Why Is Brian Trenchard-Smith a Genius? Exhibit A: TURKEY SHOOT (UPDATED WITH BLU-RAY REVIEW)

turkeyshoot1

Ever since I first saw the awesome 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood I have been on an Ozploitation (exploitation cinema made in Australia) bender, snapping up whatever tarnished gems from the land of kangaroos and Yahoo Serious I could find. One title that kept rearing its ugly head was Brian Trenchard-Smith‘s futuristic slaughterama Turkey Shoot (a.k.a. Escape 2000) and upon viewing it for the first time I was pleased to discover that several of the bloodiest shots from the Not Quite Hollywood trailer came directly from this lurid little flick. Of course you’re reading this because you want to know what I think of the entire film and not just the plentiful gore gags on display. Am I right?

In past reviews I have thrown around the expression “guilty pleasure” when referring to movies that you would think have no right to be enjoyed by anyone and yet they are. But upon reflection I have decided that I will no longer use that phrase because I have had an epiphany. Why should we feel any guilt about loving a certain kind of movie? The answer is, we shouldn’t.

In fact we shouldn’t feel guilt in taking pleasure in things that may not be every one’s cup of tea because they don’t cause harm to anyone around us, unless you have a loved one who isn’t exactly hip to the idea of you smoking weed while listening to Bananarama, reading The Celestine Prophecy, and watching Krull for the tenth time in a week. Now there are some things that if you take pleasure in them then you should most definitely feel guilt and nothing but guilt: smoking crack, beating your kids, molesting farm animals, stealing nuclear weapons, and enjoying the comedy stylings of Paul Reiser. A movie like Turkey Shoot is designed to bring you pleasure by any means necessary. Think of it as a hooker with a heart of gold; even if you end up not liking Turkey Shoot, Turkey Shoot will always love you very much.

turkeyshoot2

The year is 1995 so already the movie is horribly dated. A fascist government has taken over Australia and made dissent into the highest of crimes. Anyone who defies the tyrannical regime in any way is shipped off to “reeducation camps” where a program of harsh and brutal punishment will break them and reform them into good, obedient citizens. The latest to get captured are dissident radio disc jockey Paul Anders (Steve Railsback), unfortunate bystander Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey), and world-weary prostitute Rita Daniels (Lynda Stoner). The camp they find themselves at is ruled by the tough Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig) and Thatcher intends to make an example out of the troublesome Anders who has escaped from several camps in the past. The camp guards led by the sadistic Ritter (Roger Ward) and Red (Gus Mercurio) immediately single out Chris for so unwarranted sexual pleasure so the more seasoned Paul and Rita each go against their better judgement and rise to become her protectors.

turkeyshoot3

Meanwhile Thatcher is organizing a “turkey shoot” for his wealthy benefactors in the government. This is where the totalitarian fatcats get their jollies by hunting humans for sport. Paul, Chris, and Rita are given the opportunity to participate in the hunt in exchange for a possible early release. Joining them are slimy camp snitch Dodge (John Ley). Among the hunters our protagonists will be facing are the vicious, crossbow-wielding Jennifer (Carmen Duncan). Another has a particularly nasty weapon at his disposal: a snarling mutant in a top hat named Alph (Steve Rackman) who is tough in a fight and loves to snack on little toes. Let loose into the jungle, the four prisoners must run for their lives before they’re hunted down and cut down like animals by a bunch of rich sadists.

I had an incredible great time watching Turkey Shoot. It’s not the greatest movie in the world but that matters little when you’re having fun. During the summer of 2008 I saw another long-forgotten classic of balls-out exploitation that I had the same feelings about, Enzo Castellari’s Inglorious Bastards. Not all movies are going to be the greatest art in the universe. Some movies are paintings of the Last Supper or Jackson Pollack originals, but movies like Turkey Shoot and Savage Streets are like aged and worn obscure comic books from the 1970’s like Marvel’s Master of Kung-Fu and ROM the Space-Knight or used paperbacks of Mickey Spillane crime novels with naked women on the front covers. They make you smile and take your mind off your problems for a few hours. These are kids movies for grown-ups. That’s why we will always love them.

turkeyshoot5

It must have been a thrill to see Turkey Shoot on the big screen back in the day. They truly don’t make movies like this anymore, and if they do it’s as rare an occasion as seeing a lunar eclipse or a Jennifer Aniston flick that doesn’t completely blow. Hollywood still pumps out exploitation flicks by the truckful but since they cast major movie stars and spend untold millions of dollars on above and below-the-line production costs they consider them “real” movies that make “real” money.

