Turkey Shoot AKA Escape 2000 AKA Blood Camp Thatcher (1982)
Steve Railsback (Paul Anders), Olivia Hussey (Chris Walters), Lynda Stoner (Rita Daniels), Michael Craig (Charles Thatcher), Carmen Duncan (Jennifer), Noel Ferrrier (Secretary Mallory), Michael Petrovitch (Tito), Roger Ward (Ritter), Gus Mercurio (Red), John Ley (Dodge), Steve Rackman (Alph)
"This is Radio Freedom. Every day more and more of us are being sent to the camps. More and more of us disappear or die. The government calls us traitors or deviants because we oppose its ideology and then it tries to wipe us out because we believe that we have the right to be ourselves. Then it justifies its policies by talking of work ethic, community obedience, social conformity. But what it's really saying is 'accept slavery or die.' The time has come to fight back. God, don't give up, don't give up! Fight for yourself, fight for your children, fight for - ARGH!" - Paul Anders
There is seemingly no more pure sub-sub-genre of film than Ozploitation; a form of exploitation film that is filmed and generally set in the country of Australia. Ozploitation movies are generally low-brow affairs with small budgets where film-makers clearly worked meticulously to make a movie that is tasteless and looks cobbled together. For someone who loves cult films like myself they are the sweetest fruit available. And if Ozploitation movies had a king, that king would be Brian Trenchard-Smith.
Trenchard-Smith is an English-born director who has a career spanning from 1972 to 2014 where has directed over 57 movies, TV shows, and shorts of widely varying quality. But his masterwork is a dystopian movie from the mid-80s about a group of people caught in a government internment camp and dealing with human rights violations from a totalitarian government bent on repressing those deemed worthless to society. That movie is Dead End Drive-In. Turkey Shoot is a lot like Dead End Drive-In except worse, but it's also a lot more entertaining.
As far as set-up goes, Turkey Shoot doesn't have a whole lot. A trio of political prisoners (a shopkeeper implicated in rebellion because a wounded rebel wandered into her store, a busty blonde accused of prostitution, and a freedom fighting pirate radio DJ played by Steve Railsback) are brought into an internment camp.
The fascists that run the government (more on them in a minute) run some truly awful "re-education" camps for "deviants" but none is more despicable than the camp of ones Charles Thatcher. Thatcher gets a lot of the people who have already escaped from the other camps and he rules with an iron fist, sporting a camp full of guards who have allegedly been castrated to make them more violent.
But Thatcher has special plans for his camp, he has brought on a group of tourists including a high ranking government official to hunt our three prisoners (plus a couple others besides) for reasons that aren't clear or adequately explained. The prisoners are given the standard Most Dangerous Game deal that if they can survive for an entire day then they will be allowed to go free.
Of course this is an exploitation movie so the tourists consist of a widows-peaked man with a small bulldozer sporting a heavy caliber machine gun and a wolfman sidekick, a crossbow-packing sadomasochistic lesbian, a tubby government man with a safari jacket and a comically oversized dart gun, and a giant machete-wielding camp warden played by Mad Max's Roger Ward.
This is a 70s exploitation film so going into the nuances of the film's various performances is a fool's errand but I do want to highlight a couple interesting ones. I do want to briefly mention that every single line Olivia Hussey speaks in the film is overdubbed, this goes for the whip-cracking camp commandant played by Gus Mercurio as well.
The film has a surplus of villains, none really any more important than the others but Roger Ward's Ritter does seem to be a sort of main antagonist based on the amount of screen time he is given. Ward is one of cinema's great heavies, having a sort of charisma that puts him above the Brian Thompsons and Randall "Tex" Cobbs of the world.
Carmen Duncan is easily the most compelling of the hunters. Her character isn't really any more sketched out than anyone else, she's pretty much a two-note character: she's into inflicting pain and she takes delight in frightening and presumably molesting pretty young women before killing them. But the character of Jennifer seems to be more invested in the plot than anyone else in the movie. It's not that she really has anything to say or do but it certainly seems like she should.
And now for Steve Railsback. He's of a certain vintage of leading man that's only really found in the 70s and 80s, men like David Andrews or Robert Forster who aren't particularly good at acting and don't really have much of a screen presence but manage to endear the audience to them nonetheless. Railsback is David Carradine without the gravitas, Don Johnson without the charisma, Michael Moriarty without the talent. He's just a Texan with a serious face, an aw-shucks country boy drawl, and a bad haircut who is inexplicably enthralling to watch.
Now let's crack this nut open and get to the meaty bits. Turkey Shoot is a satire, but of what is a question with a seemingly simple answer that only gets more complicated the moment you think about it.
The film is nominally an indictment and send-up of Regan-era government, most notably the policy of Great Britain's own tyrant Margaret Thatcher. This is a fine point but generally when one does satire they tend to use examples of the thing being satirized to make their point. There's a bit of a satire in showing Tito and Jennifer as overindulgent crazy rich people and some stuff about suppressing deviants but most of the movie's points about totalitarian regimes and wealth are so vague that they could be about any epoch without being jarring.
If you look above to Steve Railsback's speech over his pirate radio broadcast he's not actually saying any words of substance, just that there is a government and it is bad. For all we know the deviants are terrible people because the evil empire's only talking points seem to be "work hard" and "do what you're told."
In general, Turkey Shoot is painted in broad strokes. No character rises above being anything more than a loosely detailed archetype and the plot has nothing important to say beyond "fascism is bad." I know I have raked this movie over the coals for the entirety of this review or at least damned it with faint praise but here's the big twist, I absolutely love it.
Turkey Shoot isn't the kind of movie that's good because it's actually good but I wouldn't go so far as to call it "so bad it's good." As a movie, Turkey Shoot is passably okay, but as a cult movie it's one of the greats.
Our villains are all but cartoon characters, there are periodic moments of over-the-top gore, each of the villains dies a fittingly gruesome death (my personal favorite is Thatcher who turns into a mannequin and a'splodes), and Michael Petrovitch and Steve Railsback have some of the best "firing a machine gun" faces in the business. This is not to mention Alph, Tito's circus freak sidekick who appears to be a man with Hypertrichosis but has green catlike eyes, fangs, and superhuman strength. Alph is the goofiest looking practical effects creature this side of the mutants from Deathsport.
As a film with something to say, Turkey Shoot is willfully obtuse but as a chaotic and silly action spectacle it's magnificent. Make it a mission to see the movie if you haven't done so already; it's a lot of fun.
Next Time on Doomsday Reels
"Navy SEAL is Marine for 'Pussy.'"