Coming Soon? – Dead End Drive-In (Blu-Ray Review)

In the world of Australian Exploitation movies (or “Ozploitation”) one man’s name is synonymous with the genre: Brian Trenchard-Smith. The British-born director came to prominence in Australia in the 1980’s when he pumped out back-to-back films for a decade. BTS’ films, including The Man From Hong Kong, BMX Bandits, Stunt Rock and Turkey Shoot, range from the poor to the pretty dang good. But whatever the quality, they all-maintain a unique visual style and an affinity for high-octane action. Today, we look at what is possibly his very best work: 1986’s Dead End Drive-In, made available on Blu-Ray from, you guessed it, Arrow Video.

Dead End Drive-In sees a near-future Australia under economic and social collapse.  In a desperate bid to combat the violence and unemployment rife among the youth of the day, the government turn all the abandoned drive-in movie theatres into containment sites, shovelling in what they see as a wasted generation of slackers, where they are fed a steady stream of drugs, junk food and terrible movies, left to fend for themselves and swept away from the chaos of the cities.

At the wheel of a gorgeous ’56 Chevy, our hero Jimmy (Ned Manning) along with his equally gorgeous gal, Carmen (Natalie McCurry) innocently drives into one of these containment centres, unaware that he is voluntarily imprisoning himself and his girlfriend. Once the horror of the situation sets in, Jimmy sets about planning to escape from his new hell, or die trying.

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DEDI, often mistaken as a horror/slasher movie, is essentially a socio-political drama, albeit one that features incredibly wild visuals and crazy action set pieces. Like A Clockwork Orange before and Battle Royale after, it looks at the possibilities of a future which neither caters nor provides for the young, and the government’s complete apathy at dealing with such an issue, choosing instead to sweep it under the rug and turn a blind eye. Whilst DEDI isn’t as solid as the aforementioned films, narratively or dramatically, it remains a clever satire of the disenchanted youth of the 1980’s, fuelled by economic struggle, pop culture, gang warfare and an older generation’s inability to act in any proactive fashion.

The Star Drive-In is a prison of society’s own making, with our boy Jimmy desperate to escape. Things might not be better on the outside, but at least there he has a choice. Indeed, within the drive-in many of his fellow “guests” are having a great time wallowing in unsupervised carnage but we, as the audience, are firmly in Jimmy’s corner, knowing that fascism comes in many masks. Whilst the actors tasked with presenting the film’s message are only just up to this task, the bright neon lights, Mad Max-esque vehicles and 80’s punk aesthetics paint DEDI’s world of nihilism in a depraved, but luscious, comic-book style, akin to that of 2000 A.D,  a comic which would regularly tackle similar social issues.

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Trenchard-Smith manages to pace his film well, given its lack of locations and small cast of leads, bookmarking chapters with moments of action, handled with typical eye for reckless stunts and vehicular mayhem. The underlying messages of fascism are occasionally presented with about as much subtlety as one of the films many car-wrecks, which unfortunately makes the agenda a little ham-fisted. But, as a whole, DEDI is a slick and interesting curio of a time that cinema forgot, and is definitely worth watching by anyone who loves their films off the beaten track.

This is the HD debut of the movie and, like many mid-80s films, there is noticeable contrast issues with the darker scenes, but the colours, lights and Jem and the Holograms haircuts all remain crisp and wonderful. Accompanying the feature is a Director’s Commentary, trailers, a BTS safety video and a full TV documentary on Grant Page, the death (& modesty) defying stuntman who would work with Trenchard-Smith on most of his projects. It’s a very nice package of extras for a film that has very little of its own marketing material.

Brian Trenchard-Smith’s filmography is a golden catalogue of genre cinema. Ten years of action, satire, violence, chaos and carnage, all told with comic sensibilities and a very broad visual style. Whilst all of BTS’ 80’s work is worth visiting, Dead End Drive-In is his most passionate and well-produced piece. Though it doesn’t consistently hit the mark, it’s a colourful, bizarre and dizzying 90 minutes of shameless fun, social commentary and exploding trucks.
Take this trip, and don’t forget to visit our snack bar.

Film: 4/5  Release: 3/5

Dir: Brian-Tenchard-Smith

Prd: Andrew Williams

Starring: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford

Music: Frank Strangio

D.O.P: Paul Murphy

Country: Australia

Year: 1986

Runtime: 88 mins

Dead End Drive-In is available now on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video