Siege (Self Defense) – 1983
Directed by Paul Donovan and Maura O’Connell
The first time I saw Siege (aka Self Defense) was at Ex-Fest IX in Philadelphia. It was the first of eight films that played that day and it really set the tone for a pretty killer marathon. While you can sum it up as being a low-budget Canadian version of Assault on Precinct 13, it’s got a certain amount of charm that makes it stand out amongst the other B-Movie entries of the era.
When the Halifax, Nova Scotia police force goes on strike, a gang of Fascists (including some vigilante cops) who call themselves the “New Order” take advantage of this lawless state and invade a gay bar where they harass the patrons in what I assume is the first stage of their King Dick plan. When the bartender gets accidentally impaled by a broken wine bottle and killed, the leader of the fascist gang starts executing all the witnesses. One of the patrons manages to escape and makes his way to a neighboring apartment building where the tenants help protect him from the gang.
This film does what great exploitation and horror films often do, it takes a real-life situation, in this case, the actual 42-day police strike of 1981 by the Halifax Police Force, and runs it through the grinder. It’s a solid setup to kickstart a story that doesn’t waste a second of its 84-minute runtime. It’s white-knuckle the whole way which makes it great for marathons like Ex-Fest.
I said there was a certain amount of charm to this film and the root of that is in the very earnest tenants of this building under siege. Chester, played by Daryl Haney, is the real standout amongst the lot. He’s the ultimate exploitation film neighbor and was the runaway crowd favorite. Chester is what Kevin McCalister from “Home Alone” would most likely grow up to be, provided his incredibly irresponsible family doesn’t get him killed during his teenage years. He’s super friendly and charming, but also a paranoid prepper who walks around with a retractable knife up his sleeve and can turn a battery and PVC pipe into a rocket launcher in less than five minutes, in the dark, under extreme pressure. Chester is the neighbor you want If you need help fighting off a gang, fixing a lawnmower, or need to borrow a tool, but there would definitely be a few nights a year when you’d hear strange sounds coming from next door and wonder if he’s going to set the building on fire.
When Chester delivered the line, “Anybody who touches the doorknob downstairs is going to die”, the crowd went wild and he became a legend.
It’s low budget, but you don’t really feel it. The structure of the story leaves our heroes working with what they got, just like the filmmakers. And the claustrophobia of the apartment under siege adds to the tension.
Using actual news footage from the 1981 Halifax strike certainly bumped up the production value without murdering the budget too.
The first time I saw this it was a pretty worn-out print, but the folks at Severin seem to have cleaned it up and they released a really nice looking version, which is currently available on Shudder.
Carpenter-esque, but more than just a knock-off. Moody but not super synthy. Just a solid score.
We got two good leather jacket performances in this, Chester and Cabe. Clearly, someone knew what was up.
Wine or Vinegar:
This one actually aged pretty well. Sadly, stories about fascists attacking the gay community will always be relevant.