Monday, February 13, 2017

Dead End Drive-in: "It's not so bad in here"

The Star Drive-in is a dead end!
Prior to today, it had been almost 30 years since I last saw Dead End Drive-in, an Australian exploitation film made in the wake of the original Max Max trilogy. To my delight, my wife gave me a DVD of the film as a present (one more reason why she's awesome). Still, I was concerned that my memories of Dead End Drive-in would fail to live up to reality. I am happy to report that it's as good--perhaps even better--than I remembered.

The story takes place in 1990, a bleak future in which "inflation, shortages, and unemployment" have sparked crime waves across the globe. The streets of Sydney are patrolled by ineffective police that ignore the local gangs (called "car boys"). Jimmy (Ned Manning), who drives a van for Big Bob's Pies, takes it all in stride. One night, he borrows his brother's '56 Chevy convertible and takes his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to the Star Drive-in--where admission is $10 for adults and $3.50 for the unemployed. While Jimmy and Carmen are making out, the Chevy's two rear tires are stolen.

Ned Manning as Jimmy (aka Crabs).
Jimmy jumps out of the car to see two cops loading his tires into their vehicle. When the crime is reported, Thompson (Peter Whitford), the drive-in's manager, says he can do nothing about it until the morning. When daylight arrives, Jimmy discovers that most of the drive-in's patrons are still there. They have no way of leaving either. The parking lot's fence is electrified, the gate is locked, and, of course, no one has a working vehicle. Thompson gives a book of vouchers to Jimmy and Carmen, explaining that it can be redeemed for food. It seems that once you enter the Star Drive-in, you can't leave until the "government" decides what to do with you!

Natalie McCurry as Carmen.
The irony is that no one except Jimmy wants to leave. The other 191 "prisoners" eat at the diner, play games, and watch movies at night. The reality is that, for some of them, the drive-in offers a better life than the one they had on the "outside." Even Carmen quickly grows to accept her situation, telling Jimmy: "It's not so bad in here. You'll come round to it."

But Jimmy does not. He is the sole individualist in a conformist society. While the young folks engage in frivolous activities, Jimmy tries to stay in shape, keep the Chevy's engine tuned, and subtly pumps the drive-in manager for information.

I don't mean to imply that Dead End Drive-in is a heavy-handed parable. It is, at heart, a drive-in exploitation film complete with a rock song soundtrack and a climatic chase sequence. Speaking of the songs, you probably won't recognize any of the Aussie performers, but several contribute catchy tunes. The best is the high-energy closing song "Playing With Fire" by Lisa Edwards (who had one top 5 hit in her native country). You can visit our YouTube channel to hear it and watch our original music video.
This impressive stunt cost $75,000!

Whitford as the drive-in manager.
The young cast provides a lot of energy, too, especially Manning and McCurry as the two leads (the latter deserved a few more scenes). The only performer I recognized from other roles was Peter Whitford. The veteran Aussie actor first caught my attention in Baz Luhrmann's delightful Strictly Ballroom (1992). He later appeared as the Stage Manager in Moulin Rouge! (2001).

Incidentally, if you're wondering about the movies playing at the Star Drive-in, two of them were earlier works by director Brian Trenchard-Smith (including the Jimmy Wang Yu action pic The Man from Hong Kong) and the third is Race for the Yankee Zephyr, which was directed by actor David Hemmings.


  1. Interesting concept and it sounds like they pulled it off.

  2. Sounds a bit like the Hotel California where you can check in any time you like but you can never leave!