Siege (1983) Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: July 20, 2021
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English HoH
Run Time: 84:00 (theatrical cut), 93:00 (extended cut)
Directors: Paul Donovan & Maura O’Connell
When a local group of right-wing vigilantes massacre the patrons of a gay bar, the sole survivor seeks refuge in a nearby apartment building whose residents must now defend themselves in a night of hate, terror, and bloodshed. (From Severin’s official synopsis)
By my estimation, siege movies come in two distinct flavors (with exceptions, as always): the large-scale, epic sieges of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) and Cy Endfield’s Zulu (1964), and the intimate, claustrophobic sieges of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). The former is a great template for war films, while the latter can be used to bridge the gap between action and horror, as it in the cases of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (2015). While it certainly feels like the US cornered the market on horror-siege in the ‘70s, during the early ‘80s one rare, tightly knit, low-budget thriller called Siege (aka: Self Defense and Night Warriors, 1983) put Canada on the map. It was the feature debut of Nova Scotian filmmaking team Paul Donovan & Maura O’Connell (technically, it was Donovan’s second as writer/director following a barely released indie war film named South Pacific 1942 ) and is based around an actual 1981 Halifax, Nova Scotia police strike and includes some footage from the event.
Unlike John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), itself a remake of Rio Bravo, the sieging villains of, uh, Siege aren’t a multicultural gang of thugs without any specific ethos beyond crime and murder. They aren’t birds or zombies or faceless hordes of orcs – they’re monocultural thugs violently enforcing a fascist ideology. Donovan & O’Connell also weren’t masking their social fears behind fantasy creatures or heavily fictionalized versions of real-world goons, like the colorful, roving gangs of creeps seen in Michael Winner’s Death Wish movies. I don’t know how Canada’s version of far-right organizations to similar groups of angry white men compare that proliferated in the US and Europe during the rise of neoconservatism in the 1980s, but Siege’s villains feel every bit as authentic as the murderous skinheads of Randolph Kret’s Pariah (1998), Geoffrey Wright’s Romper Stomper (1992), or Green Room (the only other siege film I could find featuring similar Nazi types, though Greydon Clark’s Skinheads  and Penelope Spheeris’ Suburbia  both come close). Sometimes they’re frightening, more often they’re embarrassingly childish, but, no matter how inept, they’re always a credible threat, thanks to Donovan & O’Connell’s canny use of their budgetary limitations and claustrophobic real-world locations.
Donovan continued writing, directing, and producing, sometimes with O’Connell acting as producer (she was never credited as a director again). Their biggest movie was DEFCON-4 (1985) – a solid science fiction thriller (with a phenomenal poster) about a team of astronauts that crash land on Earth following a devastating nuclear war. This was followed by a Bill & Ted-like comedy (similar idea, different plot) Norman's Awesome Experience (1988) and punk band drama The Last Bus Home (1997), before Donovan found lasting success co-creating, co-producing, and occasionally directing the sci-fi TV series Lexx, which lasted 61 episodes. Aside from budgetary constraints, I can’t think of a lot of entertainment media with less in common than Siege and Lexx. Perhaps Lexx had an episode with a siege?
In the US, Siege was released as Self Defense on VHS by Media Home Entertainment and 1.33:1 Laserdisc by Image Entertainment. It’s a bit difficult to research, based on Siege and Self Defense both being pretty generic titles, but it appears that it wasn’t ever ported onto DVD. Severin’s new Blu-ray has been sourced from the original negative, which was recently discovered in a Nova Scotia archive. The negative was scanned in 2K and is presented in 1080p and the intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio. They’ve also included two cuts – the original theatrical and home video version, and an extended cut, which can only be accessed via the extra menu. For an extremely low-budget movie shot in a rough ‘n tumble fashion using a lot of location lighting, this is a considerably more impressive transfer than I was anticipating. Details are as sharp as the camera work and lack of light will allow, improving upon the impossibly murky VHS copies. Blacks pool, but only where cinematographer Les Krizsan clearly intends them to, for the sake of mood. The bulk of the film takes place during the blue-tinged night, but there are some vivid natural hues earlier in the movie. There are some nominally rough patches in terms of print damage (generally vertical lines and light scratches), but most of it is easily ignored.
Both versions of Siege are presented in its original mono and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio sound. This is a naturalistic affair, one that utilizes lots of practical dialogue or effects (aside from the unrealistic “pew” of guns brandishing silencers). This leads to occasional inconsistencies in sound quality, especially instances when ADR is needed, but none of this a problem with the soundtrack or Severin’s restoration. Peter Jermyn and Drew King’s moody synth score adds a lot of flavor, depth, and bass to what could have been an aurally flat affair. At the same time, the music isn’t intrusive during moments when silence and natural sound is required.
Commentary with co-director Paul Donovan and filmmaker Jason Eisener (theatrical cut) – Donovan is joined by fellow Canadian cult filmmaker and the director of Hobo with a Shotgun (2011), Jason Eisener, who is a big fan of Siege. Eisener acts as moderator and interviewer, helping Donovan navigate his memories of the production. A lot of the discussion focuses on the careers of cast & crew, technical and logistical challenges, and the quality of the new transfer.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.