‘Dead End Drive-In’ on Criterion Channel and free on Hoopla

Dead End Drive-In (1986), Australian genre filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith’s mix of science fiction, gearhead action, and social commentary, is drive-in social satire in a Mad Max world.

It’s set in a near future where economic collapse has driven the rich to isolated gated communities while everyone else scrambles to survive in a culture of crime and unemployment. With society on the verge of collapsing (or worse, rising up in rebellion), the authorities hit upon a brilliant solution to contain the frustrations of the young and aimless: turn the local drive-in into a concentration camp.

Jimmy (Ned Manning), a working class kid just scraping by, takes his girl (Natalie McCurry) on a date to the only show in town he can afford and finds the gates locked when he tries to leave. It plays like an Australian variant on a Roger Corman sci-fi drive-in adventure. The drive-in becomes a witty metaphor for society, with the cars turned into homes and the inmates seduced into compliance with a steady diet of junk food from the snack bar and nightly movies, with only Jimmy plotting an escape. When they get restless, the authorities bus in Asian immigrants and stir racial tensions among the white youth, who protest the invasion of their community.

The socio-political commentary and exploitation movie metaphors aren’t subtle but they are witty and effective. When the authorities get worried that the restless youth may soon tire of incarceration, they distract them by bussing in Asian immigrants and stirring racial tensions among the white youth. It’s an instant race war. But the film can also be enjoyed simply as a colorful science fiction drive-in movie with terrific car action and stunt work.

Based on a story by Australian novelist and screenwriter Peter Carey (cowriter of Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World), it’s a stand-out example of “ozploitation,” the low-budget genre films from Australia in the 1970s and 1980s, from one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite directors.

Rated R

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Dead End Drive-In [Blu-ray + DVD]
Dead End Drive-In [DVD]

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The Arrow Blu-ray+DVD combo features director commentary and two bonus short films.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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