The phenomenal success of George Miller’s Australian post-apocalyptic science fiction thrillers Mad Max (1979) and its sequel Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior in the US) subsequently caused fall out of its own in the form of numerous rip-offs and imitations that all attempted to cash in on those movies’ heady mix of violence, action and vehicle porn. Most of these came, unsurprisingly, from Italy (Castellari’s The Bronx Warriors and The New Barbarians, Sergio Martino’s 2019: After the Fall of New York and many others). While they were a lot of fun and made very much in the style of the comic books and westerns that were their natural predecessors, most of these movies were made with a very straight face. Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Dead-End Drive-In, however, definitely feels as if it’s been made with a twinkle in the eye. It’s rather apt that this unique addition to the post-apocalyptic subgenre should come from the same country that kick-started it all, and now for the first time UK viewers have the chance to see it in all its 2.35:1 widescreen aspect glory as part of the Arrowdrome series of cult releases.
Wearing its influences very much on its sleeveless, torn T-shirt, Dead End Drive-In comes across as a mixture of satire, comedy and anarchic post-punk odyssey that might have been directed by John Hughes if he had imbibed a vast quantity of mind-altering substances and then been pointed away from Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson and the rest of The Breakfast Club.
In the kind of 1980s version of the future only Billy Idol would feel truly at home in, the unemployed are kept imprisoned in gated compounds that double as drive-in cinemas. Given free food and drink, most of the inhabitants are happy to stay put, wasting their lives listening to electro-pop and bouffanting their hair in the very latest Toyah Willcox-inspired styles. Into one of these compounds comes the unfortunately-named Crabs (Ned Manning) and his bountiful girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry who apparently went on to become Miss Australia) who don’t realise the drive-in is also a prison. The police steal two of the wheels from Crabs’ car and the two of them become inmates. However Crabs isn’t content to live in the artificial society of Dead End Drive-In and makes plans to escape.
If the plot sounds a bit daft that’s because it is, but anyone familiar with Australian current affairs of the time will be aware that there’s quite a bit of satire going on here as well. There are also lots of car crashes, some nudity and enough colourful 1980s ‘fashions’ to give you a headache if you don’t look away from the screen from time to time. Mad Max fans looking for something similar will probably find the whole thing much too silly, but if you’re looking for something quirky, weird, colourful and unique, this is well worth a watch.
Arrow’s disc is surprisingly bare bones, given how well those who appreciate extras are usually provided for by this company. Of particular note is the fact that it is missing the Brian Trenchard-Smith commentary track that’s present on the previous Region 1 release, which is a great shame. On the plus side the transfer is very clean and the aspect is perfect, so this is still worth dipping into for those unfamiliar with its neon-dyed charms.
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT
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