Severin Films: Siege (1983) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Severin Films
A couple years before writing and co-directing the post-apocalyptic science-fiction thriller DEFCON-4, Canadian television producer-director Paul Donovan (best known for creating the television series LEXX) teamed up with co-director Maura O’Connell on what was one of the more notorious Canuxploitation action thrillers: the home invasion survival actioner Siege.  Loosely based on the 1981 Halifax, Nova Scotia police wages strike which saw nearly 200 officers walk out, leading to a surge in crime and vandalism in the area.  

Lasting 53 days, the strike was eventually amicably resolved but the concept of police officers hanging their hats while the city around them crumbles under the weight of criminal activities proved more than enough to mount a film around it while also utilizing some of the only known footage of the strike to exist.  The resulting Canuxploitation simmer cooker Siege treads a fine line between Assault on Precinct 13 by way of Tenement as far as doling out rough and ragged thrills in a most bumpy rollercoaster ride.

During the strike, a fascist group of sadistic thugs who call themselves New Order led by skillful hitman Cabe (Doug Lennox) terrorize and shoot up a gay bar, murdering several people but not before a patron escapes the scene of the crime and seeks refuge in a group home for people suffering from blindness.  The gang catches up to the premises and demands the tenant hand over the patron, the only surviving witness to the crime, a request Horatio (Tom Nardini) and his girlfriend Barbara (Brenda Bazinet) as well as their fellow houseguests aren’t ready to comply.  The gang retreats but not before returning with military weaponry including assault rifles with silencers and infrared snipers, besieging the home with bullets and teargas grenades.  Things seem grim for the survivors barricaded inside, but these mostly blind people with acute senses of hearing aren’t ready to go down without a major fight.
A claustrophobic pot boiler that keeps heating up until its nerve-wracking blood-soaked conclusion, Paul Donovan and Maura O’Connell’s Siege or Self-Defense depending on the territory is the closest thing 1983 has to grimy grindhouse cheap thrills filmmaking with a more-than-overqualified cast at its disposal.  Featuring Doug Lennox from the Police Academy movies, Tom Nardini from Cat Ballou, Jack Blum from Happy Birthday to Me and Keith Knight from My Bloody Valentine, this tightly compacted mean lean Canadian indie sports more than a few familiar faces across its dark deeply nighttime blue lit vistas.  Despite the obvious budgetary limitations (shot in a breakneck speed fourteen days) and exploitative nature of the piece, Siege nevertheless packs a punch that still somehow or another manages to resonate with audiences in today’s current sociopolitical climate.

Tense, violent and startlingly raw including but not limited to the use of real guns on set with the cast and crew crammed into the tiny apartment setting for most of the picture, Siege is a slick-blue-streaked little number lensed handsomely by DEFCON-4 cinematographer Les Krizsan.  What really gives the film its deathly dark grindhouse flavor however is the electronic score by Peter Jermyn and Drew King.  With Peter Jermyn having worked on the sound departments for both Heavy Metal and Scanners while Drew King would go on to edit the music for Iron Eagle II, the score all but rolls out the blueprints for what would or would not become Sky Wikluh’s score for A Serbian Film.  Comprised of atonal sonic abrasions that send chills down the listener’s spine, cold bass rumblings that sound like distant explosions and an overall sense of doom, the gloomy moody score perfectly suits the terrifying world of Siege.
The cast across the board is generally good though most viewers are going to come away remembering the psychotic murderous adversary Goose (Jeff Pustil) who second to Cabe (Doug Lennox in chilly cool form) is the leader of this pack of miscreants.  Tom Nardini makes an excellent leading man here in over his head but nevertheless sticking to the will to survive and not bow to pressure.  Jack Blum is mostly known for his comic role of Spaz in Meatballs so seeing him thrown into the firestorm here was startling if not eye opening.  Also notable is Brenda Bazinet as the hero’s girlfriend Barbara who initially displays fear and defeat but gradually also starts to take up arms against the invaders.

Distributed by New Line Cinema theatrically before slipping into B-movie obscurity and subsequent reappraisal as a Canuxploitation classic by Severin Films, Siege is a little iron fist of a movie proudly wearing calluses, cuts and bruises on its injured knuckles.  Startling prescient as well as progressive, taking particular aim at the still-ongoing problem of homophobia cultivated by mob mentality, the synonymousness of crime and crimefighting and the prospect such a calamity could be unleashed all over again, Siege while aiming low winds up kind of soaring for what it is.  Even if you come away eluded by what it means to say, you’ll be gripping the edges of your seat as this home invasion saga unfolds, functioning as entertainment and as a warning about what can happen when the law no longer abides.

--Andrew Kotwicki