Blu-ray Review: Dead End Drive-In

Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! charted the era of Australian cinema that was aimed for the drive-in and not the art house. This was a magical time from the early 70s to the mid-80s that gave us Mad Max. One of the stars of the documentary was director Brian Trenchard-Smith. He created over the top stunt spectaculars that included The Man from Hong Kong with George Lazenby (James Bond), Stunt Rock, Turkey Shoot and BMX Bandits with Nicole Kidman. He was one of major creative forces during the era along with George Miller (The Road Warrior) and Peter Weir (The Cars That Ate Paris). While the other had moved on to Hollywood, Trenchard-Smith brought this magical time to an end with Dead End Drive-In, a film that sums up all that was glorious about Ozploitation.

The world is in chaos and things have gotten ugly in New South Wales. The roads have turned into asphalt battles. Every night there’s plenty of car carnage. Rival groups of tow truck drivers swarm the wreck scenes hoping for first dibs and bribe the right cop to get the claim. But that’s not enough because they have to fight off gangs of kids looking to strip the cars and the victims inside. In the midst of this societal entropy, Jimmy (Ned Manning) is a happy guy with a can do spirit. He helps out his tow truck driving brother. He’s constantly working out in order to become bigger. He even has a girlfriend (Natalie McCurry). He’s not accepting that this is the end of humanity. He “borrows” his brother’s classic car, picks up his gal and zooms down to Star Drive-In. After avoiding a spot next to a police van, they park and get to serious business of making out and ignoring the film on the giant screen. During the fun, someone steals an important part of their car. Jimmy’s complaints to the drive-in manager (Moulin Rouge‘s Peter Whitford) get met with a simple reality: he’s stuck. There’s no working phone and people are forbidden to walk on the long road back to town. Jimmy will just have to wait until help arrives. He does get ration coupons good for food at the concession stand. Luckily there’s a lot of people stuck at the drive-in. The place resembles an early version of Burning Man as punk kids modify their cars as houses and make the best of this impromptu camp. At night the movies run, but Jimmy wants to get back home. After decades of kids plotting to sneak into a drive-in, Jimmy must come up with a plan to get out.

Dead End Drive-In is a spectacular film. This film is like the John Hughes’ Breakfast Club world gone to Hell. Except instead of a library with a busted door, these kids are trapped in a drive-in theater surround by electric wires and armed police. The film matches the punk world with the neon lighting found in a Miami Vice episode so it’s not just a bleak dystopia vision. The stunts in the final act are a rush of excitement as Jimmy makes his great escape. This is a Hal Needham level of car destruction. There’s also quite a bit of humor including the unspoken joke that all the films being shown at the drive-in are directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. It’s strange to think that this was not a hit back in 1986. While the movie was released by New World Pictures in America, it didn’t gain the same level of cult following as Repo Man and Suburbia. This is a huge shame. I have no memory of anyone at North American video tipping us off to this obscure gem. This should have been essential viewing three decades ago.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The transfer beings out the neon and the graffiti. This is much better way to experience the film than a vintage VHS. The audio is LPCM Mono track. The mix is great for the boopy ’80s songs with the sounds of engines reving. The movie is subtitled which can help with some of the accents.

Audio commentary by director Brian Trenchard-Smith gives plenty of details about the production.

The Stuntmen (48:46) is a TV documentary by Trenchard Smith about stuntman Grant Page (Mad Max) and others making movie magic. Later the duo would team up for the sublime Stunt Rock.

Hospitals Don t Burn Down (24:10) is an educational short Trenchard-Smith made in 1978 about the dangers of smoking in a hospital. This is an Irwin Allen disaster film in a sixth of the time. People get set on fire, children are endangered and hard lessons are learned. I don’t get how this didn’t win the Academy Award for Short films. This on its own is worth purchasing the Blu-ray.

Vladimir Cherepanoff Gallery
(0:18) is stills from the graffiti artist’s work on the film. He went from outlaw to legit artist thanks to his enchancing the production design.

Theatrical trailer (1:36) is from when Roger Corman released the film.

Arrow Video presents Dead End Drive-In. Directed by: Brian Trenchard-Smith. Screenplay by: Peter Smalley. Starring: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford, Wilbur Wilde & David Gibson. Running Time: 88 minutes. Rated: R. Released: September 20, 2016

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