Review: Dead End Drive-In / Cert: 18 / Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith / Screenplay: Peter Smalley / Starring: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford / Release Date: April 15th
Brian Trenchard-Smith is one of the most celebrated directors in the Ozploitation movement that was the subject of ace documentary Not Quite Hollywood. His films Stunt Rock and Turkey Shoot are beloved by one Mr Tarantino – as is Dead End Drive-In, a 1986 mash-up of everything that was happening in genre cinema in the early '80s.
The film is set in a future where war and recession has led to an almost total collapse of society. In this large, loud and lawless place we find the charmingly named Crabs (Manning) who is surviving with his mechanic brother amongst the marauding punks that terrorise the highways. Crabs and his girlfriend Carmen (McCurry) go to a drive-in theatre one night and have their wheels stolen from Crabs’ brother’s prized Chevy. Unable to leave the next day they find themselves trapped with other dregs of society and thugs who have also been unable to leave. They discover that the drive-in is some kind of police-sanctioned attempt to segregate the underclass and contain the lawlessness.
If you are a fan of the newly hip '80s aesthetic then this film is for you and it’s been lovingly restored by the bods at Arrow Video as well. This film could only have been made in 1986 and boy does it show. Sweat bands, big hair and an awesome soundtrack, which would likely be a collector’s item these days, are all on display. The film riffs specifically on elements of Mad Max, The Warriors and Escape from New York. The problem is all the good intentions and retro value in the world can’t change the fact that not all that much actually happens. There are seemingly endless shots of Crabs moping about and Carmen seems to get her hair done at least twice by the ‘girls down the loos’ (seriously). The performances are also terrible across the board, our lead actor was supposedly 36 playing 24 and it shows, his delivery is stiff and awkward with no weight behind it. The punks surrounding him are a bit better but become over the top caricatures instead of creating any sense of menace or tension.
The film does come to life in the last thirty or so minutes with some good old-fashioned practical car carnage which is still impressive. The film still has good value as a curiosity and as mentioned, the atmosphere and style of the whole thing will guarantee some new fans. Arrow Video should continue to bring these missing in action films to us, even if the results only appeal to the most hard-core grindhouse devotees.