One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
Saturday, April 02, 2011
CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Turkey Shoot (1981)
A wicked blast of unadulterated exploitation film making, the Australian 1981 flick Turkey Shoot saw release in the United States in 1983 as Escape 2000.
But no matter the title the movie travels under, Turkey Shoot remains a high-energy and gonzo roller-coaster ride. If it isn't exactly quality entertainment (and it isn't), Turkey Shoot nonetheless remains that cherished brand of movie you can't take your eyes off of, for fear of missing the next over-the-top, bad taste moment.
Directed capably by Brian Trenchard-Smith, Turkey Shoot stars Steve Railsback and Olivia Hussey as death camp denizens dwelling in a futuristic, fascist version of Australia. Over the opening credits, the film utilizes stock footage of urban riots, looting, and protests (in split-screen, no less) to transmit the idea of a Nazi-like take-over of Down Under. Turkey Shoot is thus a dystopian film about a modern totalitarian state, one replete with intense surveillance, plus "re-education" and "behavior modification" for those who don't conform to society.
The last half of the film involves the titular turkey shoot as a death camp warden -- named after a certain former British prime minister --- and several Nazi-like VIPs hunt down the film's imperiled heroes in the wild. As the hunt ensues, no sensibilities are spared, and the film lovingly showcases intense gore and violence, all with tongue-planted firmly in cheek.
The first act of Turkey Shoot, a cavalcade of human rights indignities set inside the death camp, is actually far superior to the film's last half involving the hunt, and it lovingly layers outrage upon outrage. In short, the events at the death camp successfully capture the attention (and blood lust) as "deviants" and "traitors" attempt to steer clear of the sadistic guards and their cretinous ilk.
Though splendidly and colorfully photographed, the last half of the film settles into a more repetitive action groove, and except for the high impact moments of gory violence, fails to live up to Turkey Shoot's intriguing premise. The movie even cops out with an unbelievable, happy ending (and a pro-revolution quotation from H.G. Wells), although it is clear from the action involved that the dissidents would not survive the day in this particular culture
"The Ultimate Solution: Kill them all!"
As Turkey Shoot begins, the film cuts to a black van as it pulls into Death Camp 47, and leaves behind three new arrivals.
First there's Paul (Railsback), a freedom radio talker who believes that "we have the right to be ourselves."
Then there's lovely Rita Daniels (Lynda Stoner), who stands accused of being a "whore."
And finally, we meet the demure Christie Walters (Hussey), arrested after a misunderstanding with an officer in a jewelry store. We understand quickly that Chris will have to toughen up if she is to endure life in the camp, and Rita gives her this exact advice.
Soon, Campmaster Thatcher (Michael Craig) greets the new inmates and relates to them the rules and mottos of this "Great Society:"
"Freedom is obedience," he insists, "Obedience is work. And work is life."
It is Thatcher's job to make certain of the imprisoned denizens' "unquestioning acceptance of every order given by the State." He will stop at nothing to break his wards, and return to them to the Great Society as model citizens.
After a scene set in the co-ed showers (ahem.), and then the near-rape of Chris, Thatcher asks his very important camp guests, the effete Mallory (Noel Ferrier), the Alexis-Carrington look-alike and dress-alike, Jennifer (Carmen Duncan), and the sadistic Tito (Michael Petrovitch) to choose their quarry for the upcoming turkey shoot. Mallory chooses Chris; Jennifer chooses Rita; Tito chooses a rat-like inmate, Dodge (John Ley) and Thatcher selects his two most worrisome inmates, the hulking Griff (Bill Young) and the unbreakable Paul.
One at a time, the selected inmates are let loose into the wild, and then pursued, relentlessly, by their personal hunters. In the end, the hunt goes awry, and one hunter and several guards are killed. Paul and Chris take over a hunting vehicle and return to Camp 47 to free the inmates.
Little do they know that the Australian Air Force has orders to destroy the entire Camp should it fall into enemy hands...
'Disobedience is treason, treason is a crime, crime will be punished!'
Turkey Shoot isn't exactly a serious, artistic statement about how it feels to live in a neo-Nazi-styled totalitarian state. Rather, the film is about grossing out and debauching the audience as much as possible via a series of bloody confrontations and violent set-pieces.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, really.
Accordingly then, Turkey Shoot's villains are all played as hissable, two-dimensional Nazi movie stereotypes: as elitist, scoffing murderers who take extreme joy in lording it over and humiliating other human beings. One inventive, if horrible scene involves the giant prison guards using an inmate and two tanks of gasoline for an impromptu game of soccer.
In short order the film also nearly forces fellatio upon poor Hussey's character, then sees her almost raped by a vicious guard...until she angrily zips up his manhood in his pants zipper.
After these egregious and unsavory moments, the film inexplicably introduces a WTF character named Alph (Steve Rackman), a mentally-impaired, inhuman monster who looks like the unholy love child of Mr. Hyde and Dr. Moreau's humanimals and who obeys all of Tito's commands without question.
Now remember, this is supposed to be a dystopian film about a fascist Australia and a "most dangerous game"-style hunt, not a strange fantasy featuring mutants and other fanciful creatures. But whatever, the monstrous, hirsute Alph shows up on the scene and, eventually, gets bisected by a bulldozer bucket (but not before he dines on one of Dodge's amputated toes).
The hits just keep on coming in Turkey Shoot as Chris slices off a guard's hands with a machete, and Paul shoots one of the evil hunters in the testicle before leaving him to be burned alive in a rural field.
Finally, in perhaps the film's most surprising and nutty moment, we get to Jennifer, a hunter who prefers to use explosive bows and arrows in her games. Jennifer attacks Rita as the beautiful inmate is frolicking in a river, and then reveals her true nature. Jennifer is not just a sadistic hunter, you see...but a sadistic lesbian hunter! She rolls her tongue promisingly at Rita, and then the movie cuts to quickly another scene.
Again and again, Turkey Shoot goes boldly for broke, makes distinctly odd creative choices, and proves itself absolutely entertaining in a very lowbrow kind of way. The film really falters in that last act, however. There is a scene of impressive, all-out warfare at the camp, with explosions popping every minute. But then the planes are scrambled, and you expect the film to have a dark ending, in keeping with its premise and execution.
But nope, the planes depart, the prisoners are freed, and Railsback and Hussey share a sentimental hug, and then a climactic freeze frame, to the above-mentioned Wells quote. How long, after that valedictory freeze-frame, one wonders, will the rebels survive? It's a cheesy and dishonest ending to an otherwise very droll, very wicked, very bloody exploitation piece.
But for the first half of the film, Turkey Shoot doesn't hit a single wrong, or tasteful note. The dialogue is sharp, and occasionally laugh-out loud funny. For instance, one Nazi villain observes that watching the Camp surveillance monitors "beats the hell out of network television."
Another comment by these happy fascists also bears repeating: "Excess is what makes life worth living."
I'd amend that quote only slightly in assessing Turkey Shoot. "Excessive movies also (and only sometimes) make life worth living."