‘Dead-End Drive-In’ Earned Cult Status the Old-Fashioned Way

This giddy slab of 'Oxploitation' features a CGI-free car stunt for the ages

Brian Trenchard-Smith’s “Dead-End Drive-In” depicts a “Pleasure Island” angle right out of “Pinocchio.”

It’s a lawless place of joy and indulgence that’s both a fantasy haven and prison for young people.

Dead-End Drive-In Original Trailer (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1986)

Ned Manning stars as “Crabs,” a young man who makes the mistake of taking his beautiful girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) on a date to the Star Drive-In.

Crabs is too occupied to notice the tall fencing and tight security that clearly seems at odds with an open-air movie theater for teens. After a night of B-movies and backseat sex, Crabs and Carmen awake to find not just their car still on the lot, but everyone else’s as well. Turns out, the Star Drive-In is a massive outdoor prison for disagreeable teenagers with antisocial attitudes.

An unusually good-looking film for the grunge-infused, dystopic future genre, “Dead-End Drive-In” has a cool neon glow that persists long after that beautiful sunset that opens the film. Despite a barely futuristic vision that includes streets filled with trash, burned out cars and rotting buildings right out of “The Terminator,” cinematographer Paul Murphy (who later shot “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie”) makes this visually splendid.

Trenchard-Smith’s film gets by on atmosphere, two very likable leads and a conclusion that features one of the all-time greatest auto stunts ever captured on film. Is that enough to recommend it?


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The premise has an interesting kick – the drive-in is a prison to keep society’s undesirables away from the good citizens and in an environment in which they will become dumb and numb with junk food, movies and their own rotten company.

Does that sound like the film has a condescending attitude towards its audience? Probably, though the world within the Star Drive-In is so rife with ’80s teen culture (particularly New Wave Punk music and fashion), I suspect some would find the appeal of being stuck in a place like this (as the film frequently shows us).

This is partly a prison-break movie and a commentary on breaking past widespread conformity.

Brian Trenchard-Smith on DEAD-END DRIVE-IN

Trenchard-Smith and his film were core members of the “Ozploitation” movement of the late 20th century. “Dead-End Drive-In” was picked up by Roger Corman’s New World Cinema, given a spiffy trailer and poster (the artwork featuring a cool looking dude who is not in the film) and, despite this, it vanished quickly from theaters.

As a home video attraction, the appreciation idled into a genuine cult following years later. Oddly enough, for a movie that couldn’t be more ideally suited for the drive-in movie experience, it wasn’t around long enough in regular theaters to even garner a presence in American drive-ins.

As for that big stunt that the film wisely ends on, it could be manipulated in modern times with CGI and had nowhere near the same effect. Looking at this insanely dangerous and jaw-dropping spectacle today, knowing that there’s someone behind the wheel of a vehicle that performs this truly insane feat, is all you need to appreciate it.

This is a hall of fame occurrence, captured on film and even glimpsing it in the trailer doesn’t give you the full effect.

This B-movie gem from Down Under is too scrappy and low budget to compete with the likes of George Miller, but entertaining and inventive enough to be more than a mere guilty pleasure. By fusing the likes of “Mad Max” with “Escape from New York,” and depicting a teen hangout as a penitentiary, Trenchard-Smith is giving us both an adult revenge fantasy and a junk food and movie binging Shawshank where the young are stuck, but really, where else do they have to go?

After all, if you’ve found the kind of cool people you want to hang out with, with meals always ready at the concession stand and another popcorn movie just about to start on the big screen, who cares if you can’t go anywhere else.

As a B-movie connoisseur, Trenchard Smith’s world, from Peter Smalley’s screenplay (based on Peter Carey’s story) to its genuine cinephile appeal. I can’t say I’d want to leave, either.

Two tickets to the Star Drive-In, please!

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