They spent over $200 million on The Dark Knight Rises. You know how much director Brian Trenchard-Smith had to make Turkey Shoot with? Barely $2 million. Take into account that he had no real stars and he couldn’t afford state-of-the-art visual effects so he sent his actors off into the wilds of Australia to be hunted by other actors carrying weapons loaded with live ammunition (or so the stories I’ve heard go). You will never hear of that kind of risk on a movie set in this day and age, that kind of improvisational daring that filmmakers in this day and age have pussed out on.

What puzzles me the most about Turkey Shoot‘s enduring legacy is how its creators and stars often view it as the biggest turd ever shat onto celluloid and how they constantly bemoan having to cut the first fifteen pages of the script prior to filming. Apparently those missing pages were to establish the Orwellian society the film took place in and could have made Turkey Shoot a masterpiece of cinema instead of just a mere drive-in action flick. I beg to differ people. I have seen many movies in my life and I can think of many that aren’t half the film this is. Plus whatever intentions Trenchard-Smith and company had for those precious fifteen pages I doubt they could have made the film any better. Sometimes a little riot footage (like what plays under the movie’s opening credits) and shots of secret policemen hauling people off the streets and into Guantanamo-type prison camps are enough to get the job done.

Even the director admits that the brief flashback scenes intersped throughout Turkey Shoot‘s opening minutes establishing the Paul and Chris characters were the only scenes from the treasured lost pages he could afford to shoot. And you know what? They work just fine. Besides when you’re making a movie about prisoners in a futuristic fascist society being hunted for sport with tons of gory violence and gratuitous nudity thrown into the mix it’s best not to have delusions of grandeur. This ain’t No Country for Old Men you know. The producer is motherfuckin’ Antony I. Ginnane, the land down under’s answer to Roger Corman.

turkeyshoot6

Embassy Home Entertainment VHS cover art

So now that my rant is done I will get to what I love about this mad fucking flick. In short, just about everything. Brian Trenchard-Smith keeps the flick moving at a nuclear-powered pace from the beginning with some great action scenes. Turkey Shoot has garnered a reputation for being a relentless gorefest but the majority of the hardcore bloodshed takes place towards the end and it’s no more extreme than what can found is most hard-R movies released these days but it still adds to the overall experience.

You may recognize the name Brian May, and by that I don’t mean the legendary axe man for Queen but rather the great Australian film composer whose name can found in the credits for practically every great movie that came out of that country since the late 1970’s. He even scored a few American films such as Cloak & Dagger (directed by the late, wonderful Australian filmmaker Richard Franklin, a longtime collaborator of May’s) and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. If you have sharp hearing you may be able to make out a few of the orchestral motifs he originally employed for the first two Mad Max films he scored. May’s a legend and his musical scores bring that extra amount of kick-ass to the greatness that is Turkey Shoot. The composer died of a heart attack in 1997 three months shy of his 63rd birthday. His legacy will forever endure in the hearts of film and music fans everywhere.

Steve Railsback has always been one of my favorite overlooked actors. The man’s not a genius but he always gets to play the most unhinged characters…even when he’s cast as the hero! He’s best known for playing Charles Manson in the 1976 TV miniseries Helter Skelter but personally my favorite performance of Railsback’s was as Cameron in Richard Rush’s massively underrated The Stunt Man. I guess Railsback’s constantly bubbling intensity is what keeps him from getting the really good parts but he is one of the B-movies greatest acting talents. He’s on top form as the rebel Paul, the one who can’t be broken by any man or law. He makes for a likable hero.

