I used to think Australian filmmakers had a very pessimistic outlook on society. More than any other group of filmmakers they seem to have the market cornered on post-apocalyptic films. As it turns out their movies tend to be more prophetic than anything else and Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Dead End Drive-In is frighteningly relevant all of a sudden.
Dead End Drive-In takes place in the not-so-distant future. The economy is in the midst of a major depression and crime is at an all-time high. Cars have become incredibly rare and as a result are a very hot commodity. Everyone is always on the lookout for a car crash because that provides the perfect opportunity to claim new parts. It’s a cutthroat world and everyone is out for themselves.
Crabs (Ned Manning) tries to make the best of the tough times and plans to take his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) out for a nice evening. He “borrows” his brother’s ’56 Chevy, picks up Carmen and heads to the local drive-in. After Crabs and Carmen get settled in their parking spot they begin to do what all teens do at the drive-in – have sex. While these two are getting hot and heavy someone steals the tires of their car. Crabs is furious as anyone would be and storms off to file a complaint and police report with the drive-in manager. This is when Crabs finds out the terrible secret about the drive-in – once you enter you do not leave.
The drive-in is really an internment camp set up to imprison youth. The idea is to give the kids access to all the junk food, drugs, exploitation and New Wave music they can handle and hope that they’ll learn to accept it. And most do. Even Carmen quickly adapts to the place making friends with another group of girls. Crabs is the only one that knows better. He’s the only one knows that this is the government’s way of brainwashing them and taking away their basic rights. Crabs is determined to do whatever it takes to break free.
Dead End Drive-In is certainly played very over-the-top and with a ton of style. The entire film has an enhanced reality to it, but it’s all rooted in real things happening in the world. I recently asked Trenchard-Smith about the film and he said part of the inspiration of the film came from the Vietnamese boat people and how they faced a lot of resentment at the time. The Vietnamese boat people refers to the refugees who fled Vietnam with the fall of Saigon. The Australian government helped resettle a large number of Vietnamese immigrants between the later 70’s and earlier 80’s, but more than 2,000 showed up unauthorized as they fled their home country in order to survive. Some Australians didn’t take too kind to these refugees with reports of some locals accusing them of fabricating their stories in order to get sympathy. A quick Google search will get you caught up to speed on how rough the Vietnamese boat people had it, making it very unlikely that they’d need to pad their stories in anyway. It’s easy to see the connections between Dead End Drive-In and the refugees of the time.
Flash forward to 2016, thirty years since the release of Dead End Drive-In. Here in the United States we’re encountering some of the same issues now regarding Muslims. The more things change, the more they stay the same I guess. At some point it would be good to learn from history’s past mistakes.
On a more positive note the recent Arrow Video Blu-ray release of Dead End Drive-In is incredible. It looks absolutely gorgeous, which is no surprise. I’m pretty sure every Arrow release since about 2012 has looked amazing. At this point I’m not sure what else we can say in regards to the picture and audio quality for Arrow releases because they’re always amazing.
The special are also quite awesome. Two other Trenchard-Smith films, both shorts, are included. The first is The Stuntmen (also known as Dare Devils), a little documentary on Australia’s most famous stuntmen. This is fascinating behind-the-scenes look at some awesome stunt work from some of Australia’s best stuntmen including the legendary Grant Page. The second short included is Hospitals Don’t Burn Down! This is an anti-smoking PSA from Australia and oh my is it grim. They don’t mess around in Australia and this is a prime example.
The special features also include an audio commentary with Trenchard-Smith and a cool little art gallery of the work of artist Vladimir Cherepanoff. Cherepanoff is a graffiti artist from Australia and some of his work was used in the film.
Dead End Drive-In is an awesome movie and everyone should see it. It’s a nonstop blast and features a great New Wave soundtrack. The ending is one of my favorite endings of all time. Every time I see it I stand up and cheer. This is a film that deserves to stay relevant. Unfortunately it looks like it may do so for all the wrong reasons, but maybe we can change that.
Dead End Drive-In is now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.