Resembling a neon-drenched, coming-of-age version of Mad Max (1979), Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Dead End Drive-In (1986) has all the familiar Ozploitation trappings. There’s gratuitous nudity, sporadic bursts of violence and some truly outrageous stunt work (including the most astounding car jump ever committed to film). Yet, amongst all, it’s also a strange and surreal commentary on apathetic, aimless 80s youth culture. Set in a future society on the brink of collapse, buff young meat-head Crabs (Ned Manning) borrows his brother’s prized ’57 Chevy to impress a girl he’s taking to the local drive-in.
Whilst getting frisky with his date, two of his tyres are stolen leaving the couple stranded. To make matters worse, it turns out that the cinema’s surroundings look like some kind of internment camp for Duran Duran fans, and Crabs becomes trapped in there with a violent, xenophobic horde of youngsters who spend their days hanging out in a diner and stirring racial hatred against a mysterious busload of Asian people who arrive there one day.
Making its UK debut on DVD, Trenchard-Smith’s Dead End Drive-In is a real oddity. The director himself has described it as a cross between the aforementioned Mel Gibson-starring dystopian actioner and Luis Buñuel’s absurdist tale of bourgeois self-imprisonment, The Exterminating Angel, and he isn’t far off the mark. With the exception of Crabs, the rest of the drive-in population (who, via some wonderful art direction, have turned the location into a designer, graffiti-strewn shanty town) don’t seem to question why they remain there, or indeed appear to mind. The director also seems to be indulging in some self-mocking meta-humour by actually having two of his previous films being projected for the drive-in crowd.
Dead End Drive-In has an otherworldly, dream-like look, with lurid comic book colours splashed across the landscape. That style over substance distracts occasionally, and the satire is a little muddled at times, as is the pedestrian plotting. However, there’s still much to enjoy, and that Americana-style setting transformed into a bawdy Aussie apocalyptic romp makes for a bizarre and surprisingly engaging ride. Quentin Tarantino is allegedly a huge fan of the film and given his trash-art sensibilities, it’s easy to see why.