Brought to us by Ozploitation icon Brian Trenchard-Smith (Turkey Shoot, The Man From HongKong, BMX Bandits) our story starts with a string of disasters including racial riots in Sydney, a nuclear disaster in the Pacific and the crash of Wall Street leading to a dystopian future where the economic chaos means Tow Trucks fight it out for business, cops are corrupt and the kids form gangs of carboys, roaming the roads stripping cars and raising hell.
In short, the shit has hit the fan and it’s a world of dog eat dog and every man for himself.
In the middle of all this we have Jimmy (Ned Manning), a naïve young fella who idolizes his big brother Frank but is the skinny kid whose workouts and fitness regime just make him look even sillier in a world of post-punk haircuts and chop-top cars. Jimmy has however managed to pull a pretty hot chick in Carmen (played by former Miss Australia Natalie McCurry) so it’s not all bad. So one night after borrowing Frank’s prized 56 Chevy, Jimmy takes Carmen out for a date, along the way making the spontaneous decision to hit the Star Drive-In for some make-out time. What Jimmy doesn’t realize is that the Star is a concentration camp for the delinquents and fuck ups, the unwashed and slightly dazed. And once you are in those gates, you don’t get back out.
As he and Carmen are doing the horizontal bop, (thank you Natalie!!) two tires are stolen from the prized Chevy but when Jimmy chases the thieves he realizes it’s the cops doing the stealing. He goes to the Drive-In ‘manager’ Thompson (Peter Whitford) who tells them they are stuck for the night but doesn’t let on that they will never leave. In the morning when Jimmy wakes up we see the drive-in slowly coming to life.
Like a technicolour scene of pseudo Hollywood decay there’s burning cars, tent cities, roaming post-punk apocalyptic 80s kids and a general feeling of wasted lives and no future.
Thompson takes down their details, offers them meal tickets and a weekly allowance (the dole essentially) but no way out. Carmen accepts her lot pretty quickly but Jimmy just can’t get his head around it. He keeps tuning the car, checking the mix and waiting to find those two chevy tires so he can take the car back to Frank. He refuses to acknowledge that they are prisoners. Everyone else is happy, or at least accepting of the situation.
As gang leader Dave basically says, outside he was starving, here he has food, company, movies and friends. Everyone is happy just to exist, be fed and have movies playing all night but not Jimmy. He tries to maintain the chevy, tries to keep his fitness regime going, insists on holding on the dream of getting out. This creates friction between he and Hazza (played by musician Wilbur Wilde who should have stuck to the sax!) and the inevitable biffo with cricket bats!! (Ozploitation at its finest) Jimmy wins that encounter but he still has to watch his back.
When a cattle truck of Asians are brought in, things come to a head. The ‘locals’ start chanting “Asians out, Asians out!” and a meeting is called amongst the denizens of the drive-in to address this problem. It’s when that truck rolls in that it dawns on you that Trenchard-Smith has hit us with a moral tale about society in general and not just another ozploitation grindhouse film.
It also rather sadly occurs to you that nothing has changed. In fact it’s like they saw thirty years into the future – saw a world where we are still seeing the race card played to keep the populace frightened of losing the little they have been begrudgingly given, still beholden to the financial markets, cracking down on welfare and the poor, barbed wire and private prisons, vapid entertainment to keep us from thinking… oops sorry, I’m drifting now!! Back to the story, no thinking allowed.
While the rest are chanting and plotting, running around in ever decreasing circles, Jimmy sees through the lies, the smoke screen or maybe it’s just that he is too naïve to realize that there isn’t much waiting out there for him on the other side, particularly when Carmen is quite happy at the drive-in and all that really is out there will be one pissed off big brother whose Chevy is now just another spraypainted bomb. He wants freedom though and if that involves essentially trashing the drive-in and everyone else’s happiness (corrupted and shit house as it is) well so be it. That is the price he is willing to pay.
Being a Trenchard-Smith film there are car crashes to come, more burning cars, retribution and chaos as well as a spectacular (and record breaking) stunt to finish things off. Sadly though Carmen keeps her top on.
Restored by Arrow Video to its former glory this is a visually stunning film that keeps on point, offers a story to make you think and is littered with well known aussie faces from the mid 80s.
An underrated beauty in that peculiar Australian vein of car culture films that, of course, includes Mad Max, Cars That Ate Paris, The FJ Holden and Chain Reaction, this movie still resonates strongly today.
- Audio commentary – Brian Trenchard-Smith
- Hospitals Don’t Burn Down (1978)
- The Stuntmen (1973)
- Behind the Scenes Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
Available on Blu-Ray from MVD Visual.