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Junkfood Cinema: Turkey Shoot

By  · Published on November 27th, 2009

Editor’s Note: We hope you enjoy this new Friday afternoon column, Junkfood Cinema, by Brian Salisbury. It celebrates movies that are so bad, even though they are also sometimes so good. For more (coming each and every Friday), stay tuned to the Junkfood Cinema Archive. Also, please feel free to let us know what you think of this new weekly feature in the comment section below.

As you box up the turkey bits and safely stow the stuffing, here’s hoping your Thanksgiving was a happy one. While the official herald of the holiday season has ended, here at Junkfood Cinema it’s always turkey day. And if there’s one thing I can get never get enough of, it’s bad movies. So wipe the gravy out of your beard, loosen that belt a notch or two, and head out to your local videostore to pick up this week’s film.

If you haven’t seen the sensational documentary Not Quite Hollywood, about the exploitation cinema of Australia from the early 60’s to the 90’s, go out and rent it right the hell meow! I defy you to find another film that inspires an equally insatiable passion for film. I thought I had a decent grasp on obscure cinema until Not Quite Hollywood unearthed a whole new crop of titles of whose existence I had no absolutely no awareness. Among the many, many titles I have since sought out, one name that kept coming up was Brian Trenchard-Smith. This Australian writer/director was responsible for more films discussed in the documentary than any other. The subject matter of his films, and the minuscule budgets under which he tended to operate, gave birth to some of the most explosive exploitation the land down under had ever known. So in honor of Mr. Trenchard-Smith, and this marvelously glutinous holiday, I found only appropriate to sink my teeth into his 1982 crapsterpiece Escape 2000 (a.k.a Turkey Shoot).

The plot of Turkey Shoot (I am officially snubbing the American re-release title) is something quite ambitious. Basically Australia, in the distant future of 1995, has fallen under the rule of a totalitarian regime. This regime quickly establishes a class system that puts the most influential citizens in complete control and anyone who disagrees with the new order is declared a deviant and remanded to a reeducation camp. These are basically labor camps were the value of human life is reduced to something akin to that of insects. One such camp is run by a contentious arsehole by the name of Thatcher who employs some of the most evil guards in the land. Thatcher becomes very pleased when one of the biggest political dissidents in Australia, Paul Anders, is captured and shipped to his camp. Anders runs a pirate radio station designed to inspire revolution and has either escaped or orchestrated a bogus release from several of the neighboring camps. What is to be done with this malcontent? Thatcher devices a plan involving a hunt that he will host for some of the creme de la creme of the upper echelon. The prey? Five of the reeducation camp’s inmates; Anders included. If they survive, they earn their freedom.

What Makes It Bad?

This brand of filmmaking is not called Ozploitation because it demonstrates the highest marks of quality. No, these were films cranked out at a frantic pace with budgets that wouldn’t pay for the crafts service table on most films today. These were movies that were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to put asses in seats and cars in the drive-ins. The shortcomings of Turkey Shoot are visible from space. The acting is mostly stale, the writing is decidedly silly, and the characters are so over-the-top that it defies the ambitious, weighty subject matter. Let me narrow this down a bit.

The head guard looks like a circus strongman mated with the WWF’s Iron Sheik and got a job within the Australian political infrastructure. He is menacing in certain scenes, but in others he is so incredibly goofball that it is hard not to giggle. Steve Railsback, Anders, makes some of the weirdest acting choices I have ever seen. He takes on the mantle of the brave revolutionary one minute and that of the wormy heel character (already occupied in this film by John Ley) the next. He is hopelessly erratic and it becomes hard to buy him as a hero. Also, his face is completely emotionless. I’m not sure if Railsback had a multitude of cosmetic surgeries prior to filming, but the only expression he manages to muster is that of someone staring into the sun.

The music is quite awful in Turkey Shoot. I completely understand the reliance on the synthesizer as it is the freaking 1980’s, but there are moments where it sounds like the composer is just randomly poking notes under different sound settings on the Casio just to hear the result. The especially prodding notes are so disjointed and moronic as to create the illusion that this particular reeducation camp resides next door to Pee-Wee’s playhouse. I’m typically an 80’s apologist, but at certain point I feel you have to put down the key-tar and try something else.

There is a goddamn werewolf in the film! I wish I were kidding about this because it makes absolutely no sense at all. Though this movie does take place in a dystopian future, there is nothing supernatural about it. So when the day of the hunt arrives and one of the participants reveals his secret weapon to be a half-human-half-wolf partner, I expected some kind of explanation about genetic engineering or nuclear waste mismanagement. Nope! We get nothing, absolutely no reasoning as to the werewolf’s existence. I’m not saying I need a John Landis origin story for the creature, but maybe one throw away line of dialogue would have been nice. It is one of the more ridiculous/remarkable elements of the film.

Why I Love It!

I absolutely love that Trenchard-Smith (and the writers of course) set out to make a dystopian film with all the commercial trimmings that defined Ozploitation. While the script is a teensy bit less probing of the sociological paradoxes addressed in, say, 1984, it compensates for that with a goodly serving of nudity and dismemberment. This is an insanely entertaining rehashing of the humans hunting humans concept first seen in the likes of The Most Dangerous Game. Not to be outdone by other “future gone haywire” films like THX 1138 or Logan’s Run, we still get the requisite jumpsuits and suppression of freedom in the name of order. But Turkey Shootups the ante on this now established convention by adding ravenous lesbian hunters and exploding heads to the equation. My favorite part of the ruse that this is a legitimate dystopian film is the mantra of the camp that reads:

Freedom is obedience

Obedience is work

Work is Life

Sounds prophetic right? Except that it doesn’t make any flipping sense whatsoever! But again, good on the Aussies for taking a clear-cut actioner and giving it a misguided dash of imitation subtext.

Turkey Shoot, and the rampant violence it employs, provides for plenty of WTF moments on which to snack. For example, the aforementioned werewolf eats an inmate’s toe to slow his pace. And it’s not just that he consumes the toe, but furthermore he severs the digit with his bare hands before happily feasting. But the werewolf (again stymied as to the presence of the werewolf) suffers a much more gruesome fate when his master’s hunting vehicle, a strange hybrid of a golf cart and a bulldozer, pins him to a tree and divides him laterally. Super bloody and amazing. Finally let us not forget the character who is blown to little fleshy bits by a carnivorous machine gun. Awesome!

I’m a gore hound; openly admit it. But when I am watching Truffaut’s adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 or reading Huxley’s immortal Brave New WorldI subdue my bloodlust in the name of high art. My posturing is ultimately rewarded with a film like this that also presents a dystopian future while not skimping on the tits, guns, and severe beatings. Equally important to the advancement of the human condition!

Junkfood Pairing

Ok, this one is going to be very difficult to obtain. Apparently Lay’s makes a turkey-flavored brand of potato chips that are only available in Japan. Why the Japanese have the market cornered on bizarre junkfood, I will never know. On this post-Thanksgiving weekend, as you ponder whether or not you’ve ingested enough of the ceremonial bird, consider making a very unusual internet purchase and give yourself an alternative to cold, leftover turkey sandwiches. Turkey chips, for Turkey Shoot, just after turkey day? Perfection.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.