Michael Craig is a magnificent villain as the cruel and effete camp commander. The fact that his last name is Thatcher is a sly rip on the then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. If you know your history you’ll find that reference appropriate. The Thatcher of Turkey Shoot is a bastard so cold-blooded Rick James (Bitch!) probably wrote that song about him. Roger Ward, that mighty and very bald Aussie king of men, was best known at the time he made this movie for playing Mel Gibson’s bald and manly boss in the original Mad Max. Here he plays Ritter, the head of Thatcher’s malicious prison guards. Ritter is a tough and ornery son of a bitch who loves his job a little too much and I can’t think of anyone better than Ward to play this bastard.

turkeyshoot7

The rest of the cast is pretty much a draw. Poor Olivia Hussey. This gifted actress with regal beauty has shined in the past in films like Romeo & Juliet and the original Black Christmas. In Turkey Shoot she just looks lost and frightened for her very life. No surprise if you watch the documentary on the Anchor Bay DVD and notice how all the cast members interviewed pretty much verified that Hussey was scared out of her wits being in Australia. Some of that fear would have been good for her performance, but unfortunately it all gets wasted and as a result Hussey is far from her best here. At least the other actresses in the film, Lynda Stoner and Carmen Duncan (both real Aussies tried and true), perform their hearts out and look like they’re having a ball. Gus Mercurio just oozes sleaze as the wormy guard Red. He’s a prick you know is going to get his and get it good and you really enjoy watching it happen. John Dey, like Ward a veteran of Mad Max, is another good slimeball playing geeky prisoner Dodge.

turkeyshoot4

But I have to mention the extraordinary job done by Steve Rackman as the Island of Dr. Moreau (not the good version) reject Alph. When this grand beast is first seen in the film he’s taking his top hat off to the camera. Now’s that a great goddamn entrance if ever there was one!

If you love great crazy exploitation flicks that actually deliver on their promise and then some then you owe it to yourself to discover Turkey Shoot for yourself.

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 10/6/2015

Once again, those beautiful bastards at Severin Films have answered my prayers. Long one of the most-desired movies on my Blu-ray wish list, Turkey Shoot has recently made its debut in high-definition on a superb Region A disc packing a near-pristine 1080p transfer of the main feature sourced from the original uncut vault negative and tons of worthwhile supplements. The flick looks absolutely fantastic in HD, with a modicum of grain and no visible print damage to go along with the improved visual details and sharp colors.

Most of the extra features have not been produced exclusively for this Blu-ray, and with one exception they are in fact ported over from various DVD releases of Turkey Shoot from around the world. The only bonuses that the other editions don’t have are “The Ozploitation Renaissance” (a 26-minute round table discussion of the Australian film industry in the 70’s and 80’s featuring Trenchard-Smith, Ginnane, and cinematographer Vincent Monton) and over 70 minutes of extended interviews with the director, producer, and cast of the film from the cutting room floor of Mark Hartley’s essential Ozploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood (which I already name-checked in the first paragraph of this review). Severin’s Blu-ray of the Aussie chiller Patrick also featured a sizable amount of interview footage that was originally shot for Not Quite Hollywood, and I wonder if there are hours of additional outtakes from the Hartley doc in Severin’s possession that they plan on releasing on future Ozploitation Blus. A man can dream….and hope.

The rest of the extras were mostly taken from Anchor Bay’s Escape 2000 DVD, including a commentary with Trenchard-Smith and a retrospective featurette with cast and crew interviews. There’s also an additional interview with the director, the original theatrical trailer, and the alternate Escape 2000 opening title sequence from the U.S. theatrical and home video release.

My only problem with the supplements is the repetitive nature of the set. Some of the behind-the-scenes observations and info Trenchard-Smith imparts on his excellent commentary track is discussed in detail in his solo interviews, and if you watch the extended interviews from Not Quite Hollywood then the Anchor Bay DVD featurette will seem redundant. I also take umbrage with the cast and crew constantly trashing Turkey Shoot in their interviews rather than rejoicing in the fact that it has a cult following and audiences really seem to dig its depraved delights. To this day those people are still convinced they had the chance to make high art rather than a sordid exploitation flick. Give me a goddamn break.

In any case, I’m happy as a clam with ten dicks that Turkey Shoot is finally available on Blu-ray for all us dedicated fans of high-definition schlock to enjoy.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: