I approached this low-budget, early 80s Australian exploitation flick with low expectations. Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith (who's resume is full of rather undistinguished work such as "BMX Bandits" & "Leprechaun" 3 & 4) and featuring the lovely Olivia Hussey and the solid Steve Railsback -- who are supported by a mostly Australian cast, many of whom would go on to make up a large chunk of the prison population of "Prisoner Cell-Block H!" -- "Turkey Shoot" gives off ominously bad vibes when we consider it's dubious reputation, earned largely through its uncanny knack of attracting the wrath of film-censors all over the western world! When it reached the U.K., under the sensationalist sounding moniker, "Blood Camp Thatcher" (the U.S. had to make do with the terminally bland sounding "Escape 2000"), it naturally got cut to ribbons by the BBFC. In fact, the film has been so chopped about over the years by various censorship bodies around the world that some footage is now lost forever. But the most complete version available was passed uncut by the BBFC in 2003 and Screen Entertainment have now unleashed it once more, this time under its original Australian title of "Turkey Shoot". Now, perhaps it's down to its salubrious sounding British title, but I imagined I was in for one of those tedious "Cannibal Holocaust" style attempts at grossing-out the audience with repetitive depiction's of awful atrocities, while trying to maintain that some deep political or sociological point was being made by it all. Thankfully, I was completely wrong about this! The film is actually an entertaining, fast paced, post-apocalyptic, chase/action flick in the style of Mad Max -- with a fair smattering of cartoonish gore and light exploitation (dig the shower-room scenes!) thrown in for good measure. I loved it!
The film envisions a dystopian future (it’s actually set in the late nineties!) where democracy is non-existent and anyone who stands out from the crowd in any way is labeled a "deviant", packed off to "re-education" centers (which are really little more than brutal concentration camps), and never heard from again. One of the most feared of these camps is under the directorship of Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig) and new inmates Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey) and Paul Anders (Steve Railsback) soon get a taste of what's in store within minutes of arriving, when they witness a young female inmate get beaten up by the thugish chief Guard Ritter (Mad Max's Roger Ward). Anders in particular, thanks to a reputation as an outspoken rebel, is quickly singled out by Thatcher, who makes it his personal aim to break the young man's spirit.
Fifteen minutes in and it seems we're in for an exploitation prison drama: we get lots of scenes of torture, a female inmate threatened with rape, and the obligatory female shower scenes make a predictable appearance! But all this is just a warm-up for the main show: it turns out Thatcher is running a little scheme on the side in which his wealthy pals pay to hunt human prey in a cross-country turkey shoot! Each of them gets to choose which inmate they would like to hunt, and that person is then let out of the camp and given a half-hour head start before they are hunted down. If the inmate survives the day, they are free to go! Of course, no one ever escapes because what they aren't told is that the camp is located on an island -- so there really isn't anywhere to run! The film now becomes a gory, action-packed chase thriller as we follow five of the desperate prison inmates in their struggle for survival.
The inmates chosen for the turkey shoot are divided between those who are obviously signposted to survive to the end of the film and the fairly nondescript characters destined to die gory deaths. Steve Railsback and Olivia Hussey are the more sympathetic of the five, simply because the film spends more time with them than any of the others. Railsback gives a good turn as the macho but honourable hero while Hussey gives another "vulnerable but strong-willed" style performance recalling her memorable role in Bob Clark's "Black Christmas". Here she gets to go from shy, raven-haired beauty to machete wielding, machine gun-toting survivalist in the space of ninety minutes!
But it is the troop of evil bad guys who add all the colour (and a certain amount of humour) to the proceedings: Michael Craig's Charles Thatcher is actually the most restrained of the bad guys, in a dignified Bond villain type of way. He even has a giant chess board on his desk -- like all good Machiavellian manipulators! Opposite Thatcher's cold restraint comes Roger Ward's cartoon brute, Chief Guard Ritter! Lots of stomping about and shouting is involved here -- it's not the most subtle performance in the world, but it lets you in on the fact early on, that this isn't exactly going to be the most serious of movies! Joining these two are Thatcher's evil associates. These include a sleazy politician; a horse-riding lesbian sadist who wields a crossbow which fires exploding arrows; and an aristocrat who drives a bulldozer and keeps a pet "wolf-man" called Tito that he found in a circus!? It's at this point that we definitely *know* that this isn't going to be a serious movie!!
The film walks a fine line between comic absurdity and queasy nastiness throughout, managing never to take it's self too seriously, while resisting the temptation to go for too many deliberate laughs. Some of the gore effects might not be the most convincing ever committed to screen, but the whole thing drives along at such pace that we don't get too much time to dwell on them! Trenchard-Smith knows he's making a low-budget futuristic action flick and has evidently realised that as long as he keeps things moving the obvious budgetary restrictions can be forgiven. Speaking of gore, there is *a lot* of it as well; with one unfortunate victim getting both hands chopped off, another getting crushed beneath a bulldozer, and yet another getting loped clean in half! The film isn't going to tax the brain much -- it is exactly what it claims to be and nothing more: good, trashy entertainment with plenty of explosions, gore, and a smattering of sex! Frankly, that's good enough for me!
Screen Entertainment have done themselves proud with a fully uncut, 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer of the film that looks amazing! The film couldn't look any better than it does here, and the 2.35:1 framing will significantly add to fans' enjoyment of the film since Trenchard-Smith frequently utilises the whole of the screen very effectively. Things are a little light on the extras front with just a trailer, Image Gallery, and production notes by Kevin and Nick Wilson. The U.S. release had a commentary track and 5.1 audio, but the film should always be the main attraction and this no-thrills release serves up a great transfer of a trash-classic at an unbeatable price. Definitely worth checking out.