The Chain Reaction

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This article is about the 1980 Australian action film. For the 1996 film, see Chain Reaction (film).
The Chain Reaction
The Chain Reaction 1980 poster.jpg
Theatrical film poster
Directed by Ian Barry
Produced by David Elfick
Written by Ian Barry
Starring Steve Bisley
Arna-Maria Winchester
Ross Thompson
Ralph Cotterill
Hugh Keays-Byrne
Lorna Lesley
Richard Moir
Music by Andrew Thomas Wilson
Cinematography Russell Boyd
Edited by Tim Wellburn
Palm Beach Pictures
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date
25 September 1980
Running time
92 min.
Country Australia
Language English
Budget A$600,000[1]
Box office A$796,000 (Australia)

The Chain Reaction (also known as Chain Reaction) is a 1980 Australian independent action/disaster/thriller film directed and written by Ian Barry. The film stars Steve Bisley, also starring in the film Mad Max (1979) 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 movie features many actors who were in Mad Max, among them Mel Gibson as a bearded mechanic, though he doesn't appear at all. 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.[2]


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.


  • Steve Bisley — Larry Stilson
  • Arna-Maria Winchester — Carmel Stilson
  • Ross Thompson — Heinrich Schmidt
  • Ralph Cotterill — Gray
  • Hugh Keays-Byrne — Eagle
  • Lorna Lesley — Gloria
  • Richard Moir — Junior Constable Pigott
  • Patrick Ward — Oates
  • Laurie Moran — Police Sgt. McSweeney
  • Michael Long — Doctor
  • Bill McCluskey — Ralph
  • Margo Lloyd — Molly
  • Tim Burns — Survey driver
  • Mel Gibson — Bearded mechanic (uncredited)


A car chase sequence of The Chain Reaction.

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.[3] 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).[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

Post production was reputedly very difficult with representatives from the AFC, VFC and Hoyts supervising and discussing every cut of the film.[3]


The Chain Reaction
Soundtrack album by Andrew Thomas Wilson
Released 1980
Recorded 1980
Genre Rock, film score

The music for the film was composed by Andrew Thomas Wilson.[7]

Track listing[edit]

  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[edit]

The film was nomitated for 1983 Saturn Award by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy of Horror Films for Best International Film but lost to Mad Max 2 (1981).[8] It was also nomitated to the 1980 AFI Awards with 6 nominations: Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Costume Design, Best Achievement in Editing, Best Achievement in Production Design, Best Achievement in Sound and Best Achievement in a Supporting Role.[9] The web page TV gave 3 out 4 stars.[10] In Yahoo! Movies, the users rating to the film with a C[11] and 5.5 out of 10 in Internet Movie Database.

Titles around the world[edit]

Die KettenReaktion (1980), a theatrical poster for Germany
Theatrical German poster.
  • 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[edit]

The DVD includes these extras:[12][13]

  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.[12]

Box Office[edit]

The world-wide distribution rights were bought by Warner Bros studio, which put the film instantly in profit.[14] The Chain Reaction grossed $796,000 at the box office in Australia,[15] which is equivalent to $2,825,800 in 2009 dollars.

See also[edit]


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

External links[edit]