DEAD END DRIVE-IN

PrintE-mail Written by James Evans

As 1986’s Dead End Drive-In begins, we’re told just a few years later in the 90s the world has gone to hell, the economy is in ruins, food is scarce and crime is rampant.  Gangs drive the streets, fighting each other and salvage crews for the ‘rewards’ of things like car parts after accidents.  In an effort to curb crime, the police and the owners of some drive-ins conspire to trap unemployed young people, then give them easy access to food, drugs, booze, crappy movies and music.  In short, everything they need to keep entertained, accept their fate and not try to escape.  Crabs is the charming nickname given to Jimmy, who opens the movie engaging in some risky jogging (maybe it’s a thing in the crime-ridden future, we'll probably know soon enough).  Crabs is a pretty simple guy - he just wants to keep fit, make some money and, uh, get to know his girlfriend, Carmen.  So he ‘borrows’ his brother’s beloved 56 Chevy and decides to take Carmen to the drive-in. And get in with two tickets on the ‘unemployed’ rate.  It’s not long before his car has fewer wheels than needed to drive home.  Stranded at the drive-in, the owner tells Crabs and Carmen not to expect to leave any time soon.  Carmen settles into the new world pretty quickly but Crabs just wants to get back to his life outside the electrified fences that surround them.

Made during the first wave of Ozploitation flicks, Dead End Drive-In takes inspiration from many of the post-apocalyptic genre films around in the late 70s and 80s, especially the homegrown Mad Max series.  A similarly low budget film, it’s got a great done-on-the-cheap production design that helps build a sense of heightened reality.  The premise might be pretty much flimsy nonsense but the slum of the drive-in is beautifully realised and feels convincingly lived in.  Social commentary abounds in this microcosm of society of the time too, on race, consumerism, the way people can be conned into thinking what they’ve got is good, even the evils of fast food.  It might not be subtle satire on the contemporary culture, but it’s not done with a sledgehammer either and doesn’t get in the way of a good time.

We could argue not much happens for a long time after Crabs and Carmen get to the drive-in, director Brian Trenchard-Smith seemingly saving his meagre money for explosive stunt set-pieces at the end.   It’s intensely 1980s as well, which is apparently not everyone’s thing, so be warned. The acting is fine, though sometimes we imagine this could have been what a Very Special Episode of Heartbreak High about dropping acid could have been like.  These are generally very minor points though in what’s for the most part a hugely fun and entertaining minor genre gem.

DEAD END DRIVE-IN / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: BRIAN TRENCHARD-SMITH / SCREENPLAY: PETER SMALLEY / STARRING: NED MANNING, NATALIE MCCURRY, PETER WHITFORD, WILBUR WILDE / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 20TH


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