Dead End Drive-In (1986)

Dead End Drive-In first published by Sight & Sound

“Subtlety is maybe not my middle name,” admits director Brian Trenchard-Smith in his commentary on Dead End Drive-In, a Sydney-set punkish dystopia apparently unfolding in the apocalyptic interregnum between George Miller’s Mad Max (1979) and Mad Max 2 (1981), and freely ripping off both of them. Amid a widespread social and economic breakdown, drive-in cinemas are used as concentration camps for teen delinquents and other undesirables, made relatively content to stay as much by the provision of entertainment, food and drugs, as by the electrified fences and armed police. The exception is protagonist Jimmy ‘Crabs’ (Ned Manning), whose desire to escape motors first the film’s satire, and eventually its stunt-heavy action.

Dead End Drive-In isn’t subtle, but that is not to say that it lacks subtext. Freely adapted (by Peter Smalley) from Peter Carey’s 1979 short story Crabs, this is an Ozploitation film that takes place in the very setting where Ozploitation films were typically screened. In this reflexive locus, as Trenchard-Smith’s own previous Ozploitationers The Man From Hong Kong (1975) and Turkey Shoot (1982) are seen playing in the background, the film stages the question of whether Ozploitation was ever a vehicle for social subversion and change, or merely an opiate of the dumbed-down masses. This also serves as both summary and swansong for an unruly era in Australian filmmaking – for Dead End Drive-In was shot in Sydney’s last existing drive-in shortly before its demolition, lending the title a decidedly elegiac note. The film may be looking forward to a dreary future (in 1995!), but Trenchard-Smith is also casting his eye back over a whole cinema movement whose days were numbered. The dated Eighties aesthetic and New Wave soundtrack just add to the nostalgic vibe.

Disc: Even if a certain second-generation scuzziness never really damaged Dead End Drive-In, this new 2K restoration from original film materials shows off the neon lighting nicely. Best feature is Trenchard-Smith’s Hospitals Don’t Burn Down (1978), a public information film which, with its harrowing sensationalism, traumatised schoolchildren across Australia.

© Anton Bitel