Turkey Shoot (1982)
Studio: Severin Films
Release date: September 22nd, 2015
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Generally speaking, Australian filmmakers don’t portray their homeland in the most flattering manner—and that’s just when they’re portraying contemporary Australia, which often resembles a primitive, backwards hellscape. So you can imagine, then, how bleak it must seem Brian Trenchard-Smith envisioned the Outback’s dystopian future in Turkey Shoot, an Ozploitation riff on 70s doom-mongering by way of a rough-and-tumble update of “The Most Dangerous Game.” I don’t know if you really need to hear anything more than that, but let me assure you that Turkey Shoot mostly lives up to its potential.
The early-going presents a muted, almost deceptively standard fare dystopian scenario: in the not-so-distant-totalitarian future, reeducation camps house “social deviants” in need of reform. Phrases extolling the virtue of hard work and conformity hang in the air, and the threat of physical punishment looms even heavier for those who still refuse to comply. Among the latest group to arrive are Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey), Rita Daniels (Lynda Stoner), and Paul Anders (Steve Railsback), a trio that has an especially difficult time readjusting. Unlike many of their fellow prisoners, they can’t fathom falling in line—even after seeing one of their own set on fire for his insolence. When they’re granted the opportunity to be let loose as part of a human “turkey shoot”—wherein other elites will hunt them like wild animals—they jump at the opportunity, even though they don’t truly believe they’ll be set free if they manage to survive.
For a while, Turkey Shoot feels like the best John Carpenter movie to be actually directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith: Brian May’s moody synth accents widescreen images of harsh, foreboding landscapes. A sense of righteous anger is palatable but simmers just below the surface as Smith subjects audiences to a horrifying vision of a fascist future not terribly far removed from the Neocon wave washing over the globe at the time (the main villain’s name is “Thatcher,” natch*). Hypocrisy particularly reigns supreme, as a corrupt power elite looks to purge depravity from the ranks of lower classes while indulging in its own vices, be it torture or rape. While familiar and obvious in its musings, Turkey Shoot is genuinely disturbing in its frankness: despite its deceptive polish, this is an ugly film peering into the most unseemly corners of mankind’s dark heart.
But just when Turkey Shoot threatens to be about something, Smith plunges headlong into exploitation; once the film becomes less like THX-1138 by way of a Naziploitation film and more like an ultraviolent take on “The Most Dangerous Game,” it feels more preoccupied with its trashy, schlocky thrills. By the time our group is hunted by an eccentric pack of hunters (complete with a bizarre, inexplicable werewolf assistant), Turkey Shoot abandons all pretense of the arthouse and embraces the grimy, gory grindhouse in spectacular fashion. You go from being horrified at Hussey’s inhumane treatment at the hands of the brutish guards to marveling at various cast members losing assorted limbs.
Obviously, there’s some tonal whiplash at play here, but a bumpy ride is almost expected along the rugged Outback. This particular one begins to feel like someone’s strapped you to a dune buggy and attached the rocket to the back, especially once the tables begin to turn and the hunters become the hunted. It’s a shift that comes with little insight about the human condition: it’s not particularly disturbing when the survivors begin to resort to bloodshed to survive as much as it’s a rousing collection of hacked appendages and explosions. As thoughtful as the film seems to be at first, it’s at least as equally unconcerned with anything beyond trash movie thrills by the end. The heroes are stock action movie types, the villains are broadly-played, outlandish caricatures, and the violence is plentiful and even shocking: more than once I found myself surprised by how ruthless Smith is with dispensing cast members.
You almost have to wonder if the film’s shortened shooting schedule (filming was slashed from 44 days down to 28) didn’t inform the roughshod, devil-may-care approach of Turkey Shoot, which unravels in spectacular fashion. What begins as a relatively restrained and prescient look into fascism quickly degenerates into the sort of film that leaves you wondering when you’re finally going to see those explosive-tipped arrows finally be put to use (spoiler: it does happen, and it’s as ridiculously satisfying as you might imagine). Smith—especially during his prime, where Turkey Shoot undoubtedly falls—a reliable genre hand when it comes to delivering over-the-top insanity with few pretenses. Even though Turkey Shoot feigns at some with its thinly-veiled satire, the veil is eventually left tattered, shredded, and obliterated by bullets and napalm.
*Naturally, this led to the film being titled Blood Camp Thatcher in some markets that apparently required even less subtlety.
Severin Films must be commended for putting its money where its mouth is. For the past couple of years, they’ve gone all-in with Ozploitation: not only did they release an Aussie-themed trailer reel, but they’ve also curated excellent editions for the likes of Patrick, Dead Kids, and Thirst. Turkey Shoot, however, is quite a coup considering its lone Region 1 DVD release has been out-of-print for years, leaving many of us (including yours truly) out in the cold and desperately wanting to partake in its lunacy after catching a glimpse during the aforementioned trailer compilation. The recently-released Blu-ray edition does not disappoint, as the film is restored with a 1080p transfer and a DTS-MA 2.0 track.
Plenty of supplements fill out the disc as well, including a commentary from Smith, plus interviews with the rest of the cast and crew culled from Not Quite Hollywood. Another 25-minute sequence detailing the recent Ozploitation renaissance features Smith, cinematographer Vincent Monton, and producer Anthony Ginnane reminiscing over their shared history in the genre. “Turkey Shoot: Blood & Thunder Memories” features more reflections from the cast, many of whom don’t mince words about the experience (it was a notoriously hellish one for the women especially). Finally, an older interview with Smith, a trailer, and two alternate opening title sequences complete a definitive package for Turkey Shoot, a film that’s on the fringes of an already fringe strain of exploitation—though you’d never know it from the treatment Severin has lavished upon it, of course. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: