Ozploitation classic and 1980s New World Pictures cult classic, Brian Trenchard-Smith's DEAD END DRIVE-IN comes to Blu-ray with the special edition treatment from Arrow Video USA.
In the aftermath of a string of environmental and economic catastrophes – including the "white massacre" of Capetown, South Africa that effectively ended gold and diamond exports as well as a yet another Wall Street stock market crash – the divide between the haves and have-nots of Australian society has become so vast that the rich remain safely insulated in gated communities while the outside world is an industrial wasteland. The goals of ever-optimistic delivery driver Jeff (playwright Ned Manning, PRISONER: CELL BLOCK H) - nicknamed "Crabs" because he once thought he had them - are sidetracked, however, when he takes is big brother Frank's (Ollie Hall, MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME) '57 Chevy on a trip to the local Star Drive-in with his girlfriend Carmen (1989 Miss Australia Natalie McCurry, STONES OF DEATH). When the front wheels to the car are stolen (by the police, Jeff discovers), they are forced to stay the night only to discover in the morning that they cannot leave whereupon they learn that the drive-ins have been transformed into a concentration camp for the country's undesirables who are pacified with exploitation films, MTV, drugs, junk food, birth control, and a general lack of governance. Carmen settles into the existence, which offers some certainty and a kind of normality, but Jeff wants his freedom with all it entails including food shortages and likely possibility of being beaten to death by "carboys" who scavenge parts from the grisly accident scenes that serve as entertainment on the nightly news.
Sharing some thematic similarities with Trenchard-Smith's earlier TURKEY SHOOT, the post-MAD MAX pic DEAD END DRIVE-IN tones down the sex and gore, but replaces it with a lighter tone, more accomplished stunt work and a campy eighties, neon-lit, punk aesthetic and soundtrack while retaining the satire. While one can kind of understand the relative comforts and security offered up by the drive-in, as well as the risks of freedom, Trenchard-Smith gives us Manning to root for as literally the little guy fighting a totalitarian government, his bullying older brother, street punks, and the warring factions of the drive-in. Besides TURKEY SHOOT, the theater screens in the film also show Trenchard-Smith's THE MAN FROM HONG KONG, Simon Wincer's SNAPSHOT, as well as David Hemming's THE RACE FOR THE YANKEE ZEPHYR.
Fittingly released by New World Pictures – finding company amidst films like VAMP, BLACK MOON RISING, and HOUSE the same year – DEAD-END DRIVE-IN was one of the New World releases that fared badly on home video due to its Panavision framing being panned-and-scanned. Anchor Bay released the film in 2003, finally restoring its 2.35:1 framing in an anamorphic transfer with a commentary by director Trenchard-Smith. When Image Entertainment acquired the Lakeshore catalog in 2011, they dumped it onto barebones DVD as part of their Midnight Madness line while Arrow Video released a barebones edition in the UK in 2013 as part of their ArrowDrome line. Fortunately, Image did not renew their licensing agreement in 2016, which is why Arrow Video's Blu-ray is a promising sign of things to come in regards to the New World titles. The 2K-mastered 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer is brighter and more detailed without sapping the neons of their saturation and with the heavy use of smoke, fog, and other haze free of artifacting. The Dolby Stereo soundtrack is presented here in a strong LPCM 2.0 track with clearly-rendered voices, explosive effects, and the scoring by Frank Strangio (BMX BANDITS) while also highlighting the use of source music that sadly never merited a soundtrack release. Optional English SDH subtitle are also included.
Extras start off with the Trenchard-Smith commentary track ported over from the Anchor Bay edition in which he discusses the plot of the film in the context of his "what if" films, describing it as "MAD MAX meets THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL" and making some plot points and backstory clearer than the film itself manages. He also points out details in Larry Eastwood's production design and the art direction from the graffiti, the drive-in design, the wrecked cars, to the little things like a poster for RAMBO 8: RAMBO CONQUERS RUSSIA early on. He speaks warmly of actor-turned-playwright Manning, and his influence on the final product. Also included is the vintage Australian TV documentary "The Stuntmen" (48:45) – in standard definition just as it is on the Australian Umbrella Blu-ray of Trenchard-Smith's THE MAN FROM HONG KONG along with standard definition transfers of the other Trenchard-Smith films DEATHCHEATERS, DANGERFREAKS, STUNT ROCK, and KUNG FU KILLERS – in which Trenchard-Smith stages action, western, and war film scenarios and daredevil stunts to illustrate the process of stunt planning and execution by regular collaborator Grant Page, Bob Woodham, Herb Nelson, Warren Campbell, Graham Mathrick, and Roger Ward. We see how even the most meticulously-arranged stunts can be affected by the weather or even being the slightest bit off-target (one stunt by Woodham is shown seemingly successfully executed at regular speed but an alternate camera shooting at four hundred frames per second reveals his injury as he goes flying off of a motorcycle onto a crash pad but catches both shins on the handlebars instead of vaulting over them). Although these bits were staged for the documentary itself, some of them wound up being used as clips of Page's stunt work in STUNTROCK shown side by side in split screen to fit the square 16mm image into the Panavision frame.
"Hospitals Don't Burn Down!" (24:10) is an unbelievable public service short film by Trenchard-Smith about what happens when a patient tosses a forbidden cigarette down a laundry chute and turns an eight-floor hospital into a towering inferno. Incredibly grisly for television and educational purposes – with the kind of fatalities you would never have seen on EMERGENCY! Stateside – as Page and Ward double for various workers, patients, and nurses caught in explosive bursts of fire with apparently none of the staff knowing what to do other than watch them burn to death. Intensive care patients, in-progress surgery patients, and little children are among those threatened. Jeanie Dryman (MURIEL'S WEDDING) and Mark Edwards (TOWER OF EVIL) play a nurse and orderly. Transferred in high definition by Film Australia, the short looks as good as Trenchard-Smith's features, and one wonders he might have done with a feature-length version. Also included is a still gallery of the graffiti artwork by Vladimir Cherepanoff, and the film's New World theatrical trailer (1:36). Not included for review are the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon and the fully-illustrated collector’s booklet containing writing on the films by Cullen Gallagher (presumably the same material from the ArrowDrome booklet) and Neil Mitchell included with the first pressing only. (Eric Cotenas)
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