Dead End Drive-In (1986)


“In the near future, a teenage couple are trapped in a drive-in theater which has become a concentration camp for social outcasts. The inmates are treated to drugs, exploitation films, junk food, and new wave music.” — IMDb

This is just a fun sort of Australian knockoff of Mad Max meets Burning Man — and don’t get me wrong, that description is meant to entice you, not deter you!

The film is set in the future but still with that awesome 80’s aesthetic — neon, spiked hair, and ripped fishnets every-freaking-where. The economy has collapsed, crime is rampant, and cars are what everyone’s after. The government has created a chain of drive-in movie theaters that are to serve as a sort of concentration camp for the young, reckless youth of society — surrounded by tall, electrified fences and only accessible by security roads (or “s-roads”) that under no circumstances allow walking. Crabs (Ned Manning) and his girlfriend, Carmen (Natalie McCurry) wind up there on a date night and soon realize they aren’t leaving any time soon.

The whole atmosphere of the movie is amazing. It’s like an hour and a half of pure eye candy. It’s got everything you’d want or need in a post-apocalyptic 80’s film — teased hair, unexplained fog, graffiti on every surface, random fires burning for no apparent reason. Great music, too. And Manning is sort of David Duchovny-esque with an Australian accent (which is totally okay with me).

Admittedly, while the plot is a cool one, it kind of fizzles in the middle chunk of the movie. Like Crabs just keeps expressing how he’s just going to fix his brother’s car and they’ll be outta there, and Carmen keeps being like “meh” about it… and then nothing happens. Rinse and repeat. It’s like they had this awesome idea but somewhere in the middle they were like, errr, what do we do with this now? How do we fill this time?

Then, as if in an effort to answer that question, a big bus full of Asian prisoners arrive, and suddenly the group takes this super racist turn, with Crabs seemingly being the only one who is like, dude, what are y’all so angry about? “They’re not the enemy — they’re prisoners, just like us.”

But then we get to Crabs really ramping up for his escape, which is pretty exciting. All of the other prisoners are happy to exist as they are — the whole movie really is a sad “allegory for the junk values of the eighties, which our hero sees as a prison”, as director Brian Trenchard-Smith refers to it. The others, including Carmen, don’t believe the world has anything to offer them. At the drive-in they are sort of on their own misfit island… they’re among people who feel the same as they do, and they aren’t judged or looked down on. But Crabs has a desire to make his life more meaningful. His escape is a pretty amazing climax to the movie — literally flying off of a ramp through the drive-in sign. It’s a pretty killer ending, and the most expensive stunt of the whole movie, costing them around $75,000 (insane considering the movie only grossed $68,000).

Not quite a masterpiece by any means, but definitely a fun adventure.

Rating: 5/10 | Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith | Writer: Peter Carey (story), Peter Smalley (screenplay) | Music: Frank Strangio | Starring: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s