DirectorPaul Donovan, Maura O'Connell
Release Date(s)1983 (July 20, 2021)
Studio(s)Manson International/New Line Cinema (Severin Films)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
One of the least-likely Canuxploitation films of the 1980s, Siege (also released as Self Defense and Night Warriors in different territories) comes after John Carpenter’s Attack on Precinct 13 and pre-dates The Purge series, featuring elements from both in its own quirky, but effective story. It was released successfully all over the world, though its home country didn’t see much of it theatrically, making it more of a cult film there, but a beloved action thriller everywhere else.
In Halifax, Nova Scotia, the entire police force goes on strike. Demonstrations and chaos are running through much of the main areas of town while the rest lock their doors in fear. A group of thugs, led by Goose (Jeff Pustil), harass and attack people in a gay bar, accidentally killing the bartender in the process. They call their leader, Cabe (Doug Lennox), to come and deal with it, and he begins systematically shooting all of the patrons with a silenced handgun. One of them, Daniel (Terry-David Despres), manages to escape, finding himself in an apartment building in a run-down part of town. Taking him in is Horatio (Tom Nardini), his girlfriend Barbara (Brenda Bazinet), two blind men: Patrick (Jack Blum) and Steve (Keith Knight), and their neighbor Chester (Darel Haeny). Though the thugs and their leader come looking for Daniel and pose a serious threat, they underestimate the tenants who cleverly and methodically take out their aggressors one by one.
As director Paul Donovan points out in the audio commentary on this disc, Siege contains many things that you’re not as likely to see in films today, such as putting the handicapped in danger and making homemade weapons (with real ingredients). It’s also interesting that the initial target for these thugs is a gay bar, giving them a conservative, right-wing point of view, but also not turning the victims into helpless people. The payoff for Daniel in the long run makes him more of a survivor and an aggressor, and his sexuality is never brought up again because it doesn’t matter to those who’ve chosen to help him. Siege also has a black comic undercurrent running through it, particularly with the homemade weapons and a kooky neighbor elsewhere in the building. It’s a solid, suspenseful, and inventive thriller that goes for the throat, but is also a crowd-pleaser.
Siege was shot by cinematographer Les Krizsan on 35 mm film with what were likely Arriflex 35 cameras with (confirmed on the commentary) Zeiss Prime high speed lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Severin Films brings the film to Blu-ray (and DVD) for the very first time worldwide with a new 2K scan of the original camera negative. Scratches and instability are obvious during the opening of the film, but everything settles down thereafter for a healthy and mostly clean presentation. The color palette doesn’t offer much variety as the film takes place at night in monochromatic environments, but instances of red and green, particularly in the opening bar scene, pop well enough. Blacks are deep with good contrast as well. It’s a solid presentation overall.
Audio is provided in English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles. It’s a clean track with good heft for the sound effects and deep rumblings in the lower registers for the score. Dialogue exchanges are clear and precise, perhaps mixed a bit too high at times, and the sound of the silenced machine guns and handguns offer surprising punch.
The Blu-ray disc for Siege sits in a black amaray case featuring the original Self Defense US theatrical artwork and new artwork on the reverse, both with the title Siege. The Severin Films website offered an exclusive version of this release with a limited slipcover featuring the original Enzo Sciotti Italian poster artwork on the front and the Manson International poster artwork on the reverse. Both releases are the same content-wise and contain the following extras, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary with Paul Donovan and Jason Eisener
- Extended Cannes Cut (93:00)
- Trailer (1:08)
The audio commentary features director Paul Donovan and filmmaker Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun). Eisener can be irritating at times, but when the director gets going on a topic, he provides plenty of anecdotal information about the making of the film and his background as a filmmaker in Canada. The Extended Cannes Cut (which the director refers to as the Japanese version in the commentary, mentioning that they shot extra footage for Japanese distributors specifically) offers the same video and audio quality as the main presentation. The chief difference is that it contains a completely different opening leading up to the events at the bar. Instead of the city skyline and news coverage of the police strike, there’s a scene of Horatio helping a group of teenagers steal a car inadvertently and dealing with the angry owner. He then comes home and finds Chester attempting to hoist his motorcycle onto the roof, stopping to give him a hand. Next we see Goose at home, prepping himself to go out and treating his wife horribly before being picked up. We then see him driving around prior to stopping at the bar. The footage feels natural to the film in a way, but it also kills the opening momentum, and somewhat alters the perspective of the story. I personally prefer the general release version, but your mileage may vary. Last is the Manson International trailer for the film, re-created in HD.
Siege is certainly one of those films that many remember seeing in the theater and on home video, but got lost in the shuffle over the years due to its unavailability. Severin Films has remedied that with a very nice presentation and extras to go with it.
- Tim Salmons