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Film / Dead End Drive-In

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When the show’s over, there’s no way out.
"There's a party every day, a movie every night, and all the junk food you can eat. What more can a kid want... except to get out."

Dead End Drive-In is a 1986 Australian B action/sci-fi film directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith (who also did BMX Bandits, Leprechaun 4: In Space, The Man from Hong Kong and Turkey Shoot).

It is 20 Minutes into the Future in 1995 and Australia has stagnated to a state roughly akin to that in the first Mad Max movie, with dingy slums covered in graffiti and gangs of marauding "car boys" scraping by via stealing car parts. Crabs (Ned Manning) is a teenager who is an avid jogger. He convinces his older brother Frank to lend him his '56 Chevy for a date with his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry). The two go to a Drive-In Theater where they're playing Brian Trenchard-Smith's own other movies and start to make out... only for the car's wheels to get stolen. The theater's attendant refuses to do anything until morning, so the two are forced to stay at the drive-in overnight. Come said morning, Crabs finds the place alive and resembling a ghetto. He goes to the attendant, only to be informed that he, Carmen and 190 more of society's teen delinquents are to be imprisoned at the drive-in by the government until further notice. Whereas all the other kids, including Carmen herself, seem all too content to remain at the drive-in forever placated by the limitless supply of junk food and violent movies, Crabs ain't, and he starts scheming to escape...


  • '80s Hair: A wide range, from female "big hair" to mullets.
  • Affably Evil: Tommo the cinema manager, seems to have been forced into the situation as much as the inmates are and tries to see himself as a benevolent father figure to them.
  • The Apunkalypse: Starting to take hold, but the drive-in prison camps are intended to avert this.
  • Batter Up!: Crabs and one of the Carboys in the camp fight with cricket bats.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Crabs manages to escape the prison, but his girlfriend decided to stay, and the outside world is still a hellhole and possibly getting worse. Not to mention that he'll probably be blamed for killing Tommo and the three cops.
  • B-Movie
  • Bread and Circuses: Disillusioned, antisocial youth are kept off the streets and pacified with a daily regime of snack food and movies.
  • Car Fu: There are two major scenes of this, the first when Crabs is attacked by Carboys in a train yard while driving a food truck, and the second inside the prison camp at the climax of the film.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Crabs doesn't manage to fit the fuel filler cap back on the police van after he siphons petrol from it. This leads to it catching fire during the climactic chase scene.
  • Collateral Damage: After being shot by Crabs, the cop gets off a shot as he dies, which hits and kills Tommo.
  • Cool Car: Frank's 1950s Chevrolet convertible as borrowed by Crabs, which becomes increasingly unroadworthy as the film progresses.
  • Crapsack World: A worldwide economic crisis has turned Australia into a fascist regime. The rest of the world is probably similar.
    • Not to mention all the roving gangs looking to rob you. Police state or anarchy, take your pick.
  • Cue the Sun: The sun rises as Crabs escapes.
  • Divide and Conquer: The government dumps a large number of Asian immigrants in the camp, trusting correctly that most of the prisoners will take out their resentment on them.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The prisoners' arguments for opposing the arrival of new Asian prisoners can just as easily pass for any real-world ultra-right wing anti-immigration speech.
  • Drive-In Theater: Obviously.
  • Dystopia: Even if most of the prisoners liked their Gilded Cage, it doesn't change the fact that the government is locking up teens and young adults without a trial, indefinitely.
  • Gilded Cage: Most of the prisoners prefer life at the drive-in, which provides food and entertainment, as opposed to life outside.
  • Great Escape: Crabs repeatedly plans to escape the drive-in, and is frustrated that his fellow prisoners, including his girlfriend, have no interest in joining or helping him.
  • Hope Spot: Crabs manages to get two new Chevrolet wheels from one of the wrecks brought in to accommodate a new group of detainees, and to syphon petrol from a police van, but then discovers that the whole engine has been removed from his car.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: An early scene has Crabs and his brother attending a road accident as tow-truck drivers. A local news TV crew arrive and are blatantly most interested in shooting gruesome footage of dead and injured people.
  • Just Before the End: Australia is starting to become a Scavenger World with both tow truck drivers and gangs fighting over car parts, but the police and government still appear to function.
  • Lady Not-Appearing-in-This-Game: Just about every piece of publicity or retrospective article you see about the film shows a woman who is topless apart from a metal bra with huge cow horns over her breasts. She's an extra who is never the main focus of a shot.
  • Last-Second Word Swap:
    Stuttering Carboy: You stupid c-c-c-clown!
  • Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: The early part of the film has Crabs listening to a radio broadcast with obviously fake statistics being quoted about how the economy is improving and crime is falling.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer and publicity for the film promoted it as an action movie in the tradition of Mad Max. It's much more of a drama piece with relatively infrequent action scenes, and seems like, if anything, a punk version of The Prisoner (1967).
  • Pleasure Island: The prison camp lures youths in by pretending to be an ordinary drive-in cinema, and then tries to keep them peaceful with B-movies, junk food, and unofficially sanctioned drug use.
  • POW Camp: The drive-in functions as an internment camp.
  • The Precious, Precious Car: Used as a plot point - Crabs doesn't attempt to escape the drive-in before he realises how bad the situation is, because he's afraid of giving Frank his car back with mismatched wheels.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: "Tommo" Thompson the theater manager is just doing his job and doesn't seem to have any malice toward the prisoners.
  • The Quincy Punk: Averted, the inmates vary from extreme punks to just normal-looking youths, and the most violent and unsympathetic ones aren't the most stereotypically punk in dress.
  • Ramp Jump: At the climax of the film. It's been claimed that the 162 feet achieved was the longest-ever car jump successfully done for a film at the time.
  • Scavenger World: The world has just started to become this.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer, in its desperation to include every scrap of action footage to make the film look more action-based than it is, reveals Crabs jumping out of the cinema.
  • Trash the Set: A meta-example - the production was given the use of a real drive-in cinema that had just been closed for demolition, allowing them to fill it with wrecked cars, cover it in graffiti, and trash it in the climactic action sequence.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The film takes place in 1995.
  • Vanity License Plate: Frank's Chevy has FRANK 1 and his tow truck FRANK 2. Some of the Carboys' cars also have vanity plates.
  • Visual Pun: The extra who is implied to have been providing sexual services to the cop is wearing a top with lit-up car headlights over her breasts, "headlights" being an Aussie slang term for them.