Dead-End Drive-In Blu-ray Review: The Australian Escape From New York

Written by The Vern

It’s difficult to decipher what will become a cult classic and what will end up being a major dud in this age of social-media marketing. Any film that gets released has the potential to be the next Rocky Horror Picture Show. Technically speaking, Sharknado is considered by many to be a cult favorite and I would both agree and disagree with that statement. I agree that audiences are the ones who get to choose what movies will eventually be part of this category. Where I disagree is that cult films are not instant, they just don’t happen over night. Sometimes a movie can take several years before it gets recognized. Blade Runner took ten years from 1982 to gain a following big enough for Warner to release a new version. It than took up to 2007 (25 years from its initial release) to be recognized by more people as a bonafide classic.

The very same thing could be said for Dead-End Drive-In, a movie I had never heard of before. I have only recently seen a trailer of it on the film Trailer Wars. (Drafthouse Films released a collection of exploitation and B-movies and this was featured). It only made a profit of $68,000 with a budget of $2 million when it was released in Australia. It has gone on to win praises from a few filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino. It has garnered a following for sure, and with this recent release from Arrow Video, more followers are sure to come.

Dead-End Drive-In opens with a post apocalyptic world where ruthless gangs roam the streets looking for parts of cars to steal. Today, they would have just called this one Mad Max: Drive In. We are introduced to our hero Jimmy aka Crabs (Ned Manning) and his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCury). Now I’m not one to bad mouth anyone’s nickname. It’s not like The Vern is getting any high praises either. But I would think of maybe changing my handle if I was named after an STD. Crabs has a brother named Dave (David Gibbons), who is in much better shape than his brother. When I first watched this, I thought for sure Dave would be our main character with his brother Crabs as comic relief. In order to impress his girlfriend, Crabs steals one of Dave’s cars and heads out to the Star Drive-In. While there, his wheels are stolen and he gets informed that he and Carmen are basically trapped.

Most of the action takes place here and at first, it doesn’t seem so bad. I have never been to a drive-in movie myself because there were barely any left by the time I was able to drive. Being able to just hang out and eat greasy food, get drunk, and watch crazy exploitation films at night sounds like a dream to me. It’s only later when you realize the drive-in is just a government-controlled prison made to keep the punks and degenerates out of mainstream society. Hmmm, this doesn’t sound at all like another movie where they turned a city into a prison. I thought the whole world was chaotic and everyone was fending for themselves, which makes sense with all the nice houses and working cars shown in the background of certain shots. Crabs meets some of the locals, but doesn’t want to get too attached. Carmen on the other hand is becoming very comfortable and has even started to adjust to their racist ways.

For some unexplainable reason, most of the residents of this drive-in are bigoted. It’s not really clear why Carmen begins to hate and fear anyone who isn’t white but she does. Crabs doesn’t even try to change her mind. He just accepts that his girlfriend is a racist and begins his plan to escape. This turns out to be quite impossible with its electrified fences and police cars blocking every exit. In most of the movies I have seen where someone gets trapped, they at least show a few attempts at escaping. Crabs doesn’t try anything until the very end, which is fine but it removes any sort of tension the movie could of had.

For a movie that is only 88 minutes long, I felt that it went over its running time. Once our two heroes show up at the drive-in, nothing much happens. Carmen gets a makeover from the girls and Crabs befriends, gets into a fight with, and then befriends the rejects of the gang from Grease 2. The people we are suppose to root for are not interesting and the villains are even more boring. The theme of having the government numb all the tenants with massive amounts of drugs and movies is a good concept, but the reveal happens a bit too late. By then, Dead-End Drive-In itself was starting to put me into a trance. It’s only during the moments when Crabs is escaping that we get to see the awesome stunt work director Brian Trenchard-Smith is best known for. The disc even comes equipped with a 50-minute documentary all about stuntmen.

The moments with Crabs and his brother were among my favorite of the film and if they had kept both of them on screen together, I would have enjoyed this a lot more. A lot of the film’s humor comes from their interaction. Crabs and his girl Carmen rarely have any time on screen together, and when they do, I didn’t see any chemistry between them

The only thing I liked on the disc was the informational video about fire safety called Hospitals Don’t Burn Down. It was like watching a pure exploitation version of The Towering Inferno, complete with some great stunt work, a little bit of gore, and some great character building by the actors. The disc also comes with a great booklet that not only gives insights into the main feature, but the supplements as well. Even if I wasn’t a fan of the main feature, the extras Arrow Video puts on their Blu-rays will make me one.

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