Siege is a film of many titles, having also been released as Self Defence, Night Warriors, and in Germany as New York 1991 despite obviously being filmed in Canada, Halifax Nova Scotia to be precise. But under any title it wasn’t an easy one to see, not having an official DVD release until Severin put out a restored version last year.
That lack of availability didn’t stop Siege from gaining a reputation as a grim and violent cross between Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and Roberta Findlay’s Tenement. That’s a hard reputation for any film, let alone an obscure piece of Canuxploitation, to live up to. Having good, if hazy, memories of seeing it in college I decided to take advantage of its newfound streaming availability and give it another watch.
After a credits sequence that seems more appropriate for a horror movie, red letters on a black background accompanied by eerie music, Siege establishes itself with a brief and clever sequence. Although released in 1983 the film was shot in 1981, the same year Halifax police went on strike. Using actual footage of the police picket lines and a reporter talking about the lawless situation, expected to get worse when the bars close, the setting is neatly established.
Speaking of bars, a right-wing gang, called The New Order decides this is a perfect time to pay a visit to a local gay bar. When things get out of hand and the bartender ends up dead they consult their leader Cabe (Doug Lennox, Police Academy, Lars and the Real Girl) who tells them to leave no witnesses. Daniel (Terry-David Després, South Pacific 1942) has other plans and escapes out a bathroom window.
He takes refuge in a nearby apartment with Horatio (Tom Nardini, The Devil’s 8, Cat Ballou) and his girlfriend (Brenda Bazinet, Dangerous, The Strain) and their guests, two students from a school for the blind Patrick (Jack Blum, Meatballs, Happy Birthday to Me) and Steve (Keith Knight, Class of 1984, My Bloody Valentine).
Siege moves at a surprisingly fast pace through the first act. It also deals out some unexpectedly shocking violence such as Cabe shooting the bound bar patrons one by one with a silenced pistol or the killing of one of the blind students who couldn’t identify them. It also becomes clear that while the coldly ruthless Cabe may be the brains of the group, the psychotic Goose ( Jeff Pustil, The Killing Machine, Saw V) is the most entertaining of the lot.
Writer Paul Donovan and co-director/co-producer Maura O’Connell who would reteam for another cult film, DEFCON-4, do a good job of keeping the action reasonably believable for a plot like this. Although having their neighbour Chester (Daryl Haney, The Curse of the Komodo, Xtro 3: Watch the Skies) have a few weapons and a talent for improvising is a convenient coincidence.
Shooting in an actual apartment building, probably due to budgetary reasons, was both a blessing and a curse for Siege. The location shooting gives it a feel of lived-in feel of realism a studio set just doesn’t have. Several of the rooms as well as the stairs are small and cramped lending a feel of being trapped. On the other hand, it means more than one scene is filmed from a poor angle due to the lack of space to properly set up.
While I’m sure the film’s final scene was effective back when Siege was made it’s one thing that hasn’t aged well. News stories over the past couple of years have drained both it and the identity of The New World Order’s members of their shock value even if it’s still chilling.
Despite that, Siege is a great example of Canuxploitation as well as old-school grindhouse action films in general. The cast of familiar faces from so many great Canadian films of the era is just another reason it never should have been allowed to fall out of sight for so long.
As mentioned, Siege is now available on Blu-ray, and that also contains the original cut which runs about ten minutes longer. On streaming, the restored print is available on several platforms including Tubi and Shudder. And a rip of the VHS version, under The Night Warriors title, is on YouTube if neither of those services is available to you. And if you’re looking for more, FilmTagger has some suggestions.