Dead End Drive-In (1986)

I suspect that, insofar as most people who watch this film choose to do so, it’s because they’re looking for a bit of trashy 80s exploitation action. Maybe a handful of people watch it for the 80s hair (particularly Wilbur Wilde’s astounding mullet). Me, I wanted to watch it because it was actually filmed around the suburb where I live. Matraville is not a motion picture Mecca, and even at the time I don’t recall ever hearing about this happening (I was what, 10 at the time? You’d think even someone else at school would’ve heard a film was being made in Matraville of all places. Mum says she dimly remembers hearing about it); in fact, though I’d heard of the film (albeit a number of years later) I only recently got told by a friend of mine (who doesn’t even live in NSW, let alone Sydney) that the titular drive-in was the old one at Matraville. It’s an interesting choice of location for a story about a drive-in being used as a kind of concentration camp shut off from the rest of the world, cos Matraville is kind of like that (to paraphrase Gustav Mahler, when the societal apocalypse the film depicts actually strikes Matraville is the last place it’ll strike, especially if the apocalypse comes here by bus); not the loveliest place in the world, and yet I experience a quite inordinate and inexplicable thrill by seeing it on the screen like this. The produce growers’ market! The Port Botany turnoff! The servo at the corner of Bunnerong and Franklin! The railway yard! REPRESENT! Mad Max: Beyond Maroubra Junction… Trenchard-Smith bemoans one bit where you can see all the houses surrounding the drive-in, thus revealing it’s far less isolated than he’d like us to believe, but given that Long Bay Jail is just down the road and surrounded by houses in exactly that manner, I wasn’t bothered by it…

Incidentally, I’ve also read the Peter Carey short story, “Crabs”, on which this thing is based. It’s in a collection of his short stories, which I found myself unable to read apart from “Crabs” and a few more because something about the stories irritated the crap out of me (I’ve always thought the quote on the back from… well, whoever it was, some other well-regarded author about how “reading Carey’s prose is like being shot by a firing squad of angels” is possibly the most ludicrously OTT blurb of its kind ever written, it probably deterred me as much as Carey’s prose itself), and I don’t really recall much about it, although I’m fairly sure not a lot of the film’s content really matches up with that of the story. But, you know, Carey probably didn’t expect his story to be turned into, well, this. It is, obviously, unquestionable trash and I don’t think there’s much in the way of Higher Thoughts going on, it’s a B exploiter of the sort that would’ve played at the drive-in itself… and yet, at the same, it seems to almost be making a serious point amidst the neon decor and the cut-price punks and car wrecks. This society of outcasts isn’t really so far removed from the one that’s confined it in the drive-in, it has its own prevailing attitudes that are easy to just fall into, and unquestioning acceptance of what the government gives them, except when the government gives them a bunch of Asian newcomers; the society outside finds them unacceptable and the drive-in’s inhabitants don’t want these gooks coming in and taking, well, whatever the hell it is they’ve got. The race angle is heavy-handed (and apparently even then it’s been toned down from Trenchard-Smith’s original intentions), but it does help make another point, perhaps, about how self-professed “individuals” seem wind up being just as conformist in their own way, whether or not they admit it even to themselves, and that it doesn’t really take much to make them that way…


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