Occasionally I’ll stumble upon an old movie with a premise that makes me so giddy I’m actually pissed nobody’s thought to remake it. “Grownup Fantasy Films” is what I think of them as. These are usually films where characters are placed in some consequence-free environment with unfettered access to anything they desire, and the film executes by showing every fucking way that situation would kick ass. (See: “Dawn of the Dead”)
Behold, “Dead End Drive-In”…
“A teenage couple becomes trapped at a drive-in which is really a concentration camp where societal rejects are fed a steady diet of junk food, rock music, and violent films.”
In keeping with films like “The Warriors” and “Repo Man”, the world of Dead End Drive-In is much more interesting than its story. Gangs are essentially 80’s high school clicks, with punks and thrashers skateboarding the grounds while goths, stoners, dweebs, and other assorted shitheads snort coke, have sex, and just sorta hang out. Every night is Friday, everybody lives in a stripped-out muscle car, and nobody really seems to care whether they can leave or not.
Dead End Drive-In was part of the Australian “Ozploitation” movement of the late-seventies/early-eighties. As I mentioned in a previous post, these were Grindhouse films produced by Australian filmmakers during the latter years of the exploitation craze and they included titles such as “Mad Max” and “Razorback”. While many suffer from the kind of flimsy, illogical storylines and mediocre characters typical of Grindhouse cinema, there were areas of the Ozploitation genre where the directors executed with such visual ingenuity and balls-out imagination they shamed anything being produced in the U.S.
Dead End Drive-In, like most Ozploitation films, is all about the creative attention shown to its details. Every car on the lot is a menacing, petrol-burning monster and every character looks like they should have their own “Warriors” gang. The culture of the actual drive-in, with its voucher-based snack bar, makeshift hair salon, and communal distribution of drugs and birth control pills, is enthralling enough that after a while you really don’t care why the government is keeping them there or whether the main characters will ever get out. You’re being entertained by how creatively imagined the whole thing is. It’s a community where the women spend their days fixing each other’s hair so they can spend that night, like every other night, on a date at the drive-in. And meanwhile their man is off playing cricket in the parking rows or doing kick-flips over busted speaker boxes.
There’s no substitute for good story, but if you’re going to forsake writing something with a logical three-act structure then at least trick us with one hell of a puppet show.