It's the early 1990s and the world has been thrown into a state of perpetual disarray, thanks to economic crisis and one natural catastrophe after another having occurred during the late 80s. Consequently, the streets have become dark, lawless places and the police are taking a harder line than ever in an effort to quell the gangs of punks who now routinely loot and pillage under cover of the night.
Jimmy (Ned Manning) is a teen dropout with an unfortunate nickname who follows his older brother Frank (Ollie Hall) around, dreaming of the day he'll be allowed to borrow his hallowed '66 Chevy to take his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry, gorgeous) on a date.
He eventually has his wish granted, and takes Carmen to the local Star Drive-In where they settle down to watch a screening of TURKEY SHOOT (which shares the same director as this film, Brian Trenchard-Smith).
Pretty soon though, Jimmy and Carmen are doing what most couples do at the drive-in: fucking in the back of their car. Only, two of the wheels are stolen from the vehicle while they bonk. Jimmy gives chase to the thieves, but is alarmed to discover that the police are the culprits.
He reports the crime to drive-in manager Thompson (Peter Whitford), who simply advises the couple to get comfortable for the night and return to his office in the morning. When they do so, they learn that - due to uncontrollable rises in youth crime - the government have transformed their drive-in theatres into prison camps for unruly teenagers. Along with 193 other captives, Jimmy and Carmen are being held against their will until the powers-that-be see fit to release them.
Carmen's more worried about remaining fed and getting a decent hairdo. Jimmy, meanwhile, is panicked about getting fresh wheels for Frank's car. In the meantime, the pair of them learn to accept life within the confines of the drive-in: they're surrounded by like-minded souls, shown films every night and have free access to its American-style soda bars. As prisons go, it does all seem rather accommodating.
But then the problems start. The introduction of a busload of immigrants - "rice gobblers" as one hick puts it - disgruntles the racist faction of the drive-in's youths. Gang warfare, attempted breakouts and heavy-handing policing ensue...
Can Jimmy emerge as the hero of the day, replace his brother's stolen wheels and escape?
If you've seen a Trenchard-Smith film (TURKEY SHOOT, STUNT ROCK for example), you'll know that he's adept at shooting action sequences in stirring, bone-crunching style. He delivers the goods in DEAD END DRIVE-IN too, albeit with healthy doses of sardonic wit and political satire thrown in for good measure. The stunts (car chases, explosions, fist fights) are all staged well, while the exploitative element is further bolstered by gang violence and the aforementioned scenes of car-bound nookie.
The cast are all proficient enough to keep things ticking over, but no-one in particular stands out. In fact, the main stand-out in the film is its sterling cinematography. Luscious widescreen photography, ambitious tracking shots and genuinely attractive framing ensure the film is always stylish - but to an extent that they outweigh the superficial screenplay and rather faceless cast. Although fun while it lasts, DRIVE-IN is definitely a case of 'style over substance'. This is reinforced by a quick resolution that robs the film of any meaningful agenda.
Elsewhere, it's a film that totally feels like a product of its time: the post-Apocalyptic theme, the CLASS OF 1984/MAD MAX-esque punk characters, the hideous disco soundtrack, the Neon set designs of the soda bar and drive-in banner ... This has "went straight to video in 1987" written all over it.
But, is that necessarily a bad thing?
Arrow Video previously released DEAD END DRIVE-IN on UK DVD uncut via their budget brand, Arrowdrome. That release had a fair presentation, boasting a 16x9 transfer of the uncut film which respected the original 2.35:1 ratio. However, evidence of edge enhancement and faded blacks compromised it somewhat.
Here, Arrow re-release the film as a dual-format blu-ray and DVD combo package. We were sent a copy of the DVD to review.
The new transfer is billed as being a 2K restoration from "original film materials". Even without the benefit of the HD disc (second-class citizens etc), it's immediately apparent that this is an improved presentation over the previous release. Blacks are deep and solid; colours are far truer and much more vibrant; the troublesome edge enhancement is nowhere to be seen. The film looks far more stylish than it ever has done before as a result. Again, the film is presented in 16x9 2.35:1.
English audio benefits from an evenly balanced, clean and clear 2.0 stereo mix. Optional English subtitles are provided for the hard-of-hearing. These are well-written and easy to read at all times.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. A static scene selection menu proffers access to the movie via 12 chapters.
Extras begin with a solid audio commentary track from the likeable Trenchard-Smith. He speaks fluidly and with humour about the troubled production, has fond memories for his cast and crew and is honest enough to hold his hands up at the parts of the film which he feels don't work.
We also get "The Stuntmen", the director's classic made-for-TV documentary on a host of Australian stunt performers. These include the likes of Grant Page, who went on to co-ordinate work on films such as MAD MAX and ROAD GAMES, and Bob Woodham - who'd worked on FARENHEIT 451 and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE among others. This 1973 gem runs for a whopping 49 minutes and is a pleasure from beginning to end: filled with exciting footage of these daredevils at play, while interviewing key figures about what drives them and the buzz their profession gives them. Great stuff, even if the pillar-boxed picture quality is quite rough.
"Hospitals Don't Burn Down!" is Trenchard-Smith's 1978 public information warning about the dangers of fires started by irresponsible smoking habits. This is in surprisingly good nick, looking very filmic, and is a wonderful slice of fast-paced Ozploitation masquerading as preventative propaganda. Highly recommended viewing, filled with humour, tension and strong performances. At 24 minutes long, my only wish is that this had been developed into a feature film.
There follows an array of intriguing photos proffered to us as "Vladimir Cherepanoff Gallery". Cherepanoff was a graffiti artist who, in the mid-80s, masterminded a huge artistic project - not a strictly legal one - in the Parramatta suburb of Sydney. This gallery charts the creation of that project and some of the resultant artwork, interspersed with explanatory and scene-setting text from Cherepanoff.
The film's frenetically paced 95-second theatrical trailer is also included. It's always a pleasure to revisit.
Although unavailable for review purposes, this release also comes with the film and extras on blu-ray, double-sided reversible cover art and - in the first pressing only - a collectors' booklet containing writing on the film by Cullen Gallagher and Neil Mitchell.
DEAD END DRIVE-IN is an oddity that lovers of trashy straight-to-video curios from the late 1980s will adore. Arrow's new release is a great upgrade against their previous effort, and comes highly recommended for fans.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|see main review|