In the near future (the 1990s!) economic and environmental disasters have reduced society to chaos.
To combat looting and marauding ‘car boys’, the authorities convert the Star Drive-in cinema into a jail for unemployed young people. Captives are given action movies to watch and junk food to live on.
Jimmy ‘Crabs’ Rossini (Ned Manning), a naïve young delivery driver, takes his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to the Star, unaware it has become a detention centre. Crabs is told by the Star’s manager, Thompson (Peter Whitford), that he will remain there until the government decides what to do.
Crabs and the rest of the detainees at the Star Drive-in live in a dysfunctional world created by the greed and immorality of the older, ruling generation. When institutions such as the police are brazenly corrupt, why wouldn’t young men become car boys and scrounge violently for whatever they can get?
Once herded into the makeshift prison these rejects create a society that hardly seems much worse than what’s on the other side of the electrified fence.
For many of the residents, including chief thugs Frank and Hazza, it’s even better, with a non-stop diet of junk food supplied and drugs readily available.
Crabs, on the other hand, is cut from vastly different cloth. Very well performed by Ned Manning in his only leading role, he is the classic unbreakable prisoner whose need to bust out of confinement surpasses all other considerations, including romance.
Pointedly, he’s also the only one who doesn’t show fear and hatred when Asians are dumped at the Star.
This Australian satirical futuristic action film is derived from Peter Carey’s short story Crabs (from The Fat Man in History) and takes place in a brink-of-apocalypse world similar to Mad Max (1979). It borrows broad elements from the John Carpenter hit Escape from New York (1981), in which the island of Manhattan is turned into a maximum security prison.
Almost instantly dated by a soundtrack with too many cheesy Aussie synthesiser pop tunes, Dead End Drive-in did not fare well at the domestic box office, a sign that local audiences still largely believed that Americans did this sort of thing better.
But like many Australian action films of the 1970s and 80s, it has developed a strong cult following over the years and was highly praised by Quentin Tarantino in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood (2008).
Of all the Australian films that attempted to do something interesting in the future-shock arena opened up by Mad Max (1979), Dead End Drive-in ranks as one of the very best efforts.
Located in Wassell St, the Matraville Drive-in in Sydney’s south-east was demolished soon after it was used for this film. Medium-density public housing now stands in its place.
Jimmy ‘Crabs’ Rossini
Margi Di Ferranti