Dead End Drive-In (1986)

Brian Trenchard-Smith is probably not a house-hold name even for B-movie fans, however, this Australian director has created among the wackiest and most original movies ever. While his work may not be of high quality (his two “Leprechaun” films are a good example of this), they are always creative as his wild imagination seems to be set loose every time he sits at the director’s chair. “Dead-End Drive In”, probably his best film, is a perfect example of this: writer Peter Carey constructs a very intelligent tale set in an apocalyptic wasteland, and Trenchard-Smith takes fully advantage of the plot to construct one of the best Australian b-movies. A cult-classic.

After the world’s economy collapsed, Australia was turned into a wasteland where the unemployed youth uses the street as a battlefield and the law is forgotten. To fight this, the Government uses a Drive-In to lock them and keep them controlled using fast food and movies. A young man named Crabs (Ned Manning) is trapped in this way, but instead of becoming a conformist member of the nihilistic youth, he decides to fight back and escape no matter the cost.

Hidden under this sci-fi/horror tale of an apocalyptic society is a very well-written plot with social commentary included. “Dead-End Drive In” is a great story against the conformism. Crabs is trapped in an apparent paradise where he can get all the fast food he wants and do nothing but live each day, but instead he chooses to fight back and try to escape from the Drive-In and to return to his family. He knows this “paradise” is false, and that the only thing worth fighting for is real freedom.

Stretching the budget to the max, Trenchard-Smith manages to create very well done scenes with the very few resources he has. He makes a great use of his locations and the film is packed with high-octane action and a healthy dose of humor. Still, the film remains focused on its message and Carey makes a portrait of present-day society, as racist, conformist and violent as the youth depicted in the film. It is not a horror movie in the sense of being scary, but it is haunting in the sense that even when it is a fictitious scenery, it is not hard to believe that humanity will behave the way the conformist teenager do in the film.

Ned Manning is very good as Crabs, as he has the looks of a common young man trapped unfairly in a living tomb. His character is very likable and his performance makes the most of it. Natalie McCurry, playing Crab’s beautiful girlfriend Carmen is also an important character, as she begins to lose hope in Crabs’ idea and starts to behave just as the rest of the cattle. The rest of the cast is very good, but really nothing memorable.

The films’s biggest flaw is the sad fact that the film looks terribly dated. The film has that distinct 80s feeling and look and it can’t come up as “futurist” anymore. Anyways, that is not really a serious flaw as it adds up to the charm the film has. The movie still manages to be quite entertaining and some effects (like the use of explosives) still look great after 20 years.

“Dead-End Drive In” is a very interesting sci-fi movie from Australia that it’s definitely worth a rent. With its 80s feeling, high-speed action and social commentary it still delivers the goods. This film is more than a cheap “Mad Max” rip-off, it is a terrific (and hopefully not prophetical) vision of the future.