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Home | Film Review: Dead-End Drive-in (1986)

Film Review: Dead-End Drive-in (1986)


In the near future, drive-in theatres are turned into concentration camps for the undesirable and unemployed. The prisoners don’t really care to escape because they are fed and they have a place to live which is, in most cases, probably better than the outside. Crabs and his girlfriend Carmen are put into the camp and all Crabs wants to do is escape.


Best line: Stuttering inmate: “Stupid c-c-c, c-c-clown!”

Dead-End Drive-in (1986)
Written by Peter Carey, Peter Smalley
Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith
Starring: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford

Crabs is a free-spirited, light-hearted young man with not a care in the world. His biggest worry is getting his older, and considerably larger, brother to let him use the ’57 Chevy (I was told it is actually a ‘56 Chevy – the taillights aren’t right for a ’57) for a hot date with Carmen. He doesn’t get his brother’s permission, however, so he takes the car anyway and heads off to the drive-in with his beautiful date. Once inside, two of the wheels are taken off the Chevy, while Crabs is trying to get some action with Carmen. It takes a little convincing, but eventually Crabs is forced to come to terms with the fact that he, Carmen, and the 180+ other people at the drive-in are not permitted to leave. They have arrived at the dead-end drive-in, where the state is corralling underachievers and ne’er-do-wells so that the rest of society may thrive.

Right off the bat what we see is the statement by the writers. This film is a commentary on the indictment of the poor. The prevailing attitude towards the poor has been consistent throughout history – the poor are lazy and stupid and if given the opportunity between freedom and three square meals a day, a roof over their head, and a bed to sleep in, they will choose the easy way every time. Everyone in the drive-in has a perception that they have it good in there, not that they are being held prisoner. Crabs can’t believe this and the entire theme of the movie can be summed up in a line he speaks: “Don’t you have a life outside you want to get back to?”

The filmmaking and the storytelling is also surprisingly adept. The atmosphere created by the director is convincing if not a little glamorous. The setting looks like where the prisoners from Escape from NY and the bikers from The Road Warrior go for vacation. They’re all a little creepy looking, the lawlessness and disregard for other people runs rampant, and there is a definite post-apocalyptic feel to the place. But the bad guys are just a little too fashionable (for the 80s anyway) to be taken seriously as a threat.

There are a few action scenes that I found impressive. In one scene we see vagrant gangs, known as cowboys, so brazen they attack a moving vehicle on foot. At first it seemed a little ridiculous, but as the scene developed it made sense how enough like-minded crazy people, if they really wanted to, could seriously contend with a moving vehicle…even disable it. It played out like hungry hyenas trying to take out a zebra on the Discovery channel. This scene had surprisingly good stunt driving, scene direction, and film editing to tie it all together.

There were, however, two epic fails – Frank Strangio’s song lyrics underscore the action in the movie. For instance, when Crabs finally escapes the song lyrics are “He’s running for his life”; and there was a scene where one of the cowboys looked like a fierce Jimmy Fallon Nunchacku guy. But, those things are nit picking an otherwise fine 80s film with surprising depth and story. Enjoy.

Terrible title notwithstanding, Dead-end Drive-in is actually a pretty solid film.

Dead-End Drive-in (1986)

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