The film was rated M in Australia.
An earthquake in rural Australia causes a dangerous leak at WALDO (acronyms of Western Atomic Longterm Dumping Organisation), a nuclear waste storage facility. Heinrich Schmidt (Ross Thompson) an engineer badly contaminated in the accident, knows that the leak will poison the groundwater for hundreds of miles around and wants to warn the public. His boss, however, is only interested in protecting himself and believes that the accident should be covered up, when in fact the contamination risks thousands of lives. Heinrich escapes from the facility but is badly injured. Lost in the woods and suffering from amnesia, he is rescued by Larry Stilson (Steve Bisley), a car mechanic on holiday, and his wife Carmel (Arna-Maria Winchester). As Heinrich tries to piece together his memories of what happened, his boss' thugs are quickly closing in on the trio.Steve Bisley — Larry Stilson
Arna-Maria Winchester — Carmel Stilson
Ross Thompson — Heinrich Schmidt
Ralph Cotterill — Gray
Hugh Keays-Byrne — Eagle
Lorna Lesley — Gloria
Richard Moir — Junior Constable Pigott
Patrick Ward — Oates
Laurie Moran — Police Sgt. McSweeney
Michael Long — Doctor
Bill McCluskey — Ralph
Margo Lloyd — Molly
Tim Burns — Survey driver
Mel Gibson — Bearded mechanic (uncredited)
The film was the idea of director Ian Barry. He had been talking to producer David Elfick about making a film called Sparks about a blind film director, based on a short film he had made, but Elfick thought the subject matter would be too difficult to finance. Barry had written another film, a thriller then entitled The Man at the Edge of the Freeway, and Elfick decided to make that instead. The movie was budgeted at $600,000 but the Australian Film Commission thought it was too high so it was re-budgeted at $450,000. George Miller came on the project as associate producer.
Funding came from the Australian Film Commission, Victorian Film Corporation and Hoyts. Shooting started in September 1979 and took place in Glen Davis and Sydney, both located in New South Wales in Australia. Elfick says the location at Glen Davis was rumoured to be the site of an aboriginal massacre and was supposed to be cursed; he believed it because filming was extremely difficult.
Filming took longer than expected and the movie went 40% over budget. George Miller was brought in to shoot the car chase sequences, which featured the Ford Fairlane LTD in most scenes as the preferred vehicle of the antagonistic authority chasing Larry's modified Holden utility vehicle (Ute). David Elfick also filmed some second unit.
The film was shot with a Widescreen anamorphic lens.
The film was released shortly after Mad Max and it has a similar theme to that film as well as American films like The China Syndrome in regards to the whole nuclear-apocalyptic storyline.
The film was distributed in Australia by the Palm Beach Picture, join with Victorian Film Corporation and Australian Film Commission and released on 25 September. In the United States the film's distributor was Warner Bros., and in the United Kingdom it was Columbia-EMI-Warner.
Post production was reputedly very difficult with representatives from the AFC, VFC and Hoyts supervising and discussing every cut of the film.
The music for the film was composed by Andrew Thomas Wilson.
- "Awakening" (1:46)
- "The Beast" (4:17)
- "Decontamination" (2:05)
- "Heinrich's Theme" (3:00)
- "WALDO" (1:17)
- "A Swim in the River" (1:48)
- "Chain Reaction" (4:52)
- "Once More with Feeling" (3:00)
- "Paradise Valley" (1:03)
- "Car Chase" (4:31)
- "Carmel's Theme" (1:38)
- "WALDO Arrives" (1:57)
- "The Hand at the Window" (0:42)
- "Message to a Friend" (End tiles)(4:28)
The web page TV Guide.com gave 3 out 4 stars. In Yahoo! Movies, the users rating to the film with a C and 5.5 out of 10 in Internet Movie Database.Detector (Italy)
Die Kettenreaktion (West Germany)
Peligro: reacción en cadena (Spain)
Perigo...Reacção em Cadeia (Portugal)
Skotoste ton, xerei polla! (Greece)
The Man at the Edge of the Freeway* (Australia)
The DVD includes these extras:
- Thills and Nuclear Spills: The making of the film (31:37)
- The Sparks Obituary (24:50)
- Deleted and extended scenes (8:14)
- TV Spot (0:32)
- Poster and Still gallery (2:54)
- Umbrella trailers
The video presents a 1.70:1 aspect ratio, originally 1.66:1.
The world-wide distribution rights were bought by Warner Bros studio, which put the film instantly in profit. The Chain Reaction grossed $796,000 at the box office in Australia, which is equivalent to $2,825,800 in 2009 dollars.