There are a number of horror movies that have become notorious for a variety of reasons. Some for being too graphically violent (My Bloody Valentine), others for allegedly making children afraid of Santa Claus (Silent Night, Deadly Night), and even some for possibly being real (Cannibal Holocaust). In 1982, Australian action/horror movie Turkey Shoot became notorious for being bad. Critics ripped it apart using words like “artless” and “grotesque” with some going so far as to call it one of the worst Australian films ever made. But, as the saying goes, one man’s bad movie is another man’s guilty pleasure and while Turkey Shoot was never going to win any best picture awards, it did manage to be awesomely entertaining, selling well in Australian drive-ins, extremely well in British theaters, and getting an American release under the name Escape 2000. Still, even with its modest success, the movie couldn’t seem to shake its reputation for being something of a disaster. At least not at first.
It’s the future (1995) and an oppressive, autocratic government has taken over. Speaking out against the rulers or even inadvertently helping someone who has spoken out against them is punishable by being sent to a prison work camp and none is more feared than Camp 47 run by Camp Master Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig). Here prisoners are routinely burned alive or beaten to death for minor infractions all in the name of maintaining order. As if the day-to-day life at the camp isn’t bad enough, Thatcher has invited three VIP’s to participate, along with himself, in a game to hunt four hand-picked inmates. The rules are simple: the prisoners are given a small head-start and if they can make it off the expansive prison-camp grounds before being tracked down by the hunters, they earn their freedom. But this will be no easy task, for the hunters are formidable and extremely evil as evidenced by their casual wearing of Nehru jackets and frequent trading of risqué, one-eyebrow-cocked double entendres, making the whole thing look like a James-Bond-villain fantasy camp. The hunters include:
Occupation: Prison camp master
Weapon of choice: Hunting rifle
Downfall: Machine gun
Best sexual innuendo: “A very nice piece…serviceable, well-contoured, a good feel…perhaps a trifle large in the bore.”
Occupation: Rich person
Weapon of choice: Crossbow
Downfall: Incendiary arrow
Best sexual innuendo: “It’s been my experience, Charles, it’s less the size of one’s gun that counts, but the skill with which it’s used.”
Occupation: Head of national penal system
Weapons of choice: Tranquilizer darts, his dick
Downfall: Tranquilizer dart to the dick
Best sexual innuendo: *His entire existence is a sexual innuendo.
In the 70’s and 80’s, Australian cinema made a name for itself by pumping out a number of low-budget action and horror films geared toward the drive-in and grindhouse crowds. They were made to be hedonistically entertaining by featuring plenty of sex, violence, and gore (Check out the excellent documentary Not Quite Hollywood if you’re interested in learning more about these Australian movies). Turkey Shoot, with its relatively large budget, was intended to be a bigger, more polished version of these exploitation films, with tons of action and stunts along with a deeper story and well-known actors filling the roles. Two weeks before shooting was to begin, director Brian Trenchard-Smith (Dead End Drive-in) was informed an investor had backed out at the last minute, taking around $700,000 of the $3.2 million budget. Drastic cuts would have to be made. Out went the first fifteen pages of the script that provided context for the Orwellian society in which the movie was set as well as much of the backstory for the main characters. Out went the stunt actors and therefore most of the action sequences. Out went most of the extras leaving only a handful of people to fill a prison camp built for 500. Trenchard-Smith rewrote much of the script on the fly (sometimes daily during shooting), removing expensive action scenes and replacing them with cheap blood and gore effects, doing what he could to salvage something that would be both entertaining and profitable. He might not have been able to make the movie he had originally planned, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t still make a movie people wanted to see.
Turkey Shoot is a glorious spectacle of gore, violence, naked people, and what-the-hell-did-I-just-see moments that should satisfy any lover of schlock. Where else are you going to see a vest-wearing circus-freak wolfman (I wasn’t kidding about that) pluck a pinky-toe off a runaway prisoner to have for a snack? Sure, there’s a fair amount of overacting and ham-fisted social commentary (all part of the fun), but it’s also well-shot, the pacing is solid, and the black humor is just outrageous enough to remind the viewer the movie can’t possibly take itself too seriously (although I get the impression that Steve Railsback (Deadly Games, Trick or Treats, Lifeforce, Blue Monkey) took himself way too seriously). The villains are sneery, the splatter is splattery, and the payoffs are frequent – in other words, it’s a blast!
If you want to see an exceptionally well-made prison camp movie with a rich story and interesting, well-developed characters who get you emotionally invested, you should watch Cool Hand Luke. It’s really an excellent movie. If you want some gratuitous, over-the-top fun, then give Turkey Shoot/Escape 2000 a try. It’s built up a sizable number of cult followers over the years, including Quentin Tarantino who dedicated the Australian premiere of Kill Bill to Turkey Shoot and to Trenchard-Smith, so it seems it’s now acceptable to appreciate the movie for what it is rather than blast it for what it never became. It might not be perfect, but watching it makes me happy and that’s a good movie in my book.
“Now, little flower, I’m going to taste your honey.”