Most Americans, when they think of Australia they think of kangaroos and koalas and shit. Me, I think of high speed car chases and vicious (but wise) giant crocodiles. And I guess maybe occasionally I think of 6’5″ Seattle Storm center Lauren Jackson. But usually it’s the cars and crocodiles, because as you maybe noticed I’ve been watching the Australian films this last year or so – ROGUE, DARK AGE, ROAD GAMES, RAZORBACK, etc. I’ve never been there, but something about that place really appeals to me, and so do their movies, I’m not sure why. They seem to have an untapped (by me) reservoir of really good filmatists there who work in a style that appeals to me. Energetic but not frantic, stylish but still raw, serious but not pretentious, lots of car flips.
I was kind of embarrassed though when I found out there was a documentary going around called NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD that lumps these movies together under the silly name “Ozploitation.” It was real popular down there in Austin where my Ain’t It Cool colleagues are and Tarantino’s interviewed in it and everything so it got them all interested. I swear it’s a coincidence, I had no idea this was a big thing right now. If anything, the documentary probaly copied the idea from me.
Anyway, one of the really prolific directors I haven’t checked out yet is Brian Trenchard-Smith, who I believe is actually English but did dozens of movies in Australia starting in the ’70s. He’s got a bunch of them I’ve been meaning to check out, and DEAD END DRIVE-IN wasn’t one of them. But the new Fangoria has an article about NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD and it includes this picture:
So obviously I rented it.
Although it’s a post-apocalyptic movie full of crazy punks and there are some of the car stunts implied by the picture, this is not at all a MAD MAX rip-off. In fact it’s a pretty clever allegory. The story takes place after a series of disasters caused world economic collapse (oh come on, that would never happen) and shit is fucked up.
The main character is a skinny punk named Crabs. His musclehead brother is in the towing business, because there are lots of car wrecks in this world, but it’s a dangerous occupation and Crabs might be too weak to cut it. Then one day he brings his girlfriend to a drive-in movie, and somebody steals the wheels off of his car while he’s there. The drive-in is at the end of a restricted road so there’s nowhere to buy wheels and it’s highly illegal to walk. So they’re stuck.
But they’re not the only ones. In fact, this drive-in is pretty much a commune for futuristic punk rockers and new wavers who have all been stranded. They live in their junked out cars, cover the walls in graffiti and subsist on theater concessions. There’s easy access to drugs so nobody’s in a hurry to leave. Life is better for them here than if they were free. But most of them don’t even notice the electric fences that keep them locked in.
Crabs wants to get the hell out of there though, and it quickly becomes obvious that it ain’t gonna happen. These people were stranded there for a reason – they paid the unemployed rate for the movie. This is society’s way of dealing with the youth and the underclass. They spend their days watching movies, eating hamburgers, getting high, fucking and fighting, not wanting to do anything else. Both literally and figuratively they’re at a dead end.
The allegory gets even deeper when the cops show up with busloads of Asian immigrants who they leave at the drive-in. Instead of realizing that they’ve been had and their hangout is an internment camp, the dumb-dead enders turn their hatred toward the Asians. They call a meeting to discuss such fears as “they might rape our women.” Even Crabs’s girlfriend falls for this shit. This seems like a fair criticism of various punk movements that seemed to fall pretty easily into stupid racism like that. It’s hard to separate the serious anti-establishment people from the morons who just want to break shit.
So DEAD END DRIVE-IN raises many questions: Where is the line between having fun and wasting your life on superficial bullshit? What should I be doing with my life? Why are we so quick to turn on our own people instead of those who oppress us? And most of all how the fuck did this guy end up directing LEPRECHAUN IN SPACE? I mean, not just because it’s LEPRECHAUN IN SPACE, but it’s just such a shitty movie. This one is pretty smart and real nice looking, lots of production value in the elaborate recycled society at the drive-in, nice photography with smoke always in the background, a great fight scene, and some amazing car crashes and explosions (see photo). There’s even some very clever directing in the way the movies on the drive-in screen (other movies directed by Trenchard-Smith, it turns out) sync up with the action in front. For example the camera pans across as Crabs fights various foes while behind him a scene from THE MAN FROM HONG KONG pans across as the hero defeats enemies with his martial arts.
I also want to give them some credit for having really good graffiti on the walls. Almost all low budget punk rock movies of the ’80s have god awful graffiti, a bunch of anarchy signs and stupid sounding names and crude statements of rebellion, in sloppy amateurish lettering. I don’t mind graffiti as long as the kids show pride in their work. Some of it is real sloppy and you figure they should go home and practice more before defacing public property. The graffiti in movies is even worse than that though because it’s not done by people who give much though to the subject, they just gotta cover some walls real quick for the movie. It’s just terrible. But the graffiti in this one is great, very elaborate tags obviously done by real graffiti artists. That’s going above and beyond there. There is clearly more effort put into the graffiti wall than into any single element of LEPRECHAUN IN SPACE.
I’m gonna have to check out more of this guy’s movies, so I’ll keep you updated.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.