It’s 1995, and the world is run by a totalitarian regime. Step out of line and you get sent to a Behaviour Modification Camp. Paul Anders (Steve Railsback), Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey) and Rita Daniels (Lynda Stoner) are amongst the latest batch to arrive. Camp Master Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig) is the man in charge, assisted by bald sadist Ritter (Roger Ward) and crossbow-wielding Jennifer (Carmen Duncan), a woman given to saying things like “It is not the size of one’s gun that counts, but the skill with which it is used.” The dissidents’ only chance of freedom is to survive the “turkey shoot”, a bloody manhunt organised by Thatcher…
Take elements of Nineteen Eighty-Four (though calling the chief villain Thatcher is about as sophisticated as its political critique gets) and The Most Dangerous Game, mix in plenty of splattery violence and add a sprinkling of gratuitous nudity, and you have Turkey Shoot. The film is sometimes known as Escape 2000 or Blood Camp Thatcher. Whichever name it goes under, it’s exploitation fare through and through, hard to defend, none too well acted but put together with a certain gusto that’s hard to deny, helped along by a rousing score from Brian May. Brian Trenchard-Smith was and is a prolific director working squarely within the more commercial end of Australian cinema. He was never a critics’ darling after early work such as The Man from Hong Kong (1974) but his fate was sealed after this film was released, when you could sense most critics holding their noses and standing well back. Trenchard-Smith has continued to work, but the price he has paid is that his occasional more personal work such as Frog Dreaming (1985) has tended to be overlooked.
The real auteur behind Turkey Shoot is producer Antony I. Ginnane, a flamboyant character and a prolific filmmaker, best described as "commercially driven". That’s not to say that all his films have been bad: he was the regular producer of the talented Richard Franklin, including Patrick (1978). But a lot of the time he was simply content to push the boundaries of sex and/or violence. Executive producer and uncredited director on some scenes is David Hemmings, the actor who was about to start an undistinguished second career directing films in Australia and New Zealand.
In the UK, Turkey Shoot was cut by just under six minutes for its film and original video releases. (Details of the cuts can be found here.) On a resubmission this year, under the Blood Camp Thatcher title, it was passed uncut. This Australian release (which bears an astonishingly lenient M rating, revised from the original R) is the complete version. The transfer from Umbrella Entertainment (one of several companies distributing via the AV Channel) is anamorphic and in the correct 2.35:1 ratio. I’ve no doubt this is the best looking you’ll ever see this film except for the unlikely event of a cinema reissue. There’s some minor artefacting here and there, but the colours are solid and shadow detail is fine. There’s a slightly yellowish look to the film, and some grainy stock footage in places, but I suspect that’s down to the original materials. Take a look at the trailer (non-anamorphic 2.35:1, 2:40, and noticeably faded to pink) or the pan-and-scanned, heavily artefacted extracts in the featurettes to see what this could have looked like.
Dolby Stereo was certainly around in 1980, but it hadn’t reached Australia yet. Turkey Shoot was released in cinemas in mono, and that’s the soundtrack that Umbrella have provided here. If the film were made nowadays, it would no doubt have an all-stops-out 5.1 soundtrack, which would make the most of the plentiful gunfire and explosions. But it wasn’t and it doesn’t. As a mono track, it’s fine, with dialogue and effects and music well balanced, if a little hollow-sounding in places due to obvious post-synching.
There are twelve chapter stops. No subtitles are included, which is a frequent shortfall of AV Channel discs.
There are two featurettes on this disc. "Blood and Thunder Memories" (16:9 anamorphic, 23:45) interviews most of the cast, with the notable exceptions of Steve Railsback and Olivia Hussey. Most of the cast take a pragmatic it-was-a-job attitude. Lynda Stoner is the most vehement. Put it this way – how often do you hear someone in a DVD extra describe the film as "a putrid, puerile piece of crap"?
The second featurette, "A Good Soldier" (non-anamorphic 16:9, 9:48), is an interview with Brian Trenchard-Smith. "Good soldier" is Trenchard-Smith’s own description. Faced with a cut in budget and schedule which caused the first fifteen pages of the screenplay (detailing the repressive future society) to be junked, he says he could have claimed artistic integrity and walked away, but he would have put a lot of people out of work. So he did the best he could to produce an entertaining action thriller, with more black humour than most gave it credit for.
The remaining extra is "Umbrella Propaganda", in other words trailers for other releases: Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, Rock n’ Roll High School, Kentucky Fried Movie and Puberty Blues.
One of the benefits of the DVD era is that films like this, which you once could only see uncut in nth-generation video copies is now available lovingly restored with additional specially-produced extras on DVD. Turkey Shoot is schlock for sure, but you’ll know if you’ll be interested in this disc already.
Gary Couzens has reviewed the Australian Region 0 of Turkey Shoot, a once-notorious exploitation movie now released on a special edition with some worthwhile extras.