(1985) dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith
After watching the documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008), I felt it behooved me to watch some example of “Oxploitation”. This film, Dead-End Drive In, was one that I’d remembered from the video stores of the 1980’s, with no concept about what it was about, much less that it was Australian. I think it wound up on the “Horror” section or perhaps on the “Science Fiction” section, probably its most apt shelf outside of “Australia”.
I think in selecting it for viewing, it was one of the few films cited in Not Quite Hollywood (2008) that was actually readily available from Netflix, that I had heard of, and the concept sounded sort of interesting. Some punk/new wave concentration camp/prison of sorts that was a drive-in theater, featuring lots of exploitation films, junk food, and drugs. At least, there seemed some sort of potential social commentary/reflexivity.
The film is definitely a bit of The Road Warrior (1981) with a lot of pretty solid punk/new wave folks in an almost pre-Burning Man world, a society outside of society, but really imprisoned. It’s supposed to be five years in the future from the film’s production date, which made it roughly 1989, post-economic collapse, and while there are all kinds of wild youth roaming the streets and destroying cars and people, the government of Australia has decided to secretly imprison the youth of the day in these drive-ins, give them drugs, violence, movies, and junk food ad nauseum, and so they’ll be in a galvanized gilded cage of sorts.
However, a young man with his brother’s vintage hotrod and his cute bimbo girlfriend wind up paying entry without knowing what they’ve gotten themselves into. But they fit the description, young and all, and become prisoners/residents.
The film is quite entertaining enough with its surly “punkers” (seems like the right description) and its “music video”-style neon and modus operandi. It’s certainly a rock solid example of 1980’s-ness.
The biggest two problems are the film’s pure ill-logic and the film’s star, a rather unappealing Ned Manning as “Crabs”. He doesn’t seem to represent anything really. He’s not a drug-taker, nor a real miscreant, but a milk-drinking, hard working-out little dude, who has relative intelligence (relatively low) and a relative set of morality/sense of things. He’s not very likeable or appealing, and his motivations seems weak and naive, so it’s hardly like you’re really pulling for him to escape and his ultimate egress seems somewhat insignificant.
It’s just a sort of weak premise behind the locking all the punks and youth of the day into an anarchistic slum of a drive-in and waiting for the action to commence. And maybe it’s a little much to complain about such a thing in an exploitation film, but you know, it’s probably not that hard to make it make a little more sense. And get a semi-more-appealing lead.
So, I don’t know how this ultimately measures up in the world of Ozploitation or 1980’s exploitation, but I do give it some true 1980’s street cred for style of the characters and the set design. I’d call it semi-inspired junk cinema, by no means the worst of its kind and by no means deplorable (though the thrown-in racism of the crowd seems like an attempt at commentary that is sort of superfluous). Eh. I wasn’t missing a whole lot all those years. But it wasn’t terrible either.