Coming at the tail end of the Ozploitation era, Brian Trenchard-Smith’s 1986 movie Dead End Drive-In could have almost been designed as a closing statement for the time. There’s something for every Ozploitation fans here, it seems, with all the period’s obsessions thrown in – cars, explosions, post-apocalyptic punks, fist fights, gratuitous nudity, ockers, racism, social comment and a distinctly Aussie style of youth culture – not to mention scenes from Trenchard-Smith’s previous movies including Turkey Shoot and The Man from Hong Kong. It’s like the whole era boiled down into a single film.
The film is, essentially, Escape from New York meets Mad Max, set in a near future where the world is in a state of permanent economic collapse, crime is running rampant and corrupt governments are thinking of ever-more devious ways of controlling the population. When Jimmy (Ned Manning) and Carmen (Natalie McCurry) visit a drive-in – out in the middle of nowhere, accessible only by S (for security) roads where walking is a felony – they find themselves trapped after their wheels are stolen – by the police, as it turns out. It quickly becomes apparent that the drive-ins have been converted into concentration camps for ‘undesirables’ – some of whom have turned up voluntarily to take advantage of the food and shelter. While Carmen soon adapts to life in the drive-in, making friends and joining their protests against a group of Asians who are bussed in – Jimmy is determined to get back to the life he had outside.
While the film seems to revel in its trashiness, there’s more going on in Dead End Drive-In than you might expect. The whole idea of the drive-in acting as a honey trap for delinquent youths who cheerfully, if unwittingly, enter the prison for a movie and to get laid is a smart one, and the sprawling, dystopian landscape of the sprawling camp – every bit as bleak and burned out as anything in Mad Max 2 – is impressive. While the world we see outside might not seem that different from our own, once inside the drive-in (or at least, in the daylight) this looks like the end of the world.
As with many of the best exploitation films, this movie works both on the surface level – boobs, bangs, battery – and on a sharper, socially satirical scale. It hammers home the point a bit too much at times – the complaints about the Asians ‘invading’ what is already a prison is a somewhat heavy-handed metaphor in an Australian film perhaps. But on the whole, the film plays the action straight. Trenchard-Smith and writer Peter Smalley might have their tongues in their cheeks, but they know better than to make the film too overtly knowing. In the end, this is a movie aimed at the drive-in crowd, and it certainly delivers, with some spectacular car stunts, an impressive cricket bat fight and McCurry’s fantastically unnecessary tit flash.
It’s not all good – the film opens with one of the most painfully Eighties theme songs you will ever here, and the soundtrack continues in that vein for the rest of the film. Performances are mostly forgettable, and the voices don’t seem to match the actors, oddly. But it’s to the credit of the director – an Ozploitation veteran who has made some great films and some truly awful ones – that none of this is really a distraction.
If you were to only watch one Ozploitation movie – well, let’s face it, that movie would be Mad Max 2. But if you want a film that gives you more of a feel for the movies of the era, then Dead End Drive-In is as good a place to look as any.