Review: Dead End Drive-In (1986)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #725

Also known as Dead End, Crabs
Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 22, 1986
Sub-Genre: Ozploitation
Country of Origin: Australia
Budget: $1,900,000
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Producer: Andrew Williams
Screenplay: Peter Smalley
Based on Peter Carey’s short story Crabs
Special Effects: Peter Evans, Alan Maxwell
Cinematography: Paul Murphy
Score: Frank Strangio
Editing: Alan Lake, Lee Smith
Studios: New South Wales Film Corp., Springvale Productions
Distributors: New World Pictures, Arrow Video (Blu-Ray)
Stars: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford, Wilbur Wilde, David Gibson, Sandie Lillingston, Ollie Hall, Lyn Collingwood, Nikki McWaters, Melissa Davis, Margi Di Ferranti, Desirée Smith, Murray Fahey, Jeremy Shadlow, Brett Climo

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Hunters and Collectors “Talking to a Stranger” 

[2] MachinationsMy Heart’s On Fire”

[3] Lisa EdwardsPlaying With Fire”

Sometimes I feel like I was born in entirely the wrong decade. While this young ankle-biter was wetting the bed and carving up worms for my own twisted amusement, the older kids were having a grand old time at the local drive-in theater. Here they could park their mother’s gas guzzler in whatever alloted space was available, watch the latest midnite movie doing the rounds on a gargantuan screen, make out with their dates, and order fast food from the on-duty roller skating waitresses.

Alas, the drive-in had already reached its peak in the seventies so, by the time this young whippersnapper came of age, I had to be content with my local multiplex. I’d do anything just to hop in my DeLorean and set the destination to 1980 just so I could soak in Lewis Teague’s Alligator with one hand up some pig-tailed floozy’s blouse.

While the drive-in theater was all but defunct by the mid-eighties, somebody forgot to tell Australian cult filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith and his 1985 “ozploitation” flick, Dead End Drive-In, pitched its tent in one such mobile movie house. The director, regarded by Quentin Tarantino as one of his personal favorites, was already on something of a hot streak, after the surprise success of BMX Bandits in 1983, while adult audiences were familiar with his work thanks to his concentration camp-set pot-boiler from the year previous, Turkey Shoot.

However, Trenchard-Smith was not the kind of auteur who wished to be pigeon-holed and his films varied wildly from one to the next. In later years he would become bogged down with straight-to-video sequels such as Night of The Demons 2, Leprechaun 3 and Leprechaun 4: In Space but, to his credit, he’s still making movies to this day and has almost 60 credits under his belt.

Dead End Drive-In is widely acknowledged as one of his finer efforts and, despite making only the most miniscule of splashes on its release in 1986, has gone on to amass a more than respectable cult following. It’s as true an Aussie picture as you could hope to find, right down to the excessively broad characters and homegrown sense of humor, and is best described as Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior with new wave sensibilities.

Trenchard-Smith ensures that his tongue never strays far from his cheek, as attested by a poster for the fictitious Rambo 8: Rambo takes Russia that shows up early doors, but dig a little deeper beneath the paintwork and there’s more than a whiff of social commentary about the media obsessed, fast food fueled world that we live in and society’s gradual decline into a lawless state of constant emergency.

Dead End Drive-In repositions its audience in a none-so-distant future (1995 to be precise), in the wake of several catastrophic economic crashes that have destroyed the global economy. Australia has been transformed into a barren hellspace where crime rates continually soar and unemployment is rife, while the streets are safe for no man, woman or child once night falls.

This is when the undesirables begin to roam and gang-related incident is something the police simply aren’t equipped to cope with. Get caught down one of the restricted S-Roads after dark with your pants down and, chances are, you won’t be seeing sunrise. Keeping your head down appears to be the soundest advice here as the last thing you need with hordes of part-snatching Carboys roaming the shadows is to draw unnecessary attention to yourself.

You hear that Crabs? Don’t mind Jimmy (Ned Manning), he answers to “Crabs” and has a head as thick as two short planks that one. To be fair, he manages to hold down a steady job at the illustrious Big Bob’s Pies and keeps his head down at the end of each shift. That red 1956 Chevrolet you see below actually belongs to his older brother Frank (Ollie Hall) and would be the ideal ride to impress his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) at the local drive-in theater for their upcoming date night.

