Def-Con 4 (1985) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

You might be able to enjoy this grade-z yarn about mankind's post-apocalyptic descent into barbarism, but it will take a lot of suspended belief.

The basic plot is straightforward. Three people in an orbiting space station watch World War Three from space. Some time later, a malfunction forces them down to earth, where the world is now controlled by whomever has the remaining guns. The story centers around one of the astronauts, and his battle to take over a colony of humans from the evil commandos in control. 

Strangely enough, all of the commandos, although they are military types and are armed with automatic weapons, take their marching orders from a college kid in a maroon blazer. I never did quite piece together how he kept control of everything, but I have to admit that I wasn't giving the plot my undivided attention. 


one anonymous female prisoner is briefly topless
The astronaut who challenges him is not a tough guy, either. He's a wimpy scientific type who can't figure out how to use the weapons, and whose hands are trembling throughout the movie. That wasn't a bad bit of characterization I guess, and the scenes in space look reasonable, but the scenes on earth are silly.

Mankind has descended into complete barbarism. For example, the suburban housewives under the subjugation of the commandos are cheering for blood at a hanging. OK, you say, that could happen. Maybe so, after a period of time, but 50 days after the war? Give me a break. Europeans take vacations longer than that, and they don't return as cannibals or bloodthirsty savages. 

Well, except during important soccer matches.

I do have to give the screenwriter some credit, though, Despite the fact that the basic premise is strained, the action does make sense if you accept the premise. The narrative moves forward logically with a minimum of coincidence, the pieces tie together, and the characters generally behave with credible motivation. There are a couple of exceptions, like an improbable last-minute rescue from the gallows, but the plot is sort of watchable.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • The Amazon page says that there was a theatrical release, and the DVD is a theatrical-quality print - a 1.85:1 anamorphic, and not at all bad looking, given the obvious budgetary constraints.  

  • no meaningful features

If Hell Comes to Frogtown or Blood Surf are textbook illustrations of how to make a watchable grade b with a limited budget, Def-Con 4 will show you exactly how not to do it. They had a two million dollar budget, which they seem to have blown on a preface that takes place in outer space. When they finished that act, they still had 70 more minutes to kill, and no budget to do it. 

What few props they had were probably scrounged up here and there. The people were living in makeshift quarters like corrugated tin sheds, they cooked on backyard barbecues, and the clothing was rags, so all they needed was some land with permission to shoot, and they were home free. The only "futuristic" element was a modified backhoe. Everything else consisted of people standing around in rags.

Of course, it's one of those post-apocalyptic worlds, so they didn't need that much budget, but the grungy non-look wasn't redeemed by any other features. There's almost no nudity, very little sensationalism, not much imagination, no mutant monsters. And worst of all - no humor at all. For example, you could see that they were trying to create some atmosphere in the background, with the remaining people setting up barter businesses, prostitution and the like, but they made no effort to develop that atmosphere, or let us look at it, so it provided no more value than closed urban storefronts in a nighttime gang fight. 

They took the entire film completely seriously, as if it were some kind of religious experience about the redemption of mankind. 

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 0/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 3.6
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a D. Maltin gave it his lowest rating, but I can't say lower than D. It's humorless, and the premise is ludicrous, but the plotting was almost coherent, and the space scenes looked pretty good. It's bad, but not awful.

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