Ecological disasters, a Wall Street crash ruining the economy, cities ravaged by riots and crime due to the massive amounts of unemployment – nope this isn’t the news its the 80’s Ozploitation movie Dead End Drive-In. It’s a crazy cult film with a harsh satirical comment on society that is strangely fitting to today’s modern world.
The world is going to hell due to a series of catastrophes, massive inflation, crime waves and a population disillusioned by everything. With the government desperate to take control back from the gangs which roam the streets in suped up cars causing chaos, there is little for a normal bloke like Jimmy (Ned Manning) to do but work out, try to stay out of trouble and hang out with his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry).
Borrowing his brothers Chevy he takes Carmen to the Star Drive-In for a movie and a private moment. However, while they’re there the wheels from his car get stolen by some crooked cops. Demanding to get the tires back from the drive-in owner Thompson (Peter Whitford from Moulin Rouge and Strictly Ballroom) the couple discovers that not only is it impossible but they are in fact trapped in the drive-in with no means of escape.
The drive-in with its high, electrified fences and police patrols is a refuge camp for lost souls, runaways and the disenfranchised youth and Jimmy and Carmen are its latest inmates. With free junk food, plenty of strange and interesting friends and a movie every night Carmen settles into life in the grime filled, graffiti laden prison where everyone lives in their broken down cars. Jimmy however is not so happy and starts plotting and planning his escape – a seemingly impossible feat in a world controlled by the lethal law of the land.
Pure cult from start to finish, Dead End Drive-In is highly influenced by Mad Max and the Australian New Wave movement of the late 70’s to late 80’s. It fits perfectly into the Ozploitation genre alongside movies like The Cars That Ate Paris, Patrick, Razorback and the many Mad Max sequels which were low budget, shock horror movies, full of sex, violence and action.
With its car chases and crashes, punk gangs, pop rock soundtrack and nudity, Dead End Drive-In is pure Ozploitation. This makes it an extremely entertaining grindhouse movie. However, its surreal social commentary story and excellent direction by British born Brian Trenchard-Smith elevate it above a simple trashy throwaway movie.
Brilliantly realised and shot, Trenchard-Smith films the apocalyptic world of Dead End Drive-In with artistic flair and panache, and the vast locations that have been wonderfully transformed feel extremely real, especially the Star Drive-In.
Most engaging of all is the story and its thinly veiled comment on 80’s society, where the young are pacified by films, junk food, music and fashion literally dependent on their cars as a habitat and happy to wallow away in filth and incarceration as long as there is some form of entertainment on offer.
All the characters Jimmy meets have completely given in to their ridiculous and horrific situation, seeing the government sanctioned concentration camp as the best option available to them with even Carmen succumbing soon after entering.
Their general malaise is only interrupted by Jimmy’s malcontentment and the influx of a group of Asian refugees that arrive. Both events are seen as a threat to the existence of the general population which they must try to destroy in a tirade of racist slurs and violence.
Ultimately Dead End Drive-In tells its audience that there is no answer to the problems of the world apart from taking responsibility for your own actions and trying to live the best life possible, because living free is better than living free from responsibility (by being enslaved by someone else).
With the current recession, countries becoming bankrupt, riots on the streets and unemployment at an all time high, the similarities between the world of Dead End Drive-In and our own are obvious. Except maybe that we are imprisoned by our addiction to the all enslaving internet with our celebrity obsessed culture, reality TV and constant hunger for other peoples virtual attention, keeping us all brainwashed and busy updating our statuses rather than facing the real evils of the world which are going on all around us.
Made as a comment on the times, it’s strange that a low budget cult exploitation action film like Dead End Drive-In, for all its ridiculous 80’s trappings, can so perfectly sum up the problems and panics faced by our world over 20 years later.