The problem is that Frank treats this fine vintage automobile a darned sight better than he does his women and is reluctant to hand over the car keys. So what does Crabs do? He scuttles in the driver side when big bro isn’t looking and sticks two fingers up at Frank’s implicit instructions.

It has to be said, if I were dating Carmen, I’d not only have stolen his vehicle but also snatched ten bucks from his bedside dresser as a Sheila this fine deserves to be wined and dined in the finest set of wheels money can buy and it’s worth whatever reprimand awaits your return, just for one squeeze of her ripe cantaloupes.

With the mean streets ravaged by misdemeanor, the shrewd move appears to be pulling into The Star Drive-in for their rear-seat shenanigans and, lo-and-behold, Turkey Shoot is one of two Trenchard-Smith movies on this evening’s roster. What are the chances? If only this night could last forever. I’d be careful what you wish for, if I were you Jimmy boy.

Slight change of plans. Thanks to the terminally cheerful and only mildly shifty drive-in governor Thompson (Peter Whitford), it has come to our attention that the premises will be indefinitely closed to the public due to unforeseen circumstances. Just to be clear, that’s a two-way deal and also means that Jimmy and Carmen are stuck here until further notice. On the upside, ration coupons will be distributed and prisoners are granted full access to all the on-site amenities.

These include shower blocks for young, supple bodies to lather up in and a fast-food diner where super size is the only size. By all accounts, the new improved Star Drive-in is a bonzer spot for wasted youths do precisely what the media expects of them, although its advisable to sleep with one eye open as the notorious Carboys have a reputation for stripping those panels while you’re napping.

So here’s the thing. It’s quite clear that Jimmy wants out and his resourcefulness knows absolutely no limits so I wouldn’t bet against him achieving just that. However, Carmen seems to be having other ideas and has grown rather accustomed to her fresh surroundings and doesn’t view it as the asphyxiating prison he does. What’s a full-blooded man like Jimmy to do?

I mean, on one hand he has the prospect of all the drugs, booze, junk food, and exploitation movies his heart desires, not to mention pussy on he tap. On hand number two, how cool would it be to become the first man ever to vault the fence in four-wheeled fury and live to tell the tale? I know what I’d do and ironically it would likely result in a severe case of crabs. But there’s no telling a young daredevil like Jimmy.

Dead End Drive-In is only too happy to spare a thought for topics such as eighties excess, commercialism, and consumption but it never feels like anything is forced down our throat as Trenchard-Smith’s chief priority seldom strays from fun, fun, fun. There are a number of colorful characters on exhibit throughout, although most wind up largely inconsequential and this makes the film feel even more intimate as this neon-drenched world seemingly revolves around its two charismatic young love birds.

If there’s criticism to be drawn from all this low-risk larking about, then a distinct lack of notable incident would be it and its brisk 88 minutes proves a decidedly dry run with regards to knuckles and skulls cracking. That said, the aerial stunts when they arrive are gloriously outlandish and every shot framed so exquisitely that it’s impossible not to fall for its silver-tongued charm.

Who’s responsible for Dead End Drive-In receiving its long overdue second run-out? You guessed it, Arrow Video have restored this baby to the pinnacle of its purtiness and I’m pleased as punch to see a movie such as this garnered with such care and attention as, if anything, it’s even more relevant now than it was thirty years back.

Trenchard-Smith’s fluorescent fancy may fall a few notches short of bona fide greatness and not everyone will dig the Australian and proud humor that frequently threatens to compromise it, but you can leave me here for the time being as I’ve always wanted to catch Turkey Shoot on the big screen. Fret not Jimmy as your beloved Carmen couldn’t be in safer wandering hands. Sucker!

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 1/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Dead End Drive-In is a deceptive little number as those weaned on a staple diet of ozploitation fare will no doubt be surprised by the restraint Trenchard-Smith shows when it comes to actual on-screen brutality. There’s a dash of violence here and there of course, but the main talking point is undoubtedly Natalie McCurry’s perky pink pellets as seldom have I seen a pair quite so primed for the honking.

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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