What do you get when you combine the apocalyptic car crushing action of Mad Max with a punk rock makeover, splash it with a neon paint job, and drop the whole movie in a giant parking lot? The wonderfully 80’s ozploitation action gem, Dead End Drive-In, coming at us from Arrow Video in a glorious new Blu-ray release. Dead End Drive-In is the story of one man’s quest for Chevy tires so he can escape the Star Drive-In located at the end of the world.
Taking place in a near future after society has collapsed and financial ruin has crippled the world, governments have taken to extreme measures in an attempt to restore order by setting up concentration camps in run down drive-in theaters. By attempting to herd the disenfranchised and unemployed youths of the world away from the streets they’ve created sleazy compounds filled with punk rockers and neo-nazis. It’s a familiar type of set up, but Dead End Drive-In is packed with so much visual appeal and colorful characters you won’t be able to look away. As Rick McCallum would say, “It’s so dense..”, but in a good way!
Dead End Drive-In centers around Jimmy, nicknamed Crabs, his girlfriend Carmen, and their trip to the Star Drive-In in his brothers 1956 Chevy. Once locked inside the drive-in for a night of debauchery and midnight movies the Chevy’s tires get stolen, trapping Jimmy and Carmen inside the dystopian drive-in with the boisterous riff-raff. Dead End Drive-In follows a formula many of these lower budget action movies take on: kick off loud and fast with a big action sequence, take the next hour to hang out with the character and give us a reason to care about the last 20 minutes where we get a series of action set pieces for an explosive finale. It’s a formula that is make or break based on the that middle hour of movie, where action is at a minimum. Thankfully, Dead End Drive-In succeeds where similar movies of this ilk would fail.
What keeps the pace of Dead End Drive-In moving is the wonderful world its able to build in its simple setting and the colorful characters it fills the drive-in with. Jimmy is a likable lead, and there is enough plot for him to work through to keep the downtime of the film from being anything but boring. With some detestable movie goons to stand in Jimmy’s way, a race war brewing inside Star Drive-In, a father-son like bond built between Jimmy and Star Drive-In’s overseer, and some very well done car action at the bookends of the film, Dead End Drive-In certainly isn’t short of ideas to keep your attention during it’s 88 minute run time.
Arrow Video brings Dead End Drive-In to Blu-ray for the first time with a glorious new 2K transfer. While watching I was simply stunned at the amount of detail on display, the perfect amount of grain, and how the vast array of neon colors just popped from my screen. Arrow Video completely knocked it out of the park with this transfer. It doesn’t hurt that Dead End Drive-In, while an extremely grimy film, is also quite gorgeous to look at. Daytime scenes are mud splattered and overtaken by blown out skies for an overall dusty look, with color popping from all the graffiti art scattered around Star Drive-In. The majority of the movie takes place at night when the neon lights kick on and Dead End Drive-In turns into a punk rock fever dream. The great new transfer combined with the fun aesthetic of the film, some well done action scenes, and great cinematography throughout make this a cult movie that’s worth showing off on a nice theater set up.
Arrow Video has done a great job restoring the original 35mm magnetic master reels of the soundtrack on this release with presentation in Mono 2.0 as listed in the collectors booklet. The back of the box reads Stereo 2.0, so there is an error there. Either way the movie sounds great, with the 80’s synth and post-punk soundtrack providing a punchy mix of sound throughout the film. It’s a wonderful soundtrack that definitely enhances the movie and adds more to the world Dead End Drive-In creates. Some great sound effects during the action scenes and clear dialogue make this a solid release in the audio department.
I could easily give this section a 6/5 just for the newly commissioned artwork on the cover alone, but I’ll refrain. As always though, Arrow Video has put together an extremely solid release for an under the radar film with some unique special features on top of the usual reversible artwork on the sleeve and the collectible booklet for the first pressing. Both of the core special features are also directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. The Stunt Men (48:46) is a 1970’s made for television documentary about the booming stunt industry in Australia and it features some very cool behind the scenes footage. Hospitals Don’t Burn Down! (24:10) is an Australian PSA also directed by Trenchard-Smith on the dangers of smoking; it’s a strange inclusion but a fun one nonetheless. Also included is a gallery of Vladimir Cherepanoff’s graffiti work on the film, the theatrical trailer, and an audio commentary for Dead End Drive-In with director Brian Trenchard-Smith himself.
The Technical Stuff
Brand New 2K transfer presented in 1080p HD with the original theatrical aspect ration of 2.35:1
1 Blu-ray Disc
The Verdict (4/5)
While Dead End Drive-In won’t blow anyone away when compared to modern action romps (or even similar big budget titles from the same era), it’s still a very solid 80’s B-movie that genre fans are sure to find some enjoyment with. It is a charming movie that strives to be much more than just another Mad Max rip off. For me, Dead End Drive-In on first viewing became an instant new favorite of mine that I wish I was able to enjoy years ago. I found the world building, characters, and overall colorfulness absolutely absorbing. Arrow Video’s presentation for the film is stellar for a first time viewer and fans will appreciate the love put into the release. I definitely give this one a recommendation for collectors and genre fans alike.
If you are in the mood for a good time you can pick up your copy from Amazon; they don’t sell Chevy tires though.