• Gabe Powers

Turkey Shoot Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)

In a totalitarian near-future, defiant citizens are labeled ‘deviants’ and sentenced to brutal ‘behavior modification’ camps. But when new prisoners Anders (Steve Railsback) and Walters (Olivia Hussey) are chosen as human prey for rich people to hunt, they will be thrust into a nightmare of depravity, dismemberment, cleaved skulls, exploding heads, lesbians with crossbows, the insane hungers of a deformed cannibal circus freak, and more. (From Severin’s official synopsis)



Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot (aka: Escape 2000 and Blood Camp Thatcher) is the ultimate Ozploitation film. What it lacks in quintessential Australian imagery (there is nary a single kangaroo, koala, crocodile, Fosters beer, or scorching outback desert scene in sight), it makes up for with shameless quantities of sex & violence and the enterprising way it mashes-up exploitation subgenres. It begins as a typically allegorical dystopian future movie. So-called “social deviants” who have spoken out against the government are captured and assigned to a behavior modification camps. But, as soon as the political prisoners are imprisoned, Turkey Shoot quickly shifts gears into a vaguely future-set version of Don Edmonds’ death camp black comedy, She Wolf of the SS (1975). Unlike the majority of other Ilsa clones, Turkey Shoot doesn’t fetishize the Nazi component (a rare case of restraint), instead opting for a fictional totalitarian regime that references the moral conservatives in charge of the Aussie, British, and American governments during the 1980s. Trenchard-Smith ups the ante by including news reel footage of real-world police brutality over the opening credits and names the main villain ‘Thatcher’ after the UK Prime Minister). At this point, Turkey Shoot becomes a political satire-cum-equal opportunity women in prison (WIP) movie or, I suppose, a men & women in prison movie, (M&WIP?). During this time Trenchard-Smith and screenwriters Jon George & Neill D. Hicks (David Lawrence, George Schenck, and Robert Williams share a story credit) conjur a cavalcade of brutal beating, attempted rape, flogging, co-ed showering, humiliation, and, eventually immolation. The brutality and debasement tends to skew towards misogyny, but male prisoners are stripped & skewer with similar abandoned.


Just as Trenchard-Smith seems to be settling into a groove of torture and humiliation, the Turkey Shoot adjusts its plot again, morphing into a farcically gruesome variation of Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game (aka: The Hounds of Zaroff, first published in Collier's Magazine, 1924). It’s not the most bizarre version of Connell’s story – that honor is probably divided between Elio Petri’s surrealistic comedy The 10th Victim (Italian: La decima vittima, 1965) and Ken Dixon’s sci-fi girly flick Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity (1987) – but Turkey Shoot does its part by unleashing a motley crew of villains even more outrageous than the costumed weirdos of Paul Michael Glaser’s similarly farcical The Running Man (1987). These include an effeminate and heavily-armed man with a furry, ape-like, cannibal sidekick, a butch lesbian stereotype with a crossbow fetish, and a fat, woman-hating parody of the societal gatekeepers that Trenchard-Smith is not-so-subtly railing against.



In terms of technical execution and thematic richness, Turkey Shoot is not Trenchard-Smith’s best film – that would be Dead End Drive-In (1986), which is another allegorical dystopian movie about a near-future where social misfits are rounded into concentration camps, though, there, outcasts are locked into an expansive drive-in theater and numbed with junk food, drugs, and exploitation movies, instead of being caged in a brutal prison camp. Still, Turkey Shoot is the one film that best encapsulates the director’s humble brand of crowd-pleasing cinema at its peak. It has a cartoonish appeal and good sense of time management that’s missing from his earlier ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ exploitation opuses, The Man from Hong Kong (1975) and Stunt Rock (1978). The purposefully hammy performances and over-the-top circumstance may overwhelm any sense of directorial nuance, but Turkey Shoot is far from the Ed Wood-level trash that critics have dismissed it as for decades. At the very least, there are outstanding stunts and cinematographer John R. McLean’s ultra-widescreen photography is always dynamic.


Legend tells us that Turkey Shoot was a tremendously troubled production. Behind-the-scenes anguish is not an exploitation rarity, but, based on the interviews recorded for this Blu-ray, previous DVD releases, and Mark Hartley’s documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation (2008), no one involved enjoyed making the film. The location shooting was miserable, the actors were uncomfortable with the nudity and violence, and the promised production time was sliced almost in half by producers who were exploiting a tax code loophole to cash in on the film before it was even finished. One has to wonder if tonal issues, including a couple of really mean-spirited scenes that contradict the otherwise campy tone, might have been the result of gaps in the production schedule, last-minute changes to the script, and/or scenes shot by the second unit. At the very least, Trenchard-Smith himself has verified that the first act was awkwardly extended to compensate for the loss of budget.


