My first encounter with Turkey Shoot still burns so warmly as to leave a small hole in my heart, not unlike the remembrance of one’s first true love.
Film Geeks SD hosted a 15-hour horror movie marathon at the Comic Con Museum Theater this past September, a seven movie slog sure to test the meddle of even the most ardent horror fan. Beginning at noon with Charles Kaufman’s Mother’s Day, we slowly made our way through Sisters, Society, and Basket Case—meaning the upcoming eight o’clock slot had a lot of pressure on its shoulders, a responsibility to amp up the momentum and keep the energy from waning.
One of the trailers beforehand was for Black Christmas, which led me to believe (drunkenly) that we were gearing up for some Deathdream action. Then Turkey Shoot began, and I remember thinking initially: “Oh, the movie that’s always on the last page of the Severin's website?” But as the film rolled on, my sleepy, drunk eyes grew more wide, more awake. And suddenly, I was hit with that all-too-elusive feeling us cinephiles chase: the exhilaration of discovery.
Pro tip for all future marathon programmers: always put Turkey Shoot in the 8pm slot.
This Ozploitation gem from 1982 is the cinematic equivalent of someone replacing your Visine with liquid cocaine; it’s a film that demands fist pumping in the most inappropriate of circumstances, as well as the legitimate questioning of whether or not your eyes actually do have a drug problem. If Turkey Shoot were a religion, I’d be one of those missionaries in the Congo building schools or outside abortion clinics holding Turkey Shoot film posters.
Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith (The Man from Hong Kong, BMX Bandits), Turkey Shoot is an Australian synthesis of the prison exploitation genre and The Most Dangerous Game. It stars Steve Railsback, Olivia Hussey, and Lynda Stoner as new prisoners arriving at a re-education camp in the dystopian future, where an authoritarian government in an unnamed country rules with an iron fist. Michael Craig plays Camp Master Charles Thatcher (cough, cough), who hosts a “turkey shoot” with his bourgeois friends, a game that involves hunting the prisoners for sport. There ain’t much else to it, story-wise. Railsback and Hussey run through the woods as they’re being hunted by upper class ghouls. And I mean that quite literally—one guy has a freakin’ werewolf as a hunting partner.
Trenchard-Smith said he envisioned the film as a political allegory that was a “high camp splatter movie with a lot of dark humor,” which pretty much sums it up. Hell, this film also goes by the title, Blood Camp Thatcher. So for everything Turkey Shoot gets right, subtlety isn’t in its bag of tricks.
But in that way, I found the experience of watching it deeply cathartic. It perfectly captures the inescapable dread of the current political moment and then lets you relieve the tension with the most rah-rah, bonkers-ass-rific action you can imagine. It’s fun, it’s gory, it’s strangely good, given the low budget and ham-fisted politics.
Actually, the only complaint I have with it is that Steve Railsback seems a bit miscast as the hero. Pulling a Lifeforce, as I call it. As amazing an actor as Railsback is, he is a character actor through and through, not a leading man. He’s much more at home playing a hick scammer in Cockfighter or Duane Barry in The X-Files. His dynamism comes off as awkward when forced to play the simple, stoic hero type. Like, there’s no reason at all for him to have gone “method” in Turkey Shoot. (In the extras on the Severin blu ray, Michael Craig pokes fun at Railsback, because when they were filming a scene where Railsback’s character is being tortured with a stone crushing him, he requested they use real weight. So they did, and it failed miserably because Railsback was in too much pain to remember his lines.)
Which, of course, brings me to the Severin blu ray. Buy it, love it, cherish it. The restoration on this puppy is…well, every Guy Fieri hyperbolic idiom you can think of ