Dead End Drive-In
Sarah Maher
18 April 2008
MCC231 Australian Cinema
Garry Gillard


Part 1: Film Information

Ned Manning            Jimmy “Crabs” Rossini
Natalie McCurry        Carmen
Peter Whitford          Thompson
Wilbur Wilde             Hazza
Dave Gibson             Dave
Sandie Lillingston      Beth
Ollie Hall          Frank Rossini
Lyn Collingwood        Fay
Nikki McWaters         Shirl
Melissa Davis            Norelie
Margi Di Ferranti       Jill
Desirée Smith           Tracey
Murray Fahey           Mickey
Jeremy Shadlow       Jeff
Brett Climo               Don

Director                    Brian Trenchard-Smith
Scriptwriters                      Peter Carey (story)
                                Peter Smalley (writer)
Producer                   Andrew Williams
Co-Producer                       Damien Parer
Editors                              Alan Lake
                                Lee Smith
Production Designer           Larry Eastwood
Director of Photography     Paul Murphy
Original Music           Frank Strangio    
Stunt Coordinator              Guy Norris
Distributors                       Greater Union Organization
                                New World Pictures
                                Australian Films International

Release Dates
Australia          1986
USA                         August 1986
West Germany         13 November 1986

Box Office Records
USA                         $98,423    

Nominated for AFI Best Achievement in Production Design (1986)

Cast and Crew Interviews
Unfortunately cast and crew interviews were unavailable from the following databases:

However, the DVD release of the movie (Anchor Bay Entertainment 2003) does contain commentary by Brian Trenchard-Smith.

Reviews from Journals and Newsprint:

“What we got here is ‘Mildly Perturbed Max Beyond Thunderdome.’"

 “Dead End Drive-In has its share of bad acting, misguided direction, and bizarre lighting…”

 “The movie lacks any compelling interest. You never really believe the gimmick of a dead end drive-in in the first place.”

 “when it comes to making bad exploitation pictures, Hollywood hasn't completely cornered the market…”

“Dead End Drive-In is, ultimately, an unusual film in that what's up there on the screen isn't always what you'd expect.”

 “For a film featuring violence, repression and those three old reliables - drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll – ‘Dead End Drive-In' is surprisingly high-minded.”

Reviews on the Internet:

“[Dead End Drive In has] weird pacing and a self-conscious manner that gives the audience too much distance from the action”

“With ill-defined characters, a strangely recognizable so-called future and the sudden, third-act inclusion of racism…it's a valiant, but ultimately vacuous, enterprise.”

While the politics of the film beat you over the head, this is still a moderately enjoyable B-movie.”

“I did enjoy this little flick for what it was, and it was far more intelligent and watchable than I pegged it to be.”

“It has several irritations, such as the geekish yobbery that most of the Australian actors let pass for performances and an awful synthesizer/pop score.”

Discussion in Books

“…unfortunately Dead-End Drive-In did not find the Australian audience it deserved…”

Online Presence
Dead End Drive In has a rather small influence on the internet; most entries are stubs to be expanded at a future date.

All sites were accessed April 16, 2008


Part 2: Critical Review

Plot Summary
After the economic market crashes in the early 1990s the government invokes emergency powers and delinquent youths known as “Karboys” rule the streets.  Disorder is rampant and many people take jobs as tow truck drivers to clean up the scenes of accidents.  Jimmy’s brother Frank is one of these drivers, and makes good money by paying off the police to be first to collect the cars.  He makes good money and as a result has two attractive cars.  When Jimmy Rossini and his girlfriend Carmen go to the Star Drive-In in one of Frank’s cars for a date they are unaware that it is actually government sanctioned confinement.  While the couple has sex the police steal the tires off the car.  They end up spending the night and in the morning they are told they can’t leave because there are no phones or transport out of the drive-in.  They are instead issued meal vouchers for the Ezy Eatin Restaurant which only serves junk food.  While Carmen socializes with the local girls Jimmy works on fixing the car and makes an acquaintance of Thompson the drive-in manager. This alienates him from the local boys and strains his relationship with Carmen.  His refusal to take drugs and his insistence on staying healthy through exercise also lead to several confrontations with the boys.
     The drive in then receives an influx of cars Asians which disturbs the local populous, but allows Jimmy to obtain the tires he needs.  The local youths try to convince Jimmy to stick together as a white community to which Jimmy refuses.  He instead steals petrol for his car from a police vehicle supplying drugs to the community.  However his escape attempt is ineffective because the motor of his car was stolen.  Suspecting Thompson, Jimmy sneaks onto Thompson’s computer and discovers that there are similar drive-ins at other locations.  Jimmy confronts Thompson and tells him not to interfere with his escape again. 
     While the local youths hold a white Australian meeting, Jimmy incapacitates a tow-truck driver bringing in more broken cars and steals his truck.  After an explosive car chase, Jimmy finds Carmen who refuses to try and escape with him.  He then makes his way to the drive-in entrance and confronts Thompson with a gun.  He forces Thompson to wipe everyone’s name from the computer and waits for a police car to come to the entrance.  When Thompson tells the policeman to shoot Jimmy, Jimmy shoots the policeman who in turn shoots Thompson.  Jimmy then steals the police car and escapes the drive in by jumping over the entrance.

