Dead End Drive-In is a 1986 Australian New Wave film about a teenage couple trapped in a drive-in theater which is really a concentration camp for societal rejects. The inmates, many of whom sport punk fashion, are fed a steady diet of junk food, New Wave music, drugs, and bad movies.
The film was directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. It stars Ned Manning and Natalie McCurry as the captive couple, and Peter Whitford as the manager of the drive-in. Mad Max 2 stuntman Guy Norris did some of the stunts.
The soundtrack includes contemporary popular music performed by such bands as Kids in the Kitchen and Hunters and Collectors. The song during the rolling credits is "Playing With Fire" by Lisa Edwards.
In the near future, the economy has collapsed and massive crime waves sweep the inner-cities. The manufacturing industry has decimated to the point where cars are a commodity and parts are fought over between salvage companies and roving bands of car gangs. In an attempt to control the crime-wave, a chain of drive-in theatres are turned into concentration camps for the undesirable and unemployed youth. The dirty, graffiti-laden drive-ins are surrounded by high fences (electrified at the top), and the roads leading to them are Security Roads ("S-Roads") that do not allow walking under any circumstances. Police collaborate with the owner to sabotage cars of unsuspecting visitors identified as undesirables to keep them in; however, some who know the true nature of the drive-ins come voluntarily for the shelter and food. Broken cars are continuously collected at these facilities. The prisoners are allowed easy access to a wide variety of drugs and alcohol, and are fed a horrendous diet of fattening and greasy fast-food at the drive-in diner, which blasts New Wave music. This, coupled with the awful conditions on the outside, engineers an atmosphere of complacency and hopelessness so the inmates will accept their fate and not attempt escape.
The plot features a young health nut named Jimmy, but is nicknamed Crabs. He sneaks off with his boss's vintage '57 Chevy to take his girlfriend, Carmen, to the local Star Drive-In. He tells the owner they are unemployed to get a discounted rate. Crabs is intimate with Carmen and completely unaware of his surroundings. The back tires of his car are taken off, and Crabs soon discovers its the police who took them. Crabs complains to the owner, but he refuses to help until morning. The next morning, Crabs and Carmen are amazed at the number of cars still there, many of which seem to have been there for quite a while and turned into hovels. The owner, Thompson, pretends to fill out a report and enters them both into the system. He lets them know they will be there for a while, as there are no buses or cabs, and gives them a stack of meal tickets to use at the run-down cafe. Time drags on, and Crabs makes several attempts at escape that are thwarted. Foregoing an attempt to climb a fence he discovers is electrified, he is successful at finding the tires he needs to drive off. However, he learns his gas has been drained. He steals gas from a police vehicle, but then finds his engine destroyed. He soon discovers the owner, who originally treats Crabs as a friend, gets a stipend for each inmate he brings in, and that there are a total of nine drive-ins that the government is attempting to fill to capacity. Crabs figures out that the owner is consistently sabotaging his increasingly desperate attempts at escape. Crabs threatens Thompson to not thwart him again. Further complicating matters are the verbal and physical fights Crabs continues to have with one of the racist gangs at the drive-in.
During this time, Carmen makes no attempt to avoid the unhealthy eating and drug culture at the camp. She becomes friends with several of the female inmates who are successful at indoctrinating her to the encampment's bizarre racist mentality that Asians are to somehow blame for their problems: a situation exacerbated by the arrival of foreigners trucked into the camp. All attempts to talk sense into her are refuted and Crabs soon realizes that she has succumbed to the hopelessness that pervades the encampment.
Crabs attempts one more spectacular effort at escape. While the majority of the encampment, including Carmen, attends a racist meeting after a midnight movie led by Crabs' rival gang, he succeeds at hijacking a tow truck. He attempts to sneak out peacefully, but is recognized by the owner. This leads to a car chase around the encampment with police firing automatic weapons at the tow truck. Bullets are sprayed randomly, hitting the cafe where everyone is (and now where everyone is hiding). Eventually, Crabs crashes but manages to elude the police on foot. He finds Carmen and attempts to get her to escape with him one last time, but fails. He kisses her and wishes her well. He eventually finds Thompson, grabs his rifle, and forces him to delete his profile from the system. He then attempts an escape but it ends with a policeman getting killed, who subsequently shoots Thompson by mistake, killing him. Crabs is then hunted by the final policeman, but manages to flee using the other tow truck that had arrived at the facility. One of the trucks that is used to unload/load vehicles is situated right at the entrance with its ramp down. Crabs uses that truck to launch his tow truck over the entrance of the drive-in and lands on the S-Road, allowing him to finally escape his nightmare.
The movie was based on a short story by Peter Carey although Brian Trenchard-Smith says he hadn't read it when he came on board the project. A previous director had been attached but had pulled out. "I came in, took a week, and welded the best elements from the first three drafts together, boosting the social comment," says Trenchard-Smith.
The Drive-In is, of course, an allegory for the junk values of the eighties, which our hero sees as a prison. The last 20 minutes of the film - the escape - is the desperate blazing climax, but the whole film has a feeling of high style, of heightened or enhanced reality - a little bit over the top, but retaining a reality that the public will accept.
The final stunt by Guy Norris cost around $75,000, more than any single stunt performed in Australia until then, and set a world record for a jump by a truck: 162 feet.
Dead End Drive-In grossed $68,000 at the box office in Australia