Release Date(s)1986 (September 20, 2016)
Studio(s)New World Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
From the director of The Man from Hong Kong, Stunt Rock, and BMX Bandits, Brian Trenchard-Smith, comes Dead-End Drive-In, which was originally released in 1986. It’s an apocalyptic tale about a future society wherein many of the gangs and troublemakers are kept locked up in a local drive-in by the government. After taking his lady of the evening to a movie and accidentally being locked up inside, a strong-willed young man does whatever he can do to try and escape. A victim of obscurity with a very early cult film DVD release by Anchor Bay, Dead-End Drive-In has been languishing for years with no physical media release in print... until now.
Remembering it only from its VHS box art, I was under the impression that Dead-End Drive-In was a horror film in the vein of something like The Lost Boys or Nightbreed. The reality is that it’s more aligned with Repo Man and Mad Max in terms of look and feel. There’s plenty of on-screen world-building going on, as opposed to a lot of the other apocalyptic movies from the 80s that took place in the desert simply for budgetary reasons. It’s especially cool to watch all of the stunt performers do their thing here in a wonderfully-realized environment. Sadly, the movie tends to be dull in many places, particularly when the lead characters begin exploring the drive-in, meeting the different factions and understanding the way of life there. It’s essential establishment, but tends involve a lot of sitting around and talking, which is bad news in an action movie.
Arrow Video’s release of the film on Blu-ray features a new 2K restoration taken from the original 35mm camera negative. It’s an extremely organic-looking transfer with wonderful depth and clarity, solid grain levels, and striking detailing throughout. Colors are strong and really pop, including skin tones which look very accurate. Blacks are also deep with good shadow detailing, and both brightness and contrast levels are perfect. It’s a very clean transfer with few film artifacts leftover, although a couple of lines running through the frame can be spotted. The audio comes in a single option: English 2.0 LPCM. The track packs a punch with a strong stereo field, which the score, music, and sound effects benefit from greatly. There’s also some nice directionality and ambient activity. Dialogue is clear and precise. Optional subtitles are included in English SDH for those who might need them.
In the supplemental department, there’s an audio commentary with director Brian Trenchard-Smith; The Stuntmen documentary and the Hospitals Don’t Burn Down! short film, both directed by Trenchard-Smith; a behind-the-scenes still gallery by Vladimir Cherepanoff; the original theatrical trailer; and a 28-page insert booklet with essays on the film by Cullen Gallagher and Neil Mitchell, as well as an essay on the Hospitals Don’t Burn Down! short, also by Mitchell. The only thing missing from the out of print Anchor Bay DVD release is a poster and still gallery.
Oddly topical and filled with familiar 80s synth music, Dead-End Drive-In earns points for originality and some excellent action set pieces. It may not have the edge of something like The Road Warrior, but it has enough imagination and enthusiasm to (mostly) make up for its lack of a narrative heartbeat. Arrow Video’s presentation of the movie is pretty stellar, and definitely the way to experience it, whether you’re a fan or a newcomer.
- Tim Salmons