The end of the world… If you put enough credence into the news, it seems like it could come any day now. Nuclear war, religious cataclysm, nanotechnology, an astronomical event, Justin Beiber and countless other things could ultimately lead to the demise of mankind and civilization as we know it. Some people think it’s going to happen on December 21st, 2012, but according to the 1985 Canadian film Defcon-4 it could happen as soon as the day after tomorrow.
Three astronauts in the employ of NORAD are on a secret mission orbiting earth in a space station, watching and listening for the rumblings of nuclear war. On any routine day like any other the soviets launch an attack against North America, and they’re the US’s only defense. Like a game of Missile Command, they attempt to take them out one by one, but their hesitation costs the lives of their friends, their families, and their countrymen. While orbiting the earth for another 50 days, they finally hear a transmission from earth, and it isn’t good. It seems that the continent is in chaos, covered in a layer of radiation, roamed by the sick and dying. While commander Howe is trying to convince the rest of his crew that they need to get to earth, some secret source sends a code to the space station that causes them to deploy their payload and also launches them suddenly back to earth – regardless if they like it or not.
When they get to earth things are pretty. One of the crew actually gets abducted from their capsule while trying to get out, and he’s killed and eaten by a band of kids known as “terminals”. Howe waits until nightfall and he tries to do some recon, and see if he can find some sort of boat so he can sail to South America. While out, he gets captured by Vinny (Maury Chaykin) and tries to barter with him to give half of his food supply that will “last months” in exchange for his freedom. While they ride out to get to the ship, they’re ambushed by Gideon Hayes’ men. Gideon is a teenage warlord who holds the only authority in the area, and he decides who lives or dies. What follows is a trek for Howe, Vinny and Gideon’s girlfriend J.J. to get to a boat, and escape death.
A reoccurring theme for the movies I’ve been watching for this site is to find ones where I remember seeing the VHS tape in my local video store . Defcon-4 is one that always caught my attention – a skeletal astronaut lying in the desert with a satellite in the background. I always hoped it was a pretty cool movie, but like with most things where the cover is cool, I totally expected it to be crap. I was pleasantly surprised when I watched this movie and it was actually pretty good. It’s probably one of the better 80’s post-apocalyptic films that I’ve seen. It starts out slow, and I thought that the crew might be spending their entire time on the space station, and that this might be some kind of drama drenched with anti-war sentiment. When the crew makes it to earth, the film immediately picks up.
While on earth, we meet Gideon Hayes, played by Kevin King, who’s supposed to play a high schooler, but he looks like more of a less scarred up Mark Hamill on a good day. He’s a character that you’ll immediately love to hate. He has a whole “I’m a jock, so I’m better than you” vibe about him, and you’re just waiting until someone can give him what’s coming to him. Howe is played by Tim Choate and while he’s a bit nerdish and weasily at times, but he’s got that underdog quality that makes you root him on, even if he’s too afraid to fire a gun. In that respect, he’s a totally believable character. How many of us would react that way in a situation when you’ve never killed someone; you’re staring down the barrel of a gun, and the other guy is going for his rifle – you know you have to pull the trigger because it’s either you or them. I’d venture to say that not many of us have been there before.
Defcon-4 (which doesn’t make much sense since Defcon-5 equals the lowest state of readiness) is a very entertaining post-apocalyptic film. It has a little drama, a little suspense, and a good amount of action – all playing against the backdrop of a readied nuclear bomb that most of the characters have no awareness of whatsoever. If you’re in the mood for an 80’s-tastic flick, you could do a lot worse than Defcon-4, and that’s why I have to give it 4 heavily armored bulldozers out of 5.