This review is part of the Big B-Movie Beach Party! Check out the other superb reviews ---HERE---

Original Title:


Def-Con 4






Alternative Title(s):

Defence Condition 4 - Original full title, although rarely used.
Def-Con 4 - Das letzte Kommando - West Germany (Def Con 4 - The Last Command
).
Ground Zero - Confirmed but unknown origin.
The BFI also list Earth Fall and Dark Eyes, although I can't confirm this.


Year of Release:

1985

Duration:

84 minutes
 

Country of Origin:

Canada

Tagline(s):

The last defence. The last hope. The battle for the future of the world has begun - multiple DVD and VHS covers.

Reviewed Version Rating:

UK PAL DVD 15


Review:


              By Michael Petch
21st July  07





The one thing that any B-movie fan will know about Def Con 4 is that it has one hell of a cool poster; and it had such an impact at the time that if you ask all your non-B-movie loving friends (or 100 random people in the street), there may, just may, be one who has seen it (the poster that is, probably not the film). In a genius marketing move that was by no means original at the time, the producers realised that sticking a totally cool but barely related piece of artwork on the cover would help sell more copies. Sometimes this can work; sometimes it turns a small flop into a gigantic disaster. In the case of Def Con 4 it was a inspired decision. The film has grossed well over five times its budget of just over $1 million, which for a mid eighties post-apocalyptic (PA) film is very impressive. It’s just a shame that we never get to see that spaceship, and there are certainly no skeletal astronauts. It does have some sand though…..

So, the film has a nice poster, and quite a few people have seen it, but does that mean it’s any good? Well, in a word, yes (didn’t expect that did you?). Def Con 4 fills a nice little niche in the post-apocalyptic market. Conceived and filmed right in the middle of the post-Mad Max 2 rush, Def Con 4 manages to take a lot of serious themes and mix them with the more light-hearted Italian and Philippine films. Here we have the beefed-up vehicles, the crazed scavengers and the power hungry militia, but there's also a dark streak running through the proceedings, where people bleakly beg for their lives and are tortured for information. Despite the story being just as ridiculous as most PA’s, there's a greater touch of reality, a feeling of dread and of consequence, which adds to the suspense of many of the scenes. Unusually for a PA film, you are actually left wondering and wanting to know what will happen next, unlike the majority of PA films where you can just sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s by no means perfect, but it's a nice change, and managed to keep me entertained throughout, despite reviews by other critics that would disagree.

Now, if you came here for the Beach Party, you may be asking “Where’s the darn Beach?” Well, there is one; I promise you, so hold your horses, it's coming up, just don’t expect bikini babes and sandcastles (maybe in a few years when the radiation has died down).

After a brief bit of pointless opening text informing us that it's “The day after tomorrow”, and after the titles have blazed the name of the film in bright lights one huge letter after another, we finally get down to business, and are thrust straight into outta space with a trio of misfits that surely would never get past the NASA training scheme in this day and age. Firstly, there is Howe, our hero, a weepy nerd who spends his time watching tapes of his wife (who openly admits she believes him dead) and trying to avoid any kind of conflict. Jordan is the unstable medical expert who doesn’t seem to be coping too well with being in space, and is the type who shouts “Drop the payload!” at the first sign of trouble. Finally, there is Walker, the pompous porno-watching wise guy commander of the mission. None of the characters seem to like each other too much (understandable after hundreds of days in space) and none of them seem suitably astute to have the finger on the trigger of a huge nuclear arsenal.

             
Jordan and Howe, two people you wouldn't dream of putting in space (or even a drive-through window at McDonalds...).

Luckily for us, when the Russians and the Libyans do bomb the crap out of the world (see the film for the full and meaningless way the end comes about) our trio of Americans realise that dropping another round of nukes would simply finish the planet off. They do fire off one bomb to save themselves when an incoming object is spotted, but otherwise they just sit tight.

 

About a month later, Howe has computed that there's less than 10% of the population left, and that will continue to drop due to the after-effects of radiation. Lucky for them they have another four months of food left. So, where to land in the future? Well, the Seychelles and Easter Island look pretty clean, and there’s always the Antarctic. The only other recommendation? Some parts of Central America!

So the crew continue to stick around, Jordan skulking in her medical quarters, Walker exercising and Howe scanning the air waves for his wife, who apparently has some sort of CB radio set-up (imagine the odds!). I say “stick around”, and that’s quite correct, as there seems to be no lack of gravity onboard the ship, and there's no explanation for this. We do see shots of the spaceship spinning rapidly, maybe a nod to some form of induced gravity (see 2001: A Space Odyssey), but I don’t buy it. Miraculously, one day Howe’s wife does send out a signal. It’s all pretty depressing stuff. She tells of a disease that's running rampant, and of how their child had to be shot. Basically, it sounds like, of the few survivors, they are all dying from the radiation.