Fun trivia: The second unit footage was directed by executive producer David Hemmings, who did not get along with Trenchard-Smith. Hemmings is better known for his acting roles, including star appearances in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966) and Dario Argento’s Deep Red (Italian: Profondo Rosso, 1975), and supporting appearances in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) and Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002). Though he spent most of his career in Europe, Hemmings appeared in Rod Hardy’s Thirst (1979) and Simon Wincer’s Dark Forces (aka: Harlequin, 1980) – both Antony I. Ginnane productions – before joining Ginnane in a producer capacity on Michael Laughlin’s Dead Kids (aka: Strange Behavior, 1981) and Turkey Shoot. His influence on Ozploitation extended to producer duties on Ian Coughlan’s Alison’s Birthday (1981) and first-unit directing duties on The Survivor (1981) and Race for the Yankee Zephyr (also 1981).



Video

In North America, Turkey Shoot was available in a slightly cut version on VHS from Starmaker Video under the alternate Escape 2000 title. The first entirely uncut and anamorphic DVD was released Anchor Bay in 2003 also as Escape 2000 title. It was said to be created via a then-new InterPositive of the uncut edition and was easily the best transfer among a number of international releases (some of which re-used it). According to liner specs, Severin did not reuse that scan, opting instead to restore the film in HD from (possibly the same?) vault materials. The results are an improvement over the already very nice SD transfer and this 1080p, 2.35:1 image follows the precedent set by Severin’s other (many) Ozploitation Blu-rays. Besides a general lack of compression artifacts, there are notable improvements in detail, sharpness (without haloing issues), and clarity – especially during the busier of the wide-angle shots. The color-timing has been warmed significantly compared to the relatively cool AB release, though the results aren’t nearly as stark and overcooked as Severin’s Thirst and Dead Kids discs. The DVD’s slightly cooled skin tones, sand hues, and other brown colors now appear more naturally sunny. Blues and greens maintain their overall consistency, too, and overall hue effects are vivid. Shadows and contrast are more delicate than they appear on the crushy DVD. Severin may have applied noise reduction, because the grain sometimes appears soft, but there’s still enough texture and minor film-based damage to make me assume they kept things as natural as possible. Also note that this Blu-ray’s framing reveals slightly more information on the sides and slightly less on the top.



Audio

Anchor Bay’s Turkey Shoot DVD included a 5.1 remix of the film’s original mono soundtrack, but Severin has wisely chosen to stick to the source material, which is available as a 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio track. Aside from the occasional crackle and hiss, everything sounds clear and the single channel sound design doesn’t flatten the action scenes or overlapping dialogue. The aural field is relatively well-layered for an early ‘80s exploitation flick as well by including basic environmental ambience. As mentioned in the Feature section, Australia’s busy composer, Brian May (no relation to the Queen guitarist) supplied Turkey Shoot’s mixed electronic and traditional score, which is underutilized and sometimes lackadaisical. Still, it’s entertaining, especially the flowery action cues.



Extras

  • Commentary with Brian Trenchard-Smith – This is the same commentary track that appeared on Anchor Bay’s DVD (as well as the Aussie DVD from Umbrella Entertainment and the German DVD from Cine Club). The incredibly eloquent director describes all of the trials and tribulations of the film without being particularly negative or spending time pointing fingers. In fact, he tends to point the finger at himself most of the time. His memory for details is sharp, but there are a few dips where a moderator may’ve helped keep things on track.

  • The Ozploitation Renaissance (26:30, HD) – This is the one extra produced specifically for this release. It is roundtable discussion with Trenchard-Smith, producer Antony I. Ginnane, and Ozploitation cinematographer Vincent Monton (Fantasm, Thirst, Road Games, and Long Weekend). Ginnane is the unifying element here, so the discussion surrounds his movies, some of which Trenchard-Smith directed and some of which Monton shot. It includes clips from the trailers of pertinent movies.

  • Extended Interviews from Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation (1:17:10, SD) – An extensive collection of used and unused interviews from Mark Hartley’s documentary. Interview subjects include Trenchard-Smith, Ginnane, make-up effects designer Bob McCarron, and actors Steve Railsback, Lynda Stoner, Roger Ward, and Gus Mercurio. I suppose a re-edited, standalone documentary version of the interviews that included footage form the film would be preferable, but this’ll do (especially since Hartley’s doc already exists).

  • Turkey Shoot: Blood & Thunder Memories (23:40, SD) – This retrospective featurette is another hold-over from previous DVDs and includes interviews with actors Michael Craig, Roger Ward, and Lynda Stoner.

  • A Good Soldier (9:50, SD) – Another extra imported from the old DVDs.

  • Trailer

  • Escape 2000 alternate title sequence (1:40, HD)


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