Personal Commentary
In many ways Dead End Drive In is a film with grandiose ideas of social commentary that falls short on the big screen.  Several elements in the film are too blatantly introduced such as the widespread availability of drugs, junk food, and contraception.  Instead of making any intelligent commentary about youth culture this turns the youths into walking stereotypes.  The acting also contributed to this feeling.  Jimmy (Ned Manning) was a little too eager to bulk up and help his big brother and Carmen (Natalie McCurry) accepted their imprisonment at the drive in a little too quickly.  Thompson (Peter Whitford) was the exception to the rule, giving the impression of a man torn between his work and the friendship he formed with Jimmy.  Many problems arose from the scripting of the movie in order to make it a close adaptation of Peter Carey’s short story “Crabs” (Carroll 2001).  While it was a valiant effort paralleling the movie adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, it was ultimately a futile one.  The dialogue felt very forced and unnatural. 
However, when Dead End Drive In was looked at from the perspective of a science fiction B-movie it was a very rewarding experience.  The dystopian future that Australian films seem very fond of was prominent within the first ten minutes of the movie.  The cinematography was also very compelling with panoramic shots displaying the disorder at the drive in and the use of filters to add an almost Western quality at points.  The choreography of the chase scene and the subsequent final jump over the drive in was suspenseful and very well done.  In short, this is not a film for higher thought but it will always have a niche in the realm of cheesy science fiction.

Critical Uptake
The overall reviews for Dead End Drive In were mixed though they leaned primarily towards to the negative side.  Some critics applauded the film for its cinematic shots and social commentary.  They likened the film to that of A Clockwork Orange for its dystopian future and misguided youths.  Others felt it was simply a blatant Mad Max rip-off with little plot and poor acting.  There did seem to be a consensus on poor dialogue and scriptwriting on Peter Smalley’s part.  It is a relatively obscure film today; in a paper written by the Australian Film Commission concerning films since 1980 it was not mentioned once (AFC 1991).  However, it is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movies (Maddox 2003).

Circumstances of Production and Release / Box Office
Following the success of the adaptation of Peter Carey’s novel Bliss, Peter Smalley wrote a screenplay based off of Carey’s short story “Crabs” (Carroll 2001).   Shortly afterwards Dead End Drive In received funding from the NSW film corporation for production (Moran 2006, 132). Following its release the movie was removed from theaters around Australia after only two weeks.  This received criticism from Ned Manning over its distribution and in 1987 several of the actors met to promote the film (Hawker 1995, 189).  The film took in a reported $98,423 USD in the United States. 

Other Work by Cast/Crew:
Manning, Ned (Jimmy)
Manning has been acting in television since playing a character in The Restless Years (1977).  He had repeating characters in shows such as Prisoner (1981) and A Country Practice (1991, 1993).  He has appeared in movies such as Looking for Alibrandi (2000) where he played Mr. Coote. (  Manning is also a playwright with such credits as Us or Them, Close to the Bone, and Milo (A Talent for Writing 2005).

McCurry, Natalie (Carmen)
McCurry put her acting talents to work when she was Australia’s representative at the Miss Universe competition in 1989 (Cockington 1989).  She has also appeared in several television shows such as Danger Down Under (1988) and Twisted Tales (1996).  Her movie characters include Sally in Cassandra (1986), Alison Baume in Glass (1989), and Pearl’s Mum in Oyster Farmer (2004). (

Murphy, Paul (Director of Photography)
Murphy started out as a focus puller on films like In Search of Anna (1979).  He later became director of photography and his first film Bliss (1985) was very well received.  He went on to win an award for cinematography at Atlantic City for Under the Lighthouse Dancing (1997).  Other films include Dallas Doll (1994), Tunnel Vision (1995), and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers-The Movie (1995).  He now works on television and movie features in the United States (Muir 1999, 331-332).

