Australia produced a number of wild and woolly exploitation flicks during the late ’70s/early ’80s heyday of its commercial film business but few got as out there as Turkey Shoot. This sci-fi/action/splatter hybrid, known to U.S. viewers as Escape 2000, quickly became infamous at home and abroad for its bloodthirsty approach to dystopian-themed cheap thrills. However, the tut-tutting it received from the respectable corners of the film business shows that they misjudged it: it’s the kind of film that is best understood as a camp spectacle for the grindhouse set.
As described by director Brian Trenchard-Smith, the intention with Turkey Shoot was to make a film that is basically 1984 meets The Camp On Blood Island meets The Most Dangerous Game. It is set in the near future in a repressive Australia where the authoritarian police state sends anyone they deem troublesome to “re-education camps” where they can be rehabilitated into proper citizens. One such camp is run by Thatcher (Michael Craig), who treats his prisoners like so much chattel.
Thrust into this hellish atmosphere are Paul (Steve Railsback), a critic of the government and Chris (Olivia Hussey), an innocent who tried to intervene in a police beating. After experiencing the hell of the camp – torture, sexual predators, executions, etc. – Thatcher offers to set them free if they participate in a chase where they will be hunted by some his wealthy and perverted friends for 24 hours. Of course, the hunters don’t intend to let the prisoners get away – and Paul doesn’t intend to let a chance for revolution slip away.
Turkey Shoot takes the exploitation-friendly elements of its premise and pushes them as far as its resources will allow. It was a notoriously troubled production: depending on who you talk to, either half or a third of the budget was cut at the last minute and a prologue that would have set up the future setting was dropped. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith decided to trade spectacle for bloodshed and seriousness for comic-book campiness. The end result isn’t for all tastes, as it lingers luridly on the gore and thoroughly exploits every chance for nastiness (in one jaw-dropping moment, one of the hunters has his bestial sidekick rip the pinky toe off one of the hunted men and eat it!).
That said, exploitation fans are likely to get a big, trashy kick of Turkey Shoot. Trenchard-Smith was one of Australia’s most gifted b-movie directors and he pushes back on his limitations by giving the film an attractive widescreen look full of dramatic compositions and fluid camerawork. There are some budget-induced rough edges – limited fight choreography, some underwhelming setpieces during the hunt – but Trenchard-Smith keeps his pacing taut and manages a big battle finale. It really feels like a comic book story brought to life; the kind of sleazy, blood-drenched thing you might have found in the backpages of Heavy Metal.
Trenchard-Smith also benefits from an interesting cast that mixes a few familiar faces with a lot of Aussie genre diehards. Railsback gives his role his usual Method intensity and Hussey’s doe-eyed “lost” look was probably for real but works in the context of the story. Craig underplays his villain role and it’s an inspired choice, casting him in stark relief to his scenery-chewing villainous assistants.
Speaking of scenery-chewing, Roger Ward and Gus Mercurio play sadistic chief guards with nasty glee and future soap opera star Carmen Duncan sleazes it up with abandon as a crossbow-toting villain. Elsewhere, Lynda Stoner has a thankless role as one of the hunted but still gives it a professional turn and John Ley steals a few scenes as the most weaselly of the prisoners.
In short, Turkey Shoot lives up to its notorious reputation as a camp shock/action spectacle – but it also knows exactly what it is and goes about its grim business with a sense of gusto that exploitation film devotees will appreciate.