Set in an alternate 1990’s where unemployment rages with the troublesome, lazy youth of society, many of whom have taken to the streets to spread fear in gangs, two reasonably straight-laced young lovers Jimmy and Carmen decide to visit the local drive-in cinema to watch a midnight movie. When the wheels off his brother’s borrowed Chevy are stolen during the night, Jimmy is determined to get them back or at least find replacements. However, Jimmy soon discovers that once you’ve entered the drive-in, there’s very little chance of leaving. With high electric fencing, padlocked gates and police patrols, the drive-in becomes a prison for the delinquents trapped there. Despite little hope of reaching the outside world ever again, Jimmy’s determined to escape the fast-food serving, broken down hell hole.
Australia is known for producing some gritty, gang-fuelled road movies depicting dystopian societies, one of which is Dead-End Drive-In from Turkey Shoot director, Brian Trenchard-Smith. Embracing elements of Mad Max and combining it with a variety of sub-cultures and 80’s new wave music, the Ozploitation film takes a look at how the government is dealing with its problems. Instead of doing something to improve the system for everyone, all those who are deemed undesirable are taken away from society and trapped in a glorified concentration camp. With a round-the-clock diner serving hamburgers and milkshakes, movies shown on the big screen and a plentiful supply of drugs, to many this drive-in becomes a way of life offering more opportunity and luxuries than what the outside world offers them. Showers, meals and a place to stay, free of charge, is more than what a lot of the young and unemployed received prior to their incarceration. However, Jimmy (a terrific Ned Manning), known to his friends as Crabs, is a young man with passion, hopes and aspirations. Small and lean compared to his broad brother Frank, Jimmy’s aim is to become bigger, stronger and tougher. He longs for a change of jobs to be able to afford a slick vehicle like his brother’s ’56 Chevy. It’s just a series of unfortunate events that leads him and girlfriend Carmen with a one way ticket to the drive-in and though the rest of the young people there seem quite content in their new home, Jimmy is having none of it.
Dead-End Drive-In is quite ahead of its time. The points it raises about employment, repression, immigration, racism and prejudice are as valid now as they ever have been. Jimmy represents change and a desire to not conform and fall in with the opinion of the crowd. We always need someone to rock the boat and strike out in order for change to be made and it seems Jimmy is the only one who seems to be motivated to do anything about the situation. The world in which Jimmy finds himself is one where scrap dealers race to the scene of a road traffic accident to get first dibs on the wreckage, not giving a second thought about the dead and injured occupants of the vehicles strewn about the scene. The media soon follow, ready to report the gory details to distract the population from the real problems going on in the world. Drugs, free food and good music seems to be quite attractive when you face the prospect of reality, at least for the unintentional occupants of the drive-in.
The dazzling neon cover from Arrow Video’s release of the film really captures the 80’s-infused vibe of the movie. The film is stylish beyond belief with its dusty, dusky setting, rows of rusty cars spray painted with graffiti, and young people proudly sporting the fashions of their sub-culture (goth, punk, teddyboy etc). Jimmy, wearing his white vest bearing the German coat of arms, is definitely the odd one out, not that it bothers him. Girlfriend Carmen seems more interested than he is in conforming to the crowd, allowing the other females in the washroom to style her hair similar to theirs. Armoured police cars patrol the camp with tow trucks periodically dropping off new arrivals, each in their own battered banger. It seems like the only decent set of wheels is that of Jimmy’s… well, if it had wheels left, that is!
Vehicles seem to play a large part in the aesthetic of the movie but they also contribute to most of the film’s action. Terrific chasse sequences and stunts involving vehicles tearing around the drive-in will make you feel like a big kid again. Destruction seems to be key in executing these scenes and we’re treated to glorious scenes of airborne trucks, fireballs and even a shootout. With a film that’s pretty dialogue dependent, which is no bad thing in this case, the action scenes are like a tasty after-dinner treat, giving you just what you need to finish off with a bang and Dead-End Drive-In certainly delivers.
Prior to Arrow Video’s release, I hadn’t a clue Dead-End Drive-In existed. Having watched the film, I wonder how on Earth I’ve never come across it before now. It’s a fantastic, involving, intimate watch from start to finish and is a must-see for fans of futuristic/alternate cinema with a dystopian twist. Give me Dead-End Drive-In over the original Mad Max any day. The sights and sounds have more of an appeal with a story that will always have relevance no matter when it is viewed. A true hidden gem.
Arrow Video’s release features a high definition presentation on Blu-Ray with a terrific, insightful audio commentary by director Trenchard-Smith, a TV doocumentary on stuntmen including Grant Page, Trenchard-Smith’s unique public information film Hospitals Don’t Burn Down and a theatrical trailer for Dead-End Drive-In. The first pressing of the Blu-Ray release contains a collector’s booklet with writing on the film by Cullen Gallagher and Neil Mitchell as well as sporting a reversible sleeve cover with original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon. The DVD release is a fine transfer in its own right with slick audio to match the crisp visuals with the DVD featuring the same aforementioned special features as the Blu-Ray disc.