Norris, Guy (Stunt Coordinator)
Norris was a stunt coordinator for The Road Warrior (1982), The Year My Voice Broke (1988), Day of the Panther (1988), The Blood of Heroes (1990), Quigley Down Under (1990),  Hurricane Smith (1992), Operation Dumbo Drop (1995), Red Planet, (2000) Moulin Rouge (2001), Bulletproof Monk (2003), and Stealth (2005).  He has also directed films such as Rage & Honor II: Hostile Takeover (1994) and Australia (2008) (

Smalley, Peter (Scriptwriter)
Before Dead End Drive In Smalley wrote a few episodes of Chopper Squad (1978-1979) and the film Emma’s War (1986) (  He has since written novels such as Barbary Coast and Port Royal.

Strangio, Frank (Music)
Strangio has also composed music for films such as Reunion (1998) and Legacy of the Silver Shadow-The Feral Element (2002). (

Trenchard-Smith, Brian (Director)
Well known for his action films, Trenchard has directed The Man from Hong Kong (1975), Deathcheaters (1976), Day of the Panther (1987) and Strike of the Panther (1987).  He also directed Turkey Shoot (1986) which was poorly received.  Other films include The Love Epidemic (1974), Frog Dreaming (1986), Jenny Kissed Me (1986), The Siege of Firebase Gloria (1988), Out of the Body (1988), and Official Denial (1993) (Mayer 1999, 505-506).

Whitford, Peter (Thompson)
Whitford started his acting career in television on shows like Cop Shop and The Sullivans.  He broke onto the big screen in 1979 as Uncle JJ in My Brilliant Career.  He is probably most famous for his portrayal of Uncle George in Careful He Might Hear You (1983).  Other films include With Prejudice (1982), Phar Lap (1983), Running from the Guns (1987), Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (1988), Strictly Ballroom (1992), and Oscar and Lucinda (1998) (McFarlane 1999, 536).

In the Context of Australian Film
     Dead End Drive In fits well into the genre of science fiction though there are several elements of other genres. In many ways it can be seen as a social problem film set in the future.  There is the subject of juvenile delinquents with the Karboys and society’s future solution to confine them at a drive in, which also brings up the subject of imprisonment.  There is the additional problem of racism with the introduction of Asians to their society.  The resulting xenophobia can be seen to mirror Australia’s own problems with immigration.  Moran and Vieth also imply that there are elements of a car movie in Dead End Drive In (2006, 132). Jimmy’s affinity for his brother’s car and his need to repair it support this assumption.  The manner in which it was revealed that his car was spray painted immediately after he was publically humiliated further stressed this connection.  Cars played an important role in the film by the very nature of its setting in a drive in.  They were homes for the youths and a means of escape for Jimmy.  There were several comedic aspects of the film as well, such as the poster for the impending movie Rambo Takes Russia.  Their futuristic clothing and accessorizing including the car parts incorporated into Carmen’s hairstyle can also be viewed as humorous. 
     Ultimately though, Dead End Drive In is a science fiction movie.  Its setting in the near future with the collapse of the stock market and rampant food shortages paints a grim picture of things to come.  And the idea of a menacing omnipresent government with its own agenda is a recurring theme in the genre.  The idea of a dystopian society is also a prevalent topic in science fiction.  This is especially true for Australian science fiction with the Mad Max trilogy.  It is Dead End Drive In’s ability to depict the unlikely scenario of a future where juveniles must be confined at a drive in to create a semblance of order in society that places it in the genre of science fiction.
      Many features of Dead End Drive In can be attributed to its Australian identity.  Jimmy’s close ties to his family and his desire to bulk up and become strong can be seen as Australian characteristics.  There were also elements that were typical of an Australian lifestyle like playing a game of cricket.  The dialogue was also distinctively Australian: there was a fair amount of swearing and Jimmy’s classic exclamation of “Beauty!” at the end of the film.  While these components contributed to the Australian feel of the film, they were easily accessible to a worldwide audience. 
     On an international scale today Dead End Drive In is rather obscure.  It has very little presence on the internet or in print and its DVD release was not well publicized.  What might have become a cult classic under other circumstances is now a relatively undiscovered gem in the realm of science fiction fandom.  In many ways this parallels Australia’s film presence on an international level.  Very few Australian films receive the attention they deserve on a worldwide scale due to a lack of publicity and distribution, but the extra effort it takes to discover them is often worthwhile.  In the case of Dead End Drive In, it is definitely worth another look.