 

That night an unknown signal from Earth sets the lifepod, with the bombs attached (who designed this spaceship?), to return to Earth, somewhere on the Eastern side of the US. There isn’t much the crew can do, so they ditch the bombs, (setting them to maximum time and thrusting them out into space, never to be seen again) and strap in for landing. Unfortunately, one bomb jammed, and when their pod smashes into a beach somewhere in the US, they still have the bomb with them, set to detonate in 60 hours.

 
It's a lovely beach, shame about the locals.

Jordan had a rough landing, and is knocked out. As for the guys, well, upon removal of the hatch they find nothing but sand (shouldn’t these big pods have two exits?). After digging for a few hours they hear banging outside. Ecstatic at the possibility of rescue they start digging frantically, but when Howe manages to reach through with his hand the unseen outsiders start to pull. Walker comes to the rescue managing to drag Howe back, but getting caught himself. After a long struggle he disappears out the hole. Howe hears a scream and a severed hand falls back down the hole! Needless to say, Howe soon has the hole sealed up again.



I don’t know how he checked the coast was clear (get it?), but that night Howe leaves a tape-recorded message for the still unconscious Jordan, saying he will be back in the morning (worst team mate ever, never leave a comrade behind, has he never seen Rambo?). He sneaks out onto the beach, and heads off to find civilisation. Not five minutes later he bumps into Walker, or at least what’s left of him, and the group of scavengers that are eating his leg (If it was Neil Armstrong I imagine they would be eating his arm).

Howe runs away, and is temporarily saved by survivalist Vinny, who may not be a cannibal but's still a nasty piece of work. Vinny takes Howe back to his heavily booby-trapped farm, ties him up and gives him some horrible looking mush to eat. Everybody in this film eats with their hands; no matter how mucky they are and what sloppy concoction they are eating. There may have been an apocalypse, but all the forks wouldn’t disappear! Vinny has one companion, young J.J., a teenage schoolgirl who he keeps locked in the cellar. Vinny offers Howe his freedom in exchange for the four months worth of food back at the ship (strange how the food is expected to last four months no matter how many people it is divided by). After an escape attempt, Vinny decides to kill Howe (“Get outside.” “Why?” “I don’t wanna mess up my floor.”) but his mind is soon changed when he finds out there's a woman back at the spaceship, and he inquires about her type of nipples! Soon enough they all head off to the beach in Vinny's cool beefed-up bulldozer digger thing (welcome in any PA film), henceforth known as the Bull.


Howe leaves the beach and finds Walker getting eaten.


Vinny forgets to wash his hands before lunch.

On the way they are attacked by a couple of the Terminals (the most commonly used name for those cannibals).  Vinny soon knocks them off the Bull, and takes pleasure in reversing over one of them. Finally, they reach the good ole' beach, and start looking around for the spaceship. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a group of military men turn up, take J.J. and Howe captive, and chain down the Bull, throwing a fake grenade inside to trick Vinny into getting out. This gang of military type men are from Fort Lizwell, where a group has sprung up and taken control of the survivors in the area, and this is where Howe, J.J. and Vinny are tied up and taken too.


Howe and J.J. get to ride up front!


A glorious morning cruising the beach.


Even the Bull doesn't have the power to escape.

The camp is depressingly dark, full of tents and shacks with people crying out for help. The armed men swagger around like kings and the odd hanging body can be seen. On their way into the camp they pass a line of civilians who are being forced to drag the spaceship to the camp and are shouted forward by a slave driving teenager. It would have been nice to see how civilization had descended to this situation in little over a month, but this is never really explained, and is left up to us to decide. The commander of Fort Lizwell? A young man named Gideon Hayes. It's never explained properly how Gideon came to be in charge of the group. Supposedly he is still a schoolboy, although he looks to be about 20.

Vinny is sent straight to the cages they use as jails along with J.J., who turns out to be Gideon’s old girlfriend from before the nukes. Gideon questions Howe about locations of safe zones, but is soon informed by Lacey, his right hand man, that the memory box onboard the spaceship has been found, and it contains all the information they need.


Gideon easily confuses Howe with basic questions about the weather.

Howe is thrust into the jail with the others, and finds that Jordan is also in there, fully recovered after her nice long sleep. J.J. finally explains what happened in the area. Gideon’s father was in the army, knew of the impending attack and sent a helicopter for Gideon and J.J. Also on the helicopter was Lacey, a computer guy called Boomer and some other top brass. The helicopter crashed and the only survivors were Gideon, Lacey, J.J. and Boomer. The explanation that Gideon slowly took over due to his nature as a leader is pretty weak, but hey, it makes for an interesting plot. The character Boomer was forced to set up his equipment and somehow managed to override the spaceship’s programming, forcing it to land in their area, explaining what had happened. Gideon wants information from the spaceship about where a government safe zone might be, as the area they are in now is slowly contaminating everybody. Gideon has a sailing boat, and intends to sail off with a few of his men to the safe area.

