Review : Dead End Drive-In (1986)

Dead End Drive-In, one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite films, is an ozploitation film from 1986, directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. Forget what you think about exploitation films, this one has substance ! But before diving into the review, I just need to point out how brilliant it is that an exploitation film, targeted at drive-in audiences, takes place…in a drive-in !

In a near future, violent gangs have taken over Australian cities and are causing havoc. To solve this issue, the authorities have decided to lure the delinquents into drive-in cinemas, turning places of entertainment into concentration camps. A couple, Crabs and Carmen, are one of those youngsters, trapped inside a drive-in. While Carmen seems to adjust to her new life, Crabs can only think about escaping.

Dead End Drive-In

Dead End Drive-In was a big surprise. Often marketed as an action-packed ozploitation film, it is actually devoid of action for the majority of the film as it focuses on its social commentary. The film draws an alarming portrait of society in the 80’s as it touches on subjects such as the environment, government policy, crime and much more. Its message is made even stronger by the fact that the filmmaker, while creating a very original environment, still anchors its story into reality. Set in the not-so-distant future, the way society and crime are depicted in the first act of the film does feel realistic. It also heavily contrasts with the main location in the film : the city is shown at night, everything appears dark and gritty, while the drive-in is a colorful environment.

The main appeal of the film is, of course, its setting. It is such a fun and original concept to use a drive-in cinema in such a way. I was particularly impressed by the set design as it is both dull and colorful. The vibrant colors contrast with the concrete and the result is a brilliant mixture which emphasizes the gap between the government and those young criminals. Nothing looks more amazing than drive-in neon lights, especially to a non-american such as myself, who has never experienced watching a film in a drive-in cinema (we never had those here).

The characters are, for the most part, over-the-top in their behavior and personalities. The main character, Crabs, is a very endearing young man, who seems to thrive in adversity. Always teased for being weak by his family, he stands up for himself in this new contained environment. However, I found his girlfriend, Carmen, far less interesting. She seems to adjust a bit too quickly to this unexpected situation whereas Crabs is easier to identify with since he is as confused as the viewer by all this.

Dead End Drive-In is famous for its final car stunt and it does live up to its reputation. The final act is where the action scenes take place and it does not disappoint. Without spoiling the ending, I thought it concluded the film perfectly. Overall, Dead End Drive-In was an excellent surprise. Anticipating a mindless low-budget action fest, I was pleasantly taken aback by an intelligent, well-made and well designed film with a heavy focus on its social message. An excerpt from a definition of the term “ozploitation” reads : “ […] presenting the Australian landscape and environment as an almost spiritually malign force that alienates white Australians and frustrates both their personal ambitions and activities and their attempts to subdue it.” (source : Wikipedia). This perfectly applies to Dead End Drive-In, making it the perfect ozploitation experience.

Arrow Video is releasing Dead End Drive-In on September 19th, 2016 in a gorgeous amaray edition (if you are a regular reader of this website, you know a dedicated article about the packaging is coming very soon). The 2K restoration looks great, it is sharp yet the grain is still visible (if an exploitation film is not grainy, it is not true to its nature, in my opinion).There are not many special features included in this edition but they are very interesting, particularly the documentary by Brian Trenchard-Smith (the director) on Australian stunt performers.

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