Brian Trenchard-Smith has been burning to make genre films ever since seeing Hitchcock’s Vertigo at age 13. So far he has directed 42 Crimes Against Cinema, and counting. (He’s an enthusiastic recidivist.) His cult favorites include The Man from Hong Kong, Turkey Shoot, BMX Bandits, Stunt Rock, The Siege of Firebase Gloria. His latest film is Drive Hard, a quirky buddy action comedy with John Cusack and Thomas Jane.
INTERIOR. LONDON UNDERGROUND PLATFORM — DAY
England 1983. Commuters stand in silent groups awaiting the next rattling arrival on the Piccadilly Line.
“Work, consume, be silent, die” is etched on the faces of many. The Thatcher Years.
Only two men are having a conversation; one, a young movie geek, the other, a national newspaper film critic. Although he saw himself as a Cinema Critic.
Glad the mail strike is over.
So am I…
They stare at a nearby movie poster in the style of Hunter With His Kill trophy photography — a tall, muscular, bald-headed man carrying an M16 stands with his foot on the corpse of a beautiful young woman while other hunters stand behind.
That’s the bloke from Mad Max…Roger Ward!
He was Fifi. Gotta to see that.
The gleaming dome combines with the curvature of the paramilitary hunter’s mustache to conjure a diabolically evil face, a leer coloring the edges of cruel resolve. And, dare I say, a hint of Asia not present in the real Roger’s face? If that was the brief to the poster artist, he succeeded admirably.
Emblazoned beside the ‘X’ Certificate: the admonitory tag line: “NO FILM FOR CHICKENS.”
They haven’t press-screened it, so it’s obviously trash.
If I bother to catch it, I might give it a paragraph.
Looks vile and sadistic to me.
Vile, sadistic and trashy, with the added bonus of Roger Ward, sounds pretty good to the movie geek.
INTERIOR. FILM CRITIC’S OFFICE — DAY
With the end of the mail strike, there is a mountain of correspondence on the Critic’s desk. The camera ZOOMS into a slender package, about six inches long, triggering:
EXPOSITION FLASHBACK: a fast-cut montage of images, as you see in a BBC Sherlock Holmes episode: at a crowded post office, a dozen identical packages, neatly wrapped and bowed, addressed to critics at all the leading publications, are weighed and costed by a depressed employee.
BACK TO OFFICE:
The Critic spies Swag. There’s often a gift to cajole attendance at a screening. He rips open the package, and immediately his nostrils are assaulted by a foul, pungent aroma. There, in a loose paper wrapper, is A ROTTING CHICKEN’S FOOT. The luckless appendage had set out on its adventure through the British postal system some 11 days before and was now at the height of putrefaction.
The Critic grabs the accompanying card, an invitation to the press screening of TURKEY SHOOT, mailed on the day before the mail strike, arriving now on the day of the screening. If he leaves immediately, he will get there just in time. This insult to his dignity and stature must be addressed.
CUT TO: 1940S-STYLE MONTAGE
The Critic watches the movie, scribbling furiously.
Other nasally affronted critics pound their office typewriters about each sensational act.
Superimposed titles of some of their phrases glide past camera.
“cut in half by a bulldozer!”
“riddled with arrows!”
“mass nude scene!”
Various angles of London Underground commuters reading newspapers intently.
Close-ups of reviews excoriating the film.
The words “senselessly violent” lift off the page, moving towards camera.
As they do so, the word “senselessly” fades out, leaving only the word “violent” to dominate the frame. Each male reader takes this in, along with detailed examples of at least six depraved-fun sequences he and his mates would love to see, starting with “mass nude scene!”
EXTERIOR. WARNER WEST END 2 THEATER — NIGHT
The Critic is crossing Leicester Square. A light dusting of snow is falling. He sees there is a line round the block of the adjacent Theatre. It is the line for the movie TURKEY SHOOT.
