DIRECTED BY Brian Trenchard-Smith
RUN TIME 93 min.
STARRING: Steve Railsback (Paul Anders), Olivia Hussey (Chris Walters), Michael Craig (Charles Thatcher), Roger Ward (Chief Guard Ritter), Lynda Stoner (Rita Daniels)
While the 2008 Ozploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood was responsible for the rediscovery and re-evaluation of any number of great Australian films and directors, when the credits rolled I was left with only one thought: I simply had to see Brian Trenchard-Smith’s 1982 sci-fi thriller Turkey Shoot (aka Escape 2000, aka – and this is my favourite – Blood Camp Thatcher). The brief clips showed a cacophony of gore and weirdness, and even briefly reading about the outcry it created upon its release got my Grindhouse-senses tingling. A batshit insane mashup of The Great Escape/1984 and The Most Dangerous Game with wildly over-the-top performances and extreme violence – what more could a person want?
And the actual film delivers exactly as promised, with smatterings of bad taste and gore mixing with some truly bizarre genre trappings and a surprisingly capable cast, but it’s also obviously handicapped by a budget that was severely slashed immediately before filming. While Trenchard-Smith – no stranger to stretching a dollar – does what he can with the reduced shooting schedule and pyrotechnics, we end up with a film that never quite reaches its potential, though has an awful lot of fun trying. Despite some rather heavy-handed political commentary (comparing Margaret Thatcher’s England to a fascistic dictatorship was a bit on the nose even at the time), and a slow build, there’s a sense of abandon on display that can’t help but be enthusiastic. Once the weird wolfman creature shows up, you know you’re in very capable hands.
It’s a fascistic future Australia, and our leads are being shipped off to a prison camp for various infractions seen as against the government. Paul Anders (The Stunt Man’s Steve Railsback) is a Steve McQueen-type expert at breaking out of prisons, and spends his outside time rallying support against the state, while Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey from Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, whose topless scene in that film has irritated high school English teachers ever since) is our token innocent victim. The camp is run by the sadistic Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig), who not only likes to burn attempted escapees alive, but also gets together with his rich buddies to hunt them for sport! Thatcher is assisted admirably by the massive Chief Guard Ritter (an appropriately deviant Roger Ward), who takes great fun in testing the prisoners loyalty – most notably in a scene where he shadow-boxes a diminutive girl as she recites the camp’s motto – Freedom is obedience/Obedience is work/Work is life – before tossing her around like a rag-doll.
Of course Anders and Walters are chosen for the hunt, and this is where things start to pick up steam. Each of the hunters have their own armament – for instance, Tito (Michael Petrovich with a Diabolik haircut) has an all-terrain-vehicle, a bazooka, and a mutant werewolf creature – while the prisoners get nothing but a head start. We get our fair share of exploding arrows, guerrilla warfare, hand-chopping, body burning, and hundreds of squibs before the action ends up back at the camp for an appropriately explosive finale. The reduced budget obviously went into these final twenty minutes, which was a good decision after the necessarily gradual build. And you needn’t wonder if Thatcher gets a bloody comeuppance – he does, and it’s glorious.
Trenchard-Smith obviously takes great joy in these sorts of genre mash-ups, and while I would have loved to see what he could have done with his original plan, he keeps the action moving and has the good sense to let his performers have a bit of slack for appropriate scenery chewing. I do wish we had gotten a bit more insight into the futuristic society itself – the dialogue we get only hints at exactly how screwed up the outside world has become – but there’s blood to be shed and trees to be demolished, and only ninety minutes to get it all done.
I do want to mention the odd musical score by Brian May (not *that* Brian May) which attempts for some futuristic sounding synth, but ends up sounding hopelessly dated and terrible. When it wasn’t reminding me of the soundtrack to the Canadian classic Strange Brew (1983), it was distractingly horrid.
“Excess is what makes life worth living”, states one of the antagonists in Turkey Shoot, and it’s also what makes even Brian Trenchard-Smith’s lesser films worthwhile. While not the lost classic that its memorable appearance in Not Quite Hollywood would imply, it still features plenty of slam-bang action and a lot of pulp fun for fans of exploitation and oddness.
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