Released by: Arrow Video Released on: September 19th, 2016 Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith Cast: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford Year: 1986 Purchase from Amazon
There's a world of quality, worthwhile films lurking within the realms of the grey market and public domain underground, but it takes a certain special home video company to take one of these films and restore it to its proper glory.
Arrow Video are thankfully one of those companies, as evidenced by their outstanding release of director Brian Trenchard-Smith's 1986 cult classic, Dead End Drive-In. Sure, one could ask Arrow why they went through all the trouble of releasing a high definition version of Dead End Drive-In, complete with a bevy of extras, when the film can readily be checked out on a number of multi-movie Mill Creek sets, but that answer-given Arrow's pedigree-is probably quite simple. The film deserves it, and the label's ever-growing army of fans should clearly appreciate the work which likely went into presenting Trenchard-Smith's film for a new audience in 2016.
Dead End Drive-In takes a relatively simple plot and runs with it for all its worth, as a group of teenagers find themselves trapped within a drive in theater turned concentration/internment camp for unemployed, undesirable youth. There's a wealth of social commentary and nuclear war paranoid going on here in the subtext, but Trenchard-Smith never gets heavy handed with his message, and seems to have a lot of fun along the way with his cast and crew.
Speaking of which, the production design here on the film is amazing. Everything is bathed in the sort of neon and smoke-drenched awesomeness which screams "1980s." It all feels very organic and natural within the film's world of a post financial crash, where gangs, looting and violence run rampant in the streets. The music is equally evocative of the time period, an awesome mix of catchy synth numbers and New Wave pop/rock jams which fits in perfectly with the cast's punk rock look and wild costuming.
The acting is solid across the board from a group of primarily Australian actors, few of whom will be instantly recognizable to fans here in the States. Still, the whole cast do a great job at connecting with their audience, as cliques and tensions arise within the prisoners here in the camp, while lead Ned Manning does his best to plan an escape from Dead End Drive-In. There's a hefty dose of black comedy running through the film's narrative, all the while immersing viewers into its own unique and enjoyably warped world.
The photography is slick and stylish, the pacing perfect and the message clear: Dead End Drive-In rocks, and bless Arrow for giving Trenchard-Smith's film the attention and respect it deserves.
Prior versions of Dead End Drive-In looked ok on home video, but nothing compared to the job Arrow have done here on their Blu-Ray. The bright and almost cartoonish photography is sharp and punchy, with no issues with artifacts or compression to report. The 2k-scanned print, presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 2.35.1 widescreen, just looks gorgeous.
The English language LPMCM Mono audio is similarly strong, balancing out the soundtrack with the dialogue just fine, with no pops, hisses or errors. The English subtitles are similarly error-free.
A commentary track by Trenchard-Smith serves as one of the highlights of the extra content. The director doesn't need a moderator to be endlessly entertaining, and Trenchard-Smith is never at a loss for words. He details both the physical aspects of production, as well as how he views the film in the modern day, as opposed to when it was made. It's a fun listen which never outstays its welcome, and rarely hits any dull spots.
The usual gallery and trailer extras are also provided, together with a couple of short films from Brian Trenchard-Smith for good measure. The first of these is Hospitals Don't Burn Down, a 24 minute short film from 1978 which has to be seen to be believed. The film details hospital safety with plenty of harrowing footage as a male/female nurse duo attempt to save as many lives as possible when a fire breaks out. The kicker is how Trenchard-Smith presents the carnage in the most dramatic and exploitative fashion possible, chock full of screaming, burning bodies and graphic special effects.
Arrow was also kind enough to include the hour length documentary for Australian T.V. titled The Stuntmen, where Trenchard-Smith profiles some of the country's most daring stuntmen, including one Grant Page, with whom the director would work on such fan favorite films as Turkey Shoot, a.k.a. Escape 2000. It's fascinating to see how stunts from the worlds of war films, westerns and more are brought to the screen, and it does a great job at showcasing just how difficult, dangerous and essential stunt men are to the movie industry.
The disc is rounded out with reversible cover art, making it more than a worthy package for those seeking some bang for their buck, especially fans who want to check out some of Trenchard-Smith's early television work.
The Final Word
I was blown away when I first caught Dead End Drive-In, and this Arrow Blu-Ray makes me fall in love all over again with the film. There's just something special about it which should hopefully appeal to fans of 80s post apocalypse films, Ozploitation junkies or just cult cinema fans who are searching for something fresh and fun. This one is highly recommended from top to bottom.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!