Its first week’s figures set the house record for a February opening at the Warner West End 2. Despite a blizzard! With a helpful assist from British postal workers. Yes, truly, Enterprise — Turkey Shoot’s U.K. distributor — did mail invitations containing chicken feet to select media to suggest the film’s undercurrent of humor, resulting in humorless media coverage way beyond expectation. Perhaps box office was also influenced by the fact that we gave the name Thatcher to the sadistic commandant of the B.F. Skinner Re-Education and Behavior Modification Camp, as a deliberate political jab. So effective a jab, in fact, that a subsequent UK DVD release retitled the film Blood Camp Thatcher.
You know that Russian proverb? No good deed goes unpunished. It’s funny how things turn out.
Original concept: 1984 meets The Camp on Blood Island where they play The Most Dangerous Game. A genre cocktail. Fast-paced total action and mayhem, with a little black humor, this time on a reasonable budget.
Status in prep: A serious budget shortfall due to the government changing its previous position on tax rebates for investors was causing me and the producers considerable difficulty as the shoot date approached. I had to keep modifying the scale and number of set pieces to trim the original 44-day schedule to 28 10-hour days. Cut were the first 15 pages set in a corporate fascist city of the future where the heroes are captured in a series of chases. Next, a four-page helicopter chase had to go, along with its pilot character, to be played by Australian actor and TV personality Graham Kennedy, because we could not agree terms with him. So I quickly had to distribute his plot function to other characters in the story. This all brought the script down by a quarter of its length. I made stuff up every shooting day to fill out the contracted running time. But all the action I came up with had to be achieved without incurring loadings for any stuntman. The prison camp had been built for 500 extras, but now we could only afford 75 on our biggest day. A range of challenges. How could I ensure an audience? I decided to increase the level of blood and black-hearted laughs into a sort of Lucio Fulci-style high-camp splatter movie. Blood is cheap.
One of my more hilarious memories was the day we cut Steve Rackman in half at the trouser-belt level with a bulldozer. I wanted a shot of his bottom half, kneeling trapped against a tree, wriggling beneath the dozer blade. (OK, I am a sick puppy.) We had the pants suspended by monofilament, but we were running very short on prosthetics. We had eaten sausages and steak for lunch and there were uncooked leftovers and lots of ketchup, so everyone pitched in to fill the Traveling Pants with a convincing set of innards, and squirt individually designed trails of tomato sauce. The things we do for our Art.
Needless to say, critics did not share my sense of humor. And to be honest, the film is far from perfect. But in a fun way. It allowed me to push some genre clichés to their outrageous extreme. All filmmakers find themselves in situations where the playing field tips and the goalposts shift. You just have to develop some elasticity and go with the flow, while still trying to preserve the core of your original vision. But ultimately, a good movie in these circumstances is a salable movie.
Turkey Shoot broke box-office records in some Australian drive-ins, scored a U.S. theatrical release, albeit with MPAA cuts, and ultimately video audiences across the globe discovered it as a guilty pleasure. Inclusion in Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! documentary expanded its fanbase further.
Back in 1983, some critics considered my career over after Turkey Shoot, it was so reviled by a humorless Australian media. Luckily, my next film was BMX Bandits with Nicole Kidman. Audiences and critics seemed to click with that one. But when I came to Hollywood, I certainly was not starting every interview with an producer or executive by saying, “Hi, I made Turkey Shoot!” (For a start, it was called Escape 2000 in the U.S.)
Then at the premiere of HBO’s Norma Jean and Marilyn in 1996, I met Quentin Tarantino. I gave my name and he said: “You made Turkey Shoot!” He went on to list all the things he liked about the film, including: “I loved that scene where the Guard from Hell beats that girl to death on the parade ground while she tries to recite the dissident’s mea culpa.” Which he then recited verbatim!
At the Sydney premiere of Kill Bill: Volume 1, Quentin dedicated the screening to Turkey Shoot, much to the shock of the assembled glitterati. As he put it later: “I like to stick a lighted weed up the ass of the snob.” Quentin Tarantino is forgotten cinema’s Smithsonian. It was good of him to give me his nod.
Turkey Shoot was banned in Scandinavia for many years, but eventually came out on DVD. To push buttons in their region, they gave a hint of Red Army rather than Fu Manchu to Roger Ward.
So Turkey Shoot came full circle. A good B-movie deed, first punished, finally rewarded with cult status and re-issue.