Color, 1982, 93m.
Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith
Starring Steve Railsback, Olivia Hussey, Michael Craig, Carmen Duncan, Lynda Stoner, Noel Ferrier, Roger Ward
Severin (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Umbrella (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
An important and highly disreputable entry in the history of Australian exploitation films, Turkey Shoot arrived at the height of the continent's influence on the world filmmaking scene with filmmakers like Peter Weir and hits like The Road Warrior earning the respect of audiences and critics alike. Then we have this little number, a cheap, gore-soaked slice of dystopian drive-in depravity from director Brian Trenchard-Smith (hot off of the wonderful The Man from Hong Kong and utterly bizarre Stunt Rock) and a slew of producers (including Antony I. Ginnane of Patrick and Thirst fame) and writers whose work was thrown into disarray when financial issues forced huge chunks of the shooting script to go out the window. Bent on thrilling its audience no matter how illogically, the film throws in every future-shock trick in the book ranging from clunky futuristic vehicles to gunfire to shredded bodies galore, with a little romantic interest and even a monstrous make-up job to add to the fun. The film was quickly snagged for an American release by New World, who had to gut out its most memorable shocks to get an R rating under the title Escape 2000, but the complete version has since garnered a respectable cult following.
In the future, humanity is a shambles after an apocalyptic thinning out of the population. Anyone who fails to conform with the status quo is labeled a "social deviant" and shipped off to an internment camp where inmates are abused and humiliated on a regular basis. Enter Paul (Railsback) and Chris (Hussey), a pair of new arrivals who are put through their paces as fresh meat and offered a perilous opportunity for freedom: the Turkey Shoot, a real-life survival contest in which inmates are hunted down but allowed to go free if they survive for an entire day.
The idea of a sci-fi twist on The Most Dangerous Game isn't a bad one, and the totalitarian angle here makes this an odd forerunner of sorts to more mainstream fare like Battle Royale and The Hunger Games series, to name but a few. Of course, this one never bothers to stay within the realm of good taste as it ramps up the sadism to absurd degrees with characters being blown apart, bisected, and decapitated at regular intervals, with most of the female supporting cast stripped down and hosed down as a group for good measure. No one involved really seemed to enjoy the experience due to the tumultuous production, with resources stripped down on a regular basis and reputed hordes of extras pulled at the last minute, which leads to an oddly off-kilter but strangely endearing film in which everything seems just a few degrees off. The film ends up dropping the viewer right in the middle of this world without much in the way of explanation, and the overt political commentary (especially naming the sadistic warden played by Michael Craig "Thatcher") seems even more peculiar among all the ripe dialogue and exploding blood squibs. That said, the actors do a fine job despite the strenuous circumstances, and Trenchard-Smith keeps things chugging along professionally with the scope lensing trying to give some extra production value to a film clearly struggling to make ends meet.
Following a long life on VHS, the first version of Turkey Shoot out of the gate on DVD came in 2003 from Anchor Bay (under the Escape 2000 title), who presented the film in its complete international cut along with a fun, anecdote-packed commentary by Trenchard-Smith and two featurettes. "Turkey Shoot: Blood & Thunder Memories" is a 23-minute featurette with Craig, Roger Ward and Lynda Stoner sharing their not always flattering thoughts on making the film. A 10-minute Trenchard-Smith interview is also included (entitled "A Good Soldier" on some releases), in which he opines this "was not a good career move for me" and recalls the incensed response to the film, which he made with due diligence to responsibly handle the investor's money. Also included are the Aussie trailer, the Escape 2000 credit sequence, a poster and still gallery, and a DVD-Rom pdf of the screenplay with all of the material cut from the production itself. The two featurettes and trailer were carried over to the Australian DVD release from Umbrella later the same year.
In 2015, Severin Films revisited the title as separate Blu-ray and DVD releases porting over the substantive extras from the prior releases while adding a few new bells and whistles of its own. The Trenchard-Smith commentary from the American disc is repeated here along with the two featurettes, trailer, and alternate credits sequence, but there's some fun new video material, too. The 26-minute "The Ozploitation Renaissance," a new piece created by Severin, covers the heyday of drive-in style entertainment with a focus on the late '70s and early '80s, with Trenchard-Smith getting quite a bit of screen time talking about his films like The Man from Hong Kong (which needs a Blu-ray release of its own). There's a fair amount of coverage of the sexploitation fare of the time, too, with other participants including Ginnane and Vincent Monton offering a tour through both the films and the unusual financial and cultural circumstances that led to this explosion of sex and violence nirvana. Then there's a whopping 77 minutes of raw interviews conducted by Mark Hartley for his documentary Not Quite Hollywood, with Trenchard-Smith, Ginnane, Railsback, Stoner, Ward, Gus Mercurio, and Bob McCarron expounding at length about making this film including its cinematic influences, the pacing problems (including too much time in the prison camp versus on the run), the ramshackle and maddening nature of the shooting script and budget cuts, the "flaming egos" that caught the director in the middle, and the perils of Olivia Hussey's method acting while holding a machete. The quality of the feature itself is also a nice, substantial step up given the fact that the film hadn't had a fresh scan in well over a decade, and the new HD presentation from the original negative looks nice, clean and filmic, on par with the label's previous Aussie releases and also boasting a fine two-channel DTS-HD MA track with some solid oomph for the score by Brian May.