan Barry
Produced byDavid Elfick
Written byIan Barry
StarringSteve Bisley
Arna-Maria Winchester
Ross Thompson
Ralph Cotterill
Hugh Keays-Byrne
Lorna Lesley
Richard Moir
Music byAndrew Thomas Wilson
CinematographyRussell Boyd
Edited byTim Wellburn
Palm Beach Pictures
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • 25 September 1980 (1980-09-25)
Running time
92 min.
Box officeA$796,000 (Australia)

The movie features many cast members from Mad Max, among them Mel Gibson as a bearded mechanic, in an uncredited cameo.[2] The taglines used in advertising the film included "A fast drive to Paradise turns into a nuclear nightmare!" and "Mad Max meets The China Syndrome"; the latter referring to the car chase and nuclear accident.

The film was rated M in Australia.[3]


An earthquake in rural Australia causes a dangerous leak at WALDO (acronyms of Western Atomic Longterm Dumping Organisation), a nuclear waste storage facility. Heinrich Schmidt (Ross Thompson) an engineer badly contaminated in the accident, knows that the leak will poison the groundwater for hundreds of miles around and wants to warn the public. His boss, however, is only interested in protecting himself and believes that the accident should be covered up, when in fact the contamination risks thousands of lives. Heinrich escapes from the facility but is badly injured. Lost in the woods and suffering from amnesia, he is rescued by Larry Stilson (Steve Bisley), a car mechanic on holiday, and his wife Carmel (Arna-Maria Winchester). As Heinrich tries to piece together his memories of what happened, his boss' thugs are quickly closing in on the trio.



The film was the idea of director Ian Barry. He had been talking to producer David Elfick about making a film called Sparks about a blind film director, based on a short film he had made, but Elfick thought the subject matter would be too difficult to finance. Barry had written another film, a thriller then entitled The Man at the Edge of the Freeway, and Elfick decided to make that instead. The movie was budgeted at $600,000 but the Australian Film Commission thought it was too high so it was re-budgeted at $450,000. George Miller came on the project as associate producer.[1]

Funding came from the Australian Film Commission, Victorian Film Corporation and Hoyts. Shooting started in September 1979 and took place in Glen Davis and Sydney, both located in New South Wales in Australia.[4] Elfick says the location at Glen Davis was rumoured to be the site of an aboriginal massacre and was supposed to be cursed; he believed it because filming was extremely difficult.[1]

Filming took longer than expected and the movie went 40% over budget. George Miller was brought in to shoot the car chase sequences, which featured the Ford Fairlane LTD in most scenes as the preferred vehicle of the antagonistic authority chasing Larry's modified Holden utility vehicle (Ute).[5] David Elfick also filmed some second unit.[1]

The film was shot with a Widescreen anamorphic lens.


The film was released shortly after Mad Max and it has a similar theme to that film as well as American films like The China Syndrome in regards to the whole nuclear-apocalyptic storyline.[6]

The film was distributed in Australia by the Palm Beach Picture, join with Victorian Film Corporation and Australian Film Commission and released on 25 September. In the United States the film's distributor was Warner Bros., and in the United Kingdom it was Columbia-EMI-Warner.[7]

Post production was reputedly very difficult with representatives from the AFC, VFC and Hoyts supervising and discussing every cut of the film.[4]


The Chain Reaction
Soundtrack album by
Andrew Thomas Wilson
GenreRock, film score

The music for the film was composed by Andrew Thomas Wilson.[8]

Track listing

  1. "Awakening" (1:46)
  2. "The Beast" (4:17)
  3. "Decontamination" (2:05)
  4. "Heinrich's Theme" (3:00)
  5. "WALDO" (1:17)
  6. "A Swim in the River" (1:48)
  7. "Chain Reaction" (4:52)
  8. "Once More with Feeling" (3:00)
  9. "Paradise Valley" (1:03)
  10. "Car Chase" (4:31)
  11. "Carmel's Theme" (1:38)
  12. "WALDO Arrives" (1:57)
  13. "The Hand at the Window" (0:42)
  14. "Message to a Friend" (End tiles)(4:28)

Awards and critical reception

Award Category Subject Result
AACTA Awards[9]
(1980 AFI Awards)
Best Supporting Actress Lorna Lesley Nominated
Best Cinematography Russell Boyd Nominated
Best Editing Tim Wellburn Nominated
Best Sound Nominated
Lloyd Carrick Nominated
Phil Judd Nominated
Best Production Design Graham 'Grace' Walker Nominated
Best Costume Design Norma Moriceau Nominated
Saturn Award Best International Film[10] Nominated

The web page TV gave 3 out 4 stars.[11] In Yahoo! Movies, the users rating to the film with a C[12] and 5.5 out of 10 in Internet Movie Database.

Titles around the world

  • Detector (Italy)
  • Ketjureaktio (Finland)
  • Die Kettenreaktion (West Germany)
  • Nuclear Run
  • Peligro: reacción en cadena (Spain)
  • Perigo...Reacção em Cadeia (Portugal)
  • Skotoste ton, xerei polla! (Greece)
  • The Man at the Edge of the Freeway* (Australia)

*Working title

DVD extras

The DVD includes these extras:[13][14]

  1. Thills and Nuclear Spills: The making of the film (31:37)
  2. The Sparks Obituary (24:50)
  3. Deleted and extended scenes (8:14)
  4. TV Spot (0:32)
  5. Poster and Still gallery (2:54)
  6. Umbrella trailers

The video presents a 1.70:1 aspect ratio, originally 1.66:1.[13]

Box office

The world-wide distribution rights were bought by Warner Bros studio, which put the film instantly in profit.[15] The Chain Reaction grossed $796,000 at the box office in Australia,[16] which is equivalent to $2,825,800 in 2009 dollars.

See also


  1. David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990 p247-248
  2. Mel Gibson filmography, imdb
  3. Titles with cerficate: Australia: M
  4. David Stratton, The Last New Wave: The Australian Film Revival, Angus & Robertson, 1980 p285
  5. "GrindhouseDatabase - The Chain Reaction". Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  6. "Cinephilia - The Chain Reaction". Archived from the original on 22 September 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  7. "Inbaseline". Retrieved 1 November 2010.
  8. "Andrew Thomas Wilson-The Chain Reaction-Original Soundtrack". Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  9. AFI Awards Nominees and Winners at IMDb
  10. Saturn Awards Nominees and Winners at IMDb
  11. " - The Chain Reaction". Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  12. "Yahoo! Movies: The Chain Reaction - Movie Info". Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  13. "The Chain Reaction - DVD details". Retrieved 11 January 2010.
  14. "The Chain Reaction - DVD". Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  15. Thrills and Nuclear Spills: The Making of 'The Chain Reaction' (video short) (2005)
  16. "Film Victoria - Australian Films at the Australian Box Office" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 February 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2010.
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