Somewhere else in the base Gideon is busy persuading Boomer to give him the password for the information held on the spaceship's memory that they recovered from the lifepod. Boomer is tied to a vertical bed, and is frothing at the mouth, obviously emancipated and with no strength. Boomer is eventually persuaded with the offer of a steak, and Gideon manages to get the location of a zone that's still operational, somewhere north of their location (at a convenient sailing distance). Unfortunately for Boomer, evil Gideon drops the steak on the muddy floor and stands on it. Boomer is unbuckled and drops to the floor beside the steak, but doesn’t have enough energy to eat.


Gideon is rather mean to poor Boomer.

The next day, Howe, Jordan, Vinny and J.J. are tried for their trumped-up crimes. It’s an interesting sequence in an old aeroplane, where “justice” is handed out within seconds. They are all sentenced to hang. Surprisingly, all the civilians that have turned up to watch are pretty lively, and seem to be loving the idea of watching some people die.

Gideon makes the classic mistake of waiting too long. He decides to spice things up by offering the convicted the chance to pull the lever that will kill the others, with their freedom as the prize. Eventually, Howe steps forward. I don’t know if this was meant to be heroic, but it certainly doesn’t earn him any points in my eyes. Meanwhile, throughout the scene we can see Boomer dragging himself towards the hanging area. It’s quite ridiculous, but he still seems to have some energy in his arms. Somehow, just before the drum roll stops and Howe is supposed to pull the lever, Boomer manages to fire a shot at Gideon (where he got the gun from I don’t know). In all the confusion Howe escapes, Boomer is shot and Jordan is persuaded to aid Gideon, whose leg was hit. J.J. and Vinny are temporarily spared whilst Jordan aids Gideon.


Howe pretends to be in turmoil, but we know he would pull it in a heartbeat.
Meanwhile, Howe finds his way back to Vinny’s farm, and sneaks his way through all the booby traps.  After collecting weapons and the Bull (which I thought was now under Gideon’s control) he makes his way to the dockside to look for a boat. Two of Gideon’s men are guarding the last vessel, and after a brief standoff, Howe is forced to shoot them.

Back at the base, Jordan has cleaned up Gideon’s wound. He asks for morphine, and she spies a chance to kill him, filling the needle up with potassium instead. Gideon knows exactly what he's doing, however, and gets Lacey to inject Jordan instead, killing her. He could have just shot her, but seems to take sick pleasure in his mental games.

Outside, J.J. seems to have changed her opinion of Gideon and begs to see him. She tells him that she was mistaken and wants to join him as his girlfriend again. How the normally intelligent Gideon can fall for this is anybody’s guess, but she obviously despises him. Meanwhile, Vinny is placed up against a wall to be shot. Vinny begs for his life, and is about to be executed when Howe piles through the gateway in the Bull. Vinny joins Howe, and they distribute guns to some of the civilians. A huge (well, reasonable) battle breaks out, and Howe searches for Jordan and J.J., freeing the other jailed people while he's there.


J.J. tries to save her skin, and Vinny begs for his live, with the delay actually saving him.


Howe fails in his efforts to look like an action hero.

Eventually, Howe finds Jordan’s dead body and realises it's time to leave. He and Vinny head down to the dock in the Bull, and see Gideon has already cast off. “Can you swim?” Howe asks Vinny. Now how on earth Howe manages to find himself in the water besides the boat I don’t know. All I can imagine is that he runs down the coast a little to head them off, because there's no way he could catch up to them normally.

Before he gets there we get to see what's happening on board. Lacey and two men are with Gideon and J.J.. Gideon thanks the two men for their service, then shoots them, knowing that he doesn’t need them any more (if only he knew). While Lacey and Gideon are below deck, Howe appears in the water. J.J. throws a rope and he climbs on from the stern. Lacey and Gideon appear, but J.J. manages to push Lacey into the water. Howe threatens Gideon with a fish hook, but Gideon threatens to cut J.J’s throat. Howe, can’t let that happen, so abandons his attempt and jumps back into the sea. As Gideon finds a gun and tries to shoot Howe, J.J. knocks Gideon into the water with the sail. As for Vinny, well I guess he couldn’t swim, but I guess J.J. went back to pick him and Howe up.


If only Gideon had killed her at the beginning he wouldn't be in this situation.

We cut to later in the day, and the sun is starting to rise. Gideon arrives back at his base and is limping badly, after somehow managing to swim back to the shore. It appears the battle is over and his men have triumphed. Many civilian bodies are scattered all over the ground. As he walks through the base, his eyes fall on the lifepod, and he notices the one remaining nuclear warhead. The 60 hours are up and the thing explodes, giving Howe, J.J. and Vinny a pretty explosion to look at as they sail away.


Shield your eyes idiots! Get down below or something.

Final Thoughts:

Of course there are problems here too. Despite the reasonable acting some of the characters, most notably Howe and Jordan, don’t have any great appeal and it’s the criminals who stand out. Evil Gideon is a lot of fun, and a welcome figure of hatred. Despite that the only truly interesting character for me was Vinny, and unfortunately his development never seems quite genuine. Here was a guy who was happy to kill people, and only really thought about survival and sex (like a cross between the artillery man from War of the Worlds and the Hog from Deadly Reactor) who suddenly changes into a team player, failing to take up Gideon’s offer of salvation if he kills his cohorts. When he is later seen locked up in a cage, doodling his thoughts in his notebook and getting pissed on by Lacey, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him and the situation he has ended up in, despite his previous total lack of humanity. Unfortunately by the end of the film you don’t know whether he is truly a good-guy or simply a slimy weasel that was lucky to survive.

Alternative Versions:

None known.

Connections With Other PA's:

There are lots of similarities between this and The Aftermath (IMDb)

Uncredeted director Tony Randal also directed the live action version of Fist of the North Star (IMDb). Credited director
Paul Donovan had his brother Michael Donovan as producer. Michael Donovan shares an Oscar with Michael Moore for Bowling for Columbine. Both brothers and a large portion of the cast worked together on multiple projects, including Lexx.

Christopher Young (original music) and Jeff Vaughn (music recording engineer) are both credited with the music for 
Santiago's Wheels of Fire (IMDb). I would be interested in knowing how this came about. Did they actually consent to their music being used on Wheels of Fire? Seven years later
Jeff Vaughn worked on Neon City (IMDb).

Maury Chaykin (Vinny) also acted in PA related films Race for the Bomb and Wargames.

Ken Ryan who had a small role as a Newscaster was also in Apocalypse (IMDb).

The film was edited by Todd C. Ramsay also worked on Escape From New York.

Critic's reactions:

"A suspenseful, action-packed drama that depicts the ugly horrifying aftermath" Los Angeles Times

Regular Movie Goers Reaction:

Actually a fun movie although rather grim in places with plenty to give the young-ones nightmares.

For the PA Collector:

An important PA for your collection. Essential.

Links / External Reviews: 

http://www.canuxploitation.com/review/defcon.html

"Overall, Def-Con 4 was slightly better than I expected, but I can't say it registers more than a small blip on the radar of the nuclear holocaust genre. Not surprisingly, Def-Con 4 falls prey to many of the trappings of low-budget Canadian film— poor character development, and an unpolished storyline."

http://www.moria.co.nz/sf/defcon4.htm

"Although not always one hundred percent successful in its intentions, this low-budget Canadian feature was a breath of creativity into the post-holocaust stakes when the genre had been taken over by dozens of low-budget action films attempting to copy Mad Max 2 (1981), and is welcome even if for the fact that it is one film set in the post-holocaust milieu that doesn’t contain a single Mohawked crazy or stock car derby."

http://www.1000misspenthours.com/reviews/reviewsa-d/defcon-4.htm

My powers of focus are considerable (they have to be to get me through some of the crap I watch), but I found my attention wandering like a goddamned Bedouin all throughout the movie’s second half. DEFCON-4 still merits a look on the strength of the first four reels, but it’s pretty rough going from there on out.

http://www.edijardin.com/accion/foro/viewtopic.php?p=40697&sid=
e22701674157b1967617f9979665936b


Lots of large widescreen screenshots.

Countries Released:

Mostly worldwide on VHS and DVD.

DVD Release Info:

Various budget DVD releases. My copy has a trailer, longer but similar to the one at the bottom of this page. It can be found relatively easily on eBay. No special edition releases.

Actual Budget/Guessed Budget:

Budget estimates range from $1 million to $1.75m. I think it was probably just over $1m. IMDB reports a gross profit in the US of just over $1m, although I have heard that worldwide it has made more than $5m.

Our Score:

 8 out of 10

Media

 

Box Cover(s):
UK PAL DVD (click to enlarge)


Australian PAL VHS (click to enlarge)


US DVD


US VHS


Alternative US VHS


Italian DVD


UK PAL VHS


Unknown DVD


Unknown Ground Zero release.


Unknown DVD compilation.

Advertisement Poster(s):


US Cinema poster


US Video poster


German Poster

Press Cuttings etc:

Wanted

Trailer:


  Comments:   Post your comments here: Def-Con 4
  Factsheet:   Check out the: Fact Sheet