DVD Review: Dead End Drive-In (1986)

Dead End Drive-In DVD CoverDistributor: ArrowDrome

BBFC Classification: 15

Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith

Starring: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford, Wilbur Wilde, Dave Gibson, Nikki McWaters

If you’ve seen the documentary Not Quite Hollywood that came out a couple of years ago then you would have noticed some extensive coverage of Dead End Drive-In. Coming in at the tail-end of the original wave of what is now known as ‘Ozploitation’ – basically low budget Australian genre films released between the late 1960s until the mid ’80s – Dead End Drive-In was a commercial and critical flop back in 1986 but over the course of time the film has attracted something of a cult following – no doubt helped along by the likes of Quentin Tarantino singing its praises – which makes it a perfect addition to Arrow Video’s ArrowDrome label.

Set somewhere in the near future, where society has collapsed and crime has taken over, Dead End Drive-In follows Crabs (Ned Manning) and his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) as they go on a date in Crab’s boss’ pristine ’57 Chevy to a drive-in theatre. Once there the wheels are stolen from the car so Crabs goes to make a complaint to the manager Thompson (Peter Whitford), who hands them over some food vouchers and informs them that they’ll be stuck there for a while. As time passes Crabs realises that nobody is getting out and that the drive-in is a front for keeping undesirables off the streets for good. However, as Crabs tries to think of ways to escape, Carmen seems more accepting of the way of life that has been forced upon them.

There is a case to be made that most Ozploitation films are just lightweight re-treads of the first two Mad Max movies, and that’s a fair, if inaccurate, argument. True, a lot of films made after Mel Gibson first roamed the Australian wastelands were taking that template and running with it, but the whole Ozploitation thing goes back further than the first Mad Max film, and Dead End Drive-In taps into a lot more than car chases and gun fights. For instance, there is a vein of freakish comedy that runs throughout the film, not dissimilar to Troma’s Class of Nuke ’em High, where gangs of heavily-made-up punks torment the seemingly ‘straight’ hero of the piece, although the Australian sense of humour is a little less mean-spirited than anything that Troma put out in that period.

There is also a rather ham-fisted attempt at throwing in some commentary about racism during the third act of the film, as truckloads of Asian ‘prisoners’ are brought into the camp and immediately discriminated against by the resident inmates. It is rather clumsy and unnecessary, and only really serves as a plot point to have all the inmates in one room at one time. Although it does alter the tone of the film slightly, it doesn’t take away from what you’ve already seen.

The performances are, as you would expect, not amazing but do fit the overall feel of the film. Ned Manning gives probably the most unconvincing performance, some of his line deliveries being a little too contrived, but Natalie McCurry and Peter Whitford give pretty solid support, with Whitford coming across as quite likeable at certain points, even though he isn’t supposed to be. The film itself is quite beautifully shot, with British-born director Brian Trenchard-Smith (The Man from Hong Kong/Turkey Shoot) giving the visuals an extra lift with some stunning camera work, and the New Wave soundtrack is a nice touch.

So overall, Dead End Drive-In is a decent short, sharp burst of manic fun from an era that produced as many turds as it did gems. Not groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, it simply serves as an enjoyable good time that hits on all the familiar genre beats – cars, explosions, guns, drugs, boobs, violence – and is all over with after 84 minutes. The attempt at tackling institutional racism is where the film drops the ball slightly but the all-action finale brings the film back to where it began, so if other post-apocalyptic pieces like Mad Max, Doomsday or Escape from New York float your boat but seem a little heavy going at times then Dead End Drive-In is definitely one to add to your collection.

Dead End Drive-In

Special Features: Trailer, reversible sleeve featuring original artwork, collector’s booklet.

UK Release Date: 8th April 2013

Arrow Films – Website

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