Dead End Drive-In
directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith
starring Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry and Peter Whitford
Arrow / MVD film
Imagine Mad Max taking Cyndi Lauper on a date to a Trump rally and you’ll have a good idea where this movie finds its heart. Yes, it’s a low budget action quickie from Down Under, but Director Brian Trenchard-Smith has a knack for making wacky movies about serious subjects, and even wackier one about wacky subjects. Crabs (Manning) lives with his brother Frank (Ollie Hall) and his mum in a post-apocalyptic house trailer. Steve drives a wrecker and has a sweet ’56 cherry red Chevy on the side, Crabs does…something unimportant.
In act one of this eccentric world Frank and Crabs chase accidents. Steve get the corpses to sign releases as competing wreckers fight for useable parts while avoiding the rampaging “Car boys.” Then it’s all fireballs and Fosters, and the driving stunts all go pretty smooth. Act two opens when Crabs takes his girl friend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to the drive-in. There he foolishly asks for the “unemployed” ticket price and that bit of cheapness traps the pair in the last drive-in in Sydney. The police are rounding up the unemployed, making the Land Down Under a bit safer.
The highlight of the movie comes while the pair are in the back seat making out; that’s when police steal their wheels. Trapped in the drive in and surrounded by an electric fence, they get a ration books and free pot and cheap movies but have to make peace with cartoonish gangs. In the last act Crabs tries to collect enough parts to rebuild his car and escape as trucks full of “Asians” arrive and enflame the white supremacist punks. This takes us to the climatic car jump; my favorite internet data base reports is was the longest jump of its kind filmed up to that point. Crabs is free, at least through the credits, but Carman is still in the drive in jail, ratting her hair and smoking funny cigarettes.
OK, so the plot is not well built but it’s well-acted. The gangs and girls and the conspiratorial drive in owner (Peter Whitford) are excellent, their dialog funny and snappy, and you never get to an eye rolling moment. Fires burn constantly, there doesn’t seem to be as much fighting over women as you would expect, and the blasting sound track from B-list bands (including Hunters and Collectors) adds a great ’80s vibe to the whole thing. Bad hair styles, car culture and late night filming add visual interest to the tight acting and tongue in cheek script.
Along with a decent director’s track there are two early works by Trenchard-Smith. The first is a 30 minute film called Hospitals Don’t Burn. They actually do; a patient ditches an illegal butt down the laundry chute and nearly burns the place to the ground. This story drips with suspense and flares with great fire footage and explores just what you’ll abandon in desperation. Then we discover a 1973 made for TV series called The Stuntmen. We meet pro stuntmen close up and they do dangerous work including 150 foot dead falls over rocky reefs, car flips, and horse drags and motorcycle jumps. The techniques were state of the art in 1973 (and may still be) and detailed views of what can go wrong make this TV very real. Best of all, the stunt men smoke constantly, even while swimming. I highly recommend this collection; it’s a clean Blu-ray print and full of great scenes and extras. G’day, Mate.