Midnight Movie Review: The Chain Reaction (1980)

One of the most quintessential movie series for late-night movie viewing is the Mad Max trilogy (soon to be quadrilogy when Mad Max: Fury Road hits the big screen this May). This movie series is one of the most popular action movie franchises of the late ’70s-’80s and is the series that propelled Mel Gibson into stardom. What’s lesser known is that a little B-rated movie called The Chain Reaction is directly connected to this franchise.

In The Chain Reaction, a nuclear waste storage site/state-owned enterprise named WALDO (Western Atomic Longterm Dumping Organisation) has been badly damaged by an earthquake and is leaking radioactive waste into the water table of the local countryside. Afterwards, the administrators of WALDO have decide to cover up the accident rather than inform the public. Heinrich Schmidt (Ross Thompson), a German nuclear scientist who works at WALDO, has been badly burned after being doused with radioactive waste leaking from a pipe at the facility. He knows the local population is in grave danger, but due to his severe injuries and his detention by the administrators, he cannot speak to the media and get word out.

Not willing to jeopardize the lives of thousands of people, Schmidt decides to escape and warn anyone who will listen. He successfully escapes from WALDO and makes his way to a nearby town, where he loses his consciousness and his memory. He wanders around the countryside with amnesia and stumbles upon Larry Stilson (Steve Bisley, or  Max’s partner “Goose” from Mad Max ), a mechanic who is vacationing with his wife Carmel (Arna-Maria Winchester) at a country home. The Stilsons take him in and try their best to help him heal, but little do they know that some very shadowy forces are looking for Schmidt. And the Stilsons end up being targeted by these same forces as a result of harboring Schmidt…..

The Chain Reaction is famous for not only being one of the all-time classics of the B-rated “Ozploitation” movies that came from Down Under back in the 1970s-80s, but also a movie coming from the same cast and crew who were responsible for the Mad Max movies. It was released in the cinemas in 1980, the year after Mad Max became a smash hit worldwide. It even features some short cameos from Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played The Toecutter, and Mad Max himself: Mel Gibson! Here in the US, The Chain Reaction seems to have had very limited distribution on VHS and DVD over the past several decades since its release.

Like its bigger-budgeted cousins, this flick contains some very intense car chase sequences, which were all directed by Mad Max director George Miller. Even if movies such as this aren’t exactly your cup of tea, the chase sequences alone make it worth watching!

Judging from the comments about this movie at IMDB, there are some who feel that The Chain Reaction could be considered a prequel of Mad Max. Given the storyline concerning a nuclear catastrophe affecting the environment, the car chases, and the cast and crew involved, it could certainly tie in to the post-apocalyptic storyline of the Mad Max series.

If you’re a fan of B-rated action movies or are a Mad Max aficionado, this is a movie you’ll definitely want to add to your to-see midnight movie list! If you’re in North America, consider yourself in privileged company if you manage to find it!

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