Dead End Drive-In

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Dead End Drive-In
Dead end drive in poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBrian Trenchard-Smith
Screenplay byPeter Smalley
Based on"Crabs"
by Peter Carey
Produced byAndrew Williams
CinematographyPaul Murphy
Edited by
Music byFrank Strangio
Distributed by
Release date
  • 22 August 1986 (1986-08-22)
Running time
88 minutes
BudgetA$2.5 million[1]
Box office$68,000 (Australia)

Dead End Drive-In is a 1986 Australian dystopian action film[2] about a teenage couple trapped in a drive-in theatre which is really a concentration camp for societal rejects. The inmates, many of whom sport punk fashion, are placated with a steady diet of junk food, new wave music, drugs, and exploitation films. The film was directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith and 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 shrunk to the point where cars are a commodity and parts are fought over between salvage companies and roving gangs. In an attempt to control these crime-waves, a chain of drive-in theatres is turned into concentration camps for the undesirables and unemployed youth. The dirty, graffiti-laden drive-ins are surrounded by high fences, and the roads leading to them (called Security Roads or "S-Roads") are not allowed to be walked on under any circumstance. Police collaborate with the drive-in owners to sabotage cars of unsuspecting visitors; however, some who know the true nature of the drive-ins come voluntarily for the shelter and food. Broken cars are continually collected at these facilities. The prisoners are allowed easy access to a wide variety of drugs, alcohol, junk food, exploitation films, and new wave music. This, coupled with the awful conditions on the outside, engineer an atmosphere of complacency and hopelessness so that the inmates will accept their fate and not attempt escape.

Jimmy "Crabs" Rossini, a young fitness enthusiast, sneaks off in his brother's vintage 1956 Chevy to take his girlfriend, Carmen, to the local Star Drive-In. He tells the owner they are unemployed to get a discounted rate. While Crabs is intimate with Carmen, the rear wheels of his car are stolen, and Crabs soon discovers the police are responsible. 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 have been 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 café. Time drags on, and Crabs makes several attempts at escape that are all thwarted.

Preparing for an attempt to climb a fence, Crabs soon discovers that it is electrified. He locates the wheels he needs but learns his fuel tank has been drained. He steals fuel from a police vehicle, but then finds his engine stripped. Suspecting that Thompson, who receives a stipend for each prisoner, is behind the sabotage, Crabs warns him not to interfere again. Further complicating matters are the verbal and physical fights Crabs continues to have with one of the racist gangs. 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 non-white Australians are somehow to blame for society's problems; a situation exacerbated by the arrival of foreigners trucked into the camp. All attempts to talk sense into her fail, and Crabs soon realizes that she has succumbed to the hopelessness that pervades the encampment, as have many of the other trapped kids that Jimmy tries to talk sense into.

Crabs makes one more spectacular effort at escape: while the majority of the encampment, including Carmen, attend a racist meeting, he hijacks a tow truck. He attempts to sneak out peacefully, but is recognized by Thompson. This leads to a car chase inside the encampment; the police fire automatic weapons at the tow truck, which frightens the prisoners who are hiding in the café. Eventually, Crabs crashes but manages to elude the police on foot. He finds Carmen and unsuccessfully attempts to reason with her; he kisses her and wishes her well. Crabs disarms Thompson and forces him to delete his profile, but his escape attempt ends in a violent confrontation with the police; Thompson is accidentally killed, and the remaining policeman hunts down Crabs. Using the lowered ramp of a police tow truck that is parked near the main entrance, Crabs launches a stolen police tow truck over the fence and lands on the S-Road, successfully driving away to freedom.


  • Ned Manning as Jimmy "Crabs" Rossini
  • Natalie McCurry as Carmen
  • Peter Whitford as Thompson
  • Wilbur Wilde as Hazza
  • Dave Gibson as Dave
  • Sandie Lillingston as Beth
  • Ollie Hall as Frank Rossini
  • Lyn Collingwood as Fay
  • Nikki McWaters as Shirl
  • Melissa Davis as Narelle
  • Margi di Ferranti as Jill
  • Desirée Smith as Tracey
  • Murray Fahey as Mickey
  • Jeremy Shadlow as Jeff
  • Brett Climo as Don
  • Alan McQueen as Accident Cop
  • Ken Snodgrass as Accident Cop
  • Bill Lyle as Drive-In Cop
  • Garry Who as Drive-In Cop
  • Bernadette Foster as Momma Rossini
  • Ron Sinclair as Roger McManus
  • Gandhi MacIntyre as Indian
  • David Jones as TV Newsreader


The movie was based on a short story by Peter Carey although Brian Trenchard-Smith says he had not 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.[1]

The film was shot over 35 days at a drive-in theatre in Matraville starting on 9 September 1985.[3] Funding came from the New South Wales Film Corporation.[4] The director said of the film that:

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.[5]

The final stunt by Guy Norris cost around $75,000, more than any previous single stunt in Australia, and set a world record for a jump by a truck: 162 feet (49 m).[6]


Dead End Drive-In grossed $68,000 at the box office in Australia.[7] It was released on DVD in the US by Image Entertainment on 20 September 2011,[8] and in the UK by Arrow Video in April 2013.[9]


Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times called it an "exciting and offbeat" clone of Mad Max 2 that is "worth looking for."[10] Ian Berriman of SFX rated it 3.5/5 stars and wrote that the film's premise is unconvincing, but the production design is impressive.[11] Chris Holt of Starburst rated it 6/10 and cited the atmosphere and style as saving graces in a film where "not all that much happens" and the performances are poor.[12] Bill Gibron of DVD Verdict wrote that the film's themes are "cliché and lame" and the film tries too hard without going far enough.[13] Luke Buckmaster of Senses of Cinema called it Trenchard-Smith's "magnum opus" and "a perfectly gloomy fusion of physical objects juxtaposed with the story’s otherworldly elements and creepy dystopian undercurrents."[14]

Quentin Tarantino has cited Dead End Drive-In as his favorite film from Trenchard-Smith.[15]


Production designer Lawrence Eastwood was nominated for Best Production Design at the 1986 AFI Awards.


Dead End Drive-In was included in Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, a documentary about Ozploitation films.[16]

Canadian punk band from Vancouver, Dead End Drive-In, takes their name from this film.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 'Interview: Director Brian Trenchard-Smith (Night of the Demons 2)', Joblo 5 Aug. 2011. Retrieved 21 October 2012
  2. ^ "Dead End Drive-In (1986)". Rotten Tomatoes.
  3. ^ "Facts and Figures", Cinema Papers, September 1985 p46
  4. ^ Brian Trenchard-Smith, 'No Film for Chickens', ACMI, 23 June 2009 Archived 28 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 28 September 2012
  5. ^ Brian Jones, 'A Horse for all courses', Cinema Papers, March 1986 p 28
  6. ^ Nick Roddick, 'Anyone can do a stunt once', Cinema Papers, March 1986 p17-20
  7. ^ "Film Victoria - Australian Films at the Australian Box Office" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 February 2011. Retrieved 8 November 2010.
  8. ^ Hallam, Scott (10 August 2011). "Image Entertainment's Midnight Madness Series Resurrects '80's Horror Classics". Dread Central. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  9. ^ O'Neill, Phelim (5 April 2013). "This week's new DVD & Blu-ray". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  10. ^ Wilmington, Michael (16 September 1986). "Dead-end Drive-in". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  11. ^ Berriman, Ian (18 April 2013). "Dead End Drive-In REVIEW". SFX. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  12. ^ Holt, Chris (12 April 2013). "DVD Review: DEAD END DRIVE-IN (1986)". Starburst. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  13. ^ Gibron, Bill (18 February 2004). "Dead End Drive-In". DVD Verdict. Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  14. ^ Buckmaster, Luke (September 2012). "Dead End Drive-In (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1986)". Senses of Cinema (64). Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  15. ^ Buckmaster, Luke (5 March 2015). "Dead End Drive-In rewatched – politics dressed up as frothy entertainment". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  16. ^ Lott, Rod (7 November 2009). "Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!". Oklahoma Gazette. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 11 February 2014.

Further reading[edit]

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