Turkey Shoot isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. It features a host of flawed acting, flawed special effects and due to a third of its budget being taken away at the last second, some extremely flawed production design. With its imported actors, dubious accounting and sometimes graphic violence, it became a poster child for everything that was wrong with the 10BA tax shelter of the eighties. Though all of this is true, the film is actually a fun, rollicking good ride when considered by its own merits: from the perspective of a comic book style exploitation movie as directed by ozploitation auteur Brian Trenchard-Smith.
The film is set in the year 1997. Documentary footage is used during the opening credits to establish a dystopian future where people are rounded up into “re-education” camps for the pettiest of crimes and sadistic guards aid them in their progress to re-join society. On a concept level, the film aims to make a commentary about the politics of its day, even naming the prison commandant Thatcher, which though not subtle, works well enough. The basic plot is a reiteration of The Most Dangerous Game (most recently updated to enormous success with The Hunger Games), where humans are hunted like animals.
The two main inmates are played by the American Steve Railsback and English actress Olivia Hussey and they are both horrible. Railsback lacks any conviction whatsoever and Hussey genuinely looks like she doesn’t want to be there. It’s the Australian’s in the cast that really shine. Veteran Roger Ward is great as the head prison guard in his most iconic role, and Michael Craig as Thatcher takes his role completely seriously and pulls it off with absolute perfection – in fact it may be, no kidding, one of the finest screen performances in Australian cinema.
The success of the film lies entirely with Trenchard-Smith’s direction. In spite of any production difficulties, he establishes the context for the film well and creates a cartoon style tone that suits the material perfectly. His use of John R. McLean’s wide screen cinematography in conjunction with the Queensland locale, his elegant stage direction and shot composition is truly superb and elevates the film beyond its deficiencies. The major issue, as well as what the critic’s of the day objected too, was the incorporation of sadistic behavior from the guards, such as the “playing ball” scene, which although serves the story disrupts the tone of the film, as does the occasional lingering of graphic violence, such as the shots of an arrow ridden body. The explosion of Thatcher’s body in the finale however, is a truly awesome effect that encapsulates the over the top, cartoony style that is so good about the film.
Turkey Shoot, though severely lacking in some areas, is the extremely odd film where for whatever reason, the whole is significantly better than the sum of its parts. If you can let your mind go with the insanity on display and disregard some of the more unpleasant moments, then Turkey Shoot is a ridiculously fun film made by one of Australia’s best and most original film makers.