Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dead End Drive-In (1986): The Punk Trap

Dead End Drive-In (1986)
dir: Brian Trenchard-Smith

In 1986, Australia was in the beginnings of an economic reform that included many libertarian ideals, but were bolstered by the trade unions of the country. The 1980s had a bit of a depression, that resulted in a lot of economic deregulation and union-aided wage restraints to help reduce inflation. At the time, the wage restraints were supposed to be for the whole country. Anybody who has looked at American economics can start laughing because that holds true universally.

Watching Dead End Drive-In post-2009 and post-America's depression, one begins to realize that Dead End Drive-In wasn't just a silly movie of post-apocalyptic proportions, it was a satire of society based in libertarian ideology. The opening credits crawl says that American Wall Street crashes, sending the world into a global economic tailspin, resulting in a commodity meltdown.

The society that results includes food scarcity as well as employment scarcity. There are jobs as ambulance drivers, and the morgue. Also, the government authority jobs. But, the main job that Dead End Drive-In shows is car salvager, which finds cars in a wreck to tow to somewhere for parts to sell. Because car parts are a hot commodity in post-apocalyptia. The salvager has to fight off carboys, who always arrive on the spot to strip the car before it gets towed, and the cops don't care about them for some reason. They're apparently enough part of the economy that they're allowed to exist.

In this society, our hapless hero, Crabs, an unemployed brother of a car salvager, borrows his brother's car and goes, with his girlfriend, to the drive in, buying a ticket priced at being unemployed. But, it's all a set-up as the police steal his wheels, and the drive in is a concentration camp of sorts for the unemployed wasted youth of society. The punks, stoners, and foreigners who can't get a job. Most of them also don't want to work, and treat the time like it's a Burning Man style vacation. The government feeds them but otherwise keeps them rounded up to attempt to reduce crime outside the walls. Which is weird because the cops outside the walls don't care too much about rounding up the carboys.

Crabs realizes that this is all a set up, and wants out. But, the manager of the drive in gets money/drugs for number of rejects that he keeps in the drive in. The fence is electrocuted, and the only road out is a security road which one can't walk on. The gangs end up becoming racist and turning on the Arabs and Asians that are let in, and start holding white power meetings of idiocy. But, Crabs is determined to escape, and the whole thing is set up as a Coming of Age story.

Dead End Drive-In occasionally makes some poignant points throughout the film. The gang leader that Crabs frequently runs into criticizes Crabs' desire to return to the completely corrupt society outside. He laments that he was unemployed for four years, and was down to one meal a day. At least in the camp, they feed him. There is also a bit of interesting commentary on privatized prisons and how they tend to desire criminalizing people in order to make a profit.

The whole thing is otherwise based in libertarian stereotypes. Criminals and social rejects are unemployed and worthless because they can be, due to sucking off the government's teat. The government is overblown because they want to have as many people imprisoned as they can in order to save their crime resources. It's cheaper to trap and feed the people junk food and shitty movies than it is to enforce laws in a destitute society.

The consistency of the politics and basis in real life theory makes Dead End Drive-In far more compelling and entertaining than it should be. It also helps that Ned Manning (Crabs) looks like an Australian cross between DJ Qualls and David Duchovny, and actually has some onscreen charisma. At times, the movie delves into Z-movie cheesiness and low-budget considerations, but otherwise Trenchard worked hard to stretch his budget. My favorite compromise is an early scene where Crabs and his brother are driving to a wreck, and the city background is a bunch of black cardboard buildings with oversized lit window squares. It's so simple but completely effective and doesn't look totally cheap and chintz given the way it was filmed.

Overall, Dead End Drive-In is far better than you expect, and one of the underrated gems of Ozploitation. It's not the most gorgeous piece of work ever made, given that it is sort of a slacker edition of Escape From New York combined with The Road Warrior stylings. But, it's political presence and prescience plus a charismatic actor makes Dead End Drive-In a successful little gem of a film.

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