Last week I posted on the paperback tie-ins for the first three Mad Max films. Continuing my Australian dystopian road movie theme, today’s Pulp Friday offering is the rare paperback tie-in to the 1980 Australian film, The Chain Reaction.
I wrote about The Chain Reaction in a recent piece for the British Institute on Australian dystopian road films. Not every movie mentioned in that article had, in my opinion, necessarily aged well, but this one certainly had. Billed in some places as Mad Max Meets the China Syndrome (George Miller was associate producer and apparently worked on an early draft of the script), not only is it a great road movie, it’s also an interesting artefact from the time when Australia was less enamoured with being part of America’s nuclear state than we are now.
An earthquake in rural Australia causes a dangerous leak at a nuclear waste disposal site, contaminating the surrounding ground water. A scientist, badly injured in the accident, escapes with knowledge about what has happened and is rescued by a holidaying couple, Larry, an ex-Vietnam Vet mechanic (Steve Bisley, who got the role off the back of his performance as Goose in Mad Max) and his wife, Carmel (Arna-Maria Winchester). The shadowy American company that own the facility dispatch a couple of hired killers to track down and eliminate the scientist and anyone he has had contact with.
Apart from the impressive car stunts, there’s lot to like about this film. Bisley and Winchester have real chemistry. It also features Richard Moir as a corrupt, leather clad cop, and Hugh Keays-Byrne (the Toecutter in the original Mad Max and Immortan Joe in Fury Road), as an anti-nuclear activist. First time director, Ian Barry, manages to create a genuinely creepy, dystopian vibe. This remote settings are great, including a supposedly haunted abandoned oil shale mine. The innovative electronic score also adds a wonderfully menacing texture and sense of paranoia, with its use of barely audible news reports and frequency changes.
The paperback tie in published by Unicon Books, a small Melbourne press I’ve heard of but don’t know anything about, in 1980.
The author, Keith Hetherington, wrote commercial fiction, radio plays and scripts for television, including Crawford shows, Homicide, Division 4, Matlock Police and the latter’s spin-off, Solo One. The Austlit data base credits him with 399 titles, including numerous westerns and crime stories, including the Larry Kent and Carl Dekker thrillers, for Sydney pulp publisher, Cleveland. Those who want to know more about his pulp writing career can check out this interview with him here.