When crime rates and urban decay were peaking in the United States, the urban-crime thriller became a B-movie staple. Early 70s box office hit Death Wish proceeded a bevy of imitators. Movies like Fighting Back, The Exterminator, Bronx Warriors, Savage Streets, and Vigilante imagined major US cities as dystopian, crime-ridden hellholes. Even the relatively safe streets of Canada weren’t immune to the early 80s fad. Ripping its premise from a real police strike in Halifax, Canuxploitation thriller Siege is a little-seen retread of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. Now available on Shudder, Siege – also known as Self Defense – may have a chance to find an audience among cult film fanatics.
As the Halifax police strike, a small group of fascists take advantage of the lawlessness to attack and kill the patrons of a gay bar. But one witness escapes to a small apartment complex. And its handful of residents refuse to turn him over. Well-armed and encouraged by a shadowy leader, the fascists launch a vicious siege on the building. With no police to call, the residents organize and prepare to fight back for their lives.
Siege Manages To Generate Some Suspense and Thrills From Its Borrowed Concept
Not surprisingly, Siege immediately draws comparisons to Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. And for good reason. Writer and director Paul Donovan cribs pretty liberally from the cult classic. And Assault on Precinct 13 itself took cues from Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead. One noteworthy difference here is that Donovan’s villains aren’t an anonymous, faceless endless wave of attackers. Even if it wasn’t intentional, Donovan’s decision to make his baddies fascists actually lends this B-movie a bit of contemporary relevance. In fact, Siege’s final image nearly qualifies Siege as prescient.
Even if it wasn’t intentional, Donovan’s decision to make his baddies fascists actually lends this B-movie a bit of contemporary relevance.
With a very real police strike in Halifax setting the stage for its fictional story, Siege doesn’t waste much time before its fascists are assaulting and executing patrons of a gay bar. In short order, Donovan arranges the stand-off between his small, motley group of apartment residents and the ‘New Order’. What follows is equal parts suspenseful and frustrating. On one hand, the cat-and-mouse battle between the ridiculously well-armed fascists and the resourceful tenants feels occasionally compelling. Some of the clever traps feel like precursors to Home Alone. Too bad Siege starts and stops in sluggish fits. That is, Donovan struggles to pace the action and, as a result, this thriller feels much longer than its 84 minutes. And the relative lack of exploitative explicit violence may be more bad than good.
Siege Rounds Up Available Canadian Television Actors For Its Cast
Canadian film buffs will likely recognize a handful of faces. Arguably, Tom Nardini is the ‘biggest’ name here. After winning a Golden Globe for his supporting turn in Cat Ballou, Nardini fell off into mostly small television roles. Still he’s the most capable performer in what’s not much more than a Grade-Z 80s vigilante thriller. No one’s watching Siege for the acting and Nardini is good enough to mostly hold together the quieter scenes. Canadian actress Brenda Bazinet is fine as Nardini’s girlfriend, Barbara. Fun fact, Bazinet starred alongside Neve Campbell (Scream) in the short-lived Canadian series, Catwalk. And baddie Doug Lennox brings a bit of menace to his role.
No one’s watching Siege for the acting …
Things get pretty sketchy when you look at the remaining performances. Fans of Ivan Reitman and Bill Murray’s early cult classic comedy Meatballs will recognize Keith Knight (My Bloody Valentine) and Jack Blum. If you have fond memories of Knight and Blum as ‘The Fink’ and ‘Spaz’, you might want to pass on Siege. They’re both terrible here. Jeff Pustil, one of the main villains, looks miscast, while Darel Haeny – playing survivalist Chester – never did anything else outside of this movie.
Siege Proves to Be Something of an Underrated Example of Canuxploitation
If it’s a little less exploitative than its American counterparts, Siege is intermittently entertaining enough to satisfy B-movie lovers. Paul Donovan isn’t John Carpenter, and Siege falls short of Assault on Precinct 13. And even at only 84 minutes, this urban-crime thriller overstays its welcome. The less said about the performances, the better. But there’s enough suspense in the middle act to go along with loathsome villains and a handful of cheap thrills to keep you watching.