Described as 'Mad Max meets the China Syndrome', the 1980 Australian film The Chain Reaction is an often overlooked entry in the highly venerated Ozploitation Genre. A nuclear disaster themed thrill ride into early 80s Australiana and industrial paranoia. Sitting alongside Night Of Fear (1972) and Turkey Shoot (1982) in the outlandish canon of Australian B-cinema from the 1970s and 80s The Chain Reaction includes its fair share of gratuitous nudity, ocker attitude and souped up vehicular carnage, but also carries a skilled visual style and strong environmental message that sets it apart from its less cerebral counterparts. Composed by unsung composer Andrew Thomas Wilson, the soundtrack is a forgotten piece of 1980s electronic film scoring. A clash between driving electropop and the ominous dirge of John Carpenter's The Thing and The Fog soundtracks. Layers of icy modular Synth and proto techno rhythms serve as the backdrop to the explosive biological-apocalyptic meltdown.
The Chain Reaction, released in 1980, is the quintessential Australian doomsday piece, a slick nuclear nightmare that tells us that ruthless multi national corporations with hired assassins and governments in their pockets are no match for an angry Aussie bogan with a fast car. It’s The China Syndrome by way of Mad Max, with George Miller as associate producer, reportedly filming some of the car chase sequences himself. Starring Steve Bisley (Goose in Mad Max), as well as featuring other Mad Max cast and crew members, including a brief cameo from Mel Gibson, The Chain Reaction is one of the classiest examples in the wave of Ozploitation flicks that became quite popular in the early 70’s – late 80’s. It was written and directed by Ian Barry who has since moved into directing for television.
A future shock action thriller, it was screaming for a synth based score, and composer Andrew Thomas Wilson doesn’t disappoint. Wilson’s credits are a little hard to find, though he reportedly accompanied Brian Eno on the score to Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane, was a keyboard tech on Peter Weir’s Gallipoli as well as scoring a number of nature documentaries and releasing some synth pop/ ambient albums in the 80’s and early 90’s.
On The Chain Reaction Wilson plays a Moog modular, Oberheim 4, Roland 100m, Moog vocoder, mellotron, clavinet, as well as numerous other electronic gadgets and pedals, including a Roland Space Echo. Aside from one piece, “One More Time With Feeling,” it’s all Wilson and his toys, and the music features electronic takes on classical pieces by the likes of Mozart and Chopin, as well as synth pop and more atmospheric cue based material.
What immediately hits you is how well produced it is. This is the sound of analogue synthesis, and all the cornerstones are touched. From Carpenter to Goblin, to Kraftwerk, to Gill Melle’s Andromeda Strain, to Tomita and Vangelis, and more 80’s orientated pop material complete with vocoder vocals; Wilson’s palette is broad. It’s also remarkably coherent. It’s very much a film score though, with a certain cool sheen to much of his synthetic tones – usually referencing the danger of the faceless pursuers. His ability to conjure the emotions from the machines is as remarkable as the breadth of his material. Listening to the assuredness of The Chain Reaction it’s incredible to think that he didn’t go on to grander features.
As a film The Chain Reaction does not hold any lofty intentions. Rather it’s just an excuse to execute car chases and scenes with our heroes running from the baddies. It’s remarkable then that the score is so refined, imbued with such complexity and gravitas. If you picked it up cold you could be forgiven for thinking that they tackle all of the deep philosophical questions of our time. It’s both a score that elevates the film, yet also works stand-alone. Wilson may be a forgotten composer from an 80’s Ozploitation popcorn flick, yet you can’t deny that when he was given his shot to score a feature he pulled out all the stops and made it count."