Siege (1983)



The synopsis had me worried… “A gay bar is hit by a group of sociopaths…” For a 1983 exploitation thriller, I feared the community would not fare well. Luckily, while the sociopaths are homophobic and shout some terrible things at the patrons, they could just as well have targeted their anger at another type of gathering spot.

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Besides, the film isn’t specifically about the gay community. Once Daniel (Terry-David Despres) escapes and seeks refuge in a nearby apartment building, sexual orientation has nothing to do with the rest of the story. It’s instead a quietly effective survival story that at times plays like a poor man’s Assault on Precinct 13.

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I don’t mean that to be derogatory. Siege is unquestionably a low budget film, shot in 14 days in the building where the filmmakers lived and using a wheelchair for the tracking shots. Considering this, it’s not a bad film at all, somehow conveying a sense of realism and, if not outright suspense, at least persistent dread.

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Contributing to this is the fact that it takes place during a real event and one that’s depicted in actual news footage of a 1981 police strike in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Evoking one of the Purge movies, on a night with no police to protect the innocent, the streets belong to Cabe (Doug Lennox) and his gang of violent madmen.

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There are several aspects of Siege that elevated it for me. First, Cabe is a terrifying character. His trunk is loaded with high-tech equipment and weapons. His men both fear and obey him, ultimately relying on him to clean up their mess. Although fewer in numbers, the gang members behave like I imagine one of today’s extremist groups would behave.

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Although coincidental, I like that the apartment where Horatio (Tom Nardini) accepts him is adjacent to the apartment of Chester, a militia man himself. He rides a motorcycle, reads Soldier of Fortune, and has an arsenal of his own that our heroes can use to first protect themselves, then to go on the offensive.

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Chester usually travels between apartments on the roof via the skylights. However, when Cabe places a gunman on top of a nearby building, he uses the interior opening in the bathrooms where medicine cabinets have long disappeared. This passage becomes a location for both good guys and bad guys to look next door and use a variety of weapons against their opponents.

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I wouldn’t call the physical layout and Chester’s plans to booby trap the building “humorous;” however, they somehow relieve the tension that builds in a no-win scenario. Amazingly, they never push past the boundary of unbelievable, either. I experienced the actions as a demonstration of clever thinking in order for the characters to survive.

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Not all of them survive, though, and some of the losses are hard. Two blind characters, Patrick (Jack Blum) and Steve (Keith Knight) seem like sitting ducks, but, as one of them says, “I may not be able to see, but I can hear pretty goddam well.” His ability to focus on sound gives the good guys an unexpected advantage.

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For the most part, the characters act and react in realistic ways. When they think they’ve counted the correct number of bodies and the attack has ended, Barbara (Brenda Bazinet) logically wants to go home. I would, too. But one person in the group who has been paying attention, suspects another wave of violence is coming.

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I’m going to end by possibly contradicting my opening paragraphs and saying one scene may offend a gay audience. At the height of danger, Daniel finds a hiding place. When the smoke had cleared, yes, he literally comes out of the closet. Still, I’ll defend Siege. Any of the characters could have been immobilized by fear and felt helpless to do anything about it.

 

Written by Paul Donovan

Directed by Paul Donovan, Maura O’Connell

Starring Tom Nardini, Brenda Bazinet, Daryl Haney, Terry-David-Despres, Jack Blum, Keith Knight, Doug Lennox

RT 84 min.

Released May 6, 1983

Home Video Shudder (also on Blu-ray from Severin Films)

Rating 7 slashers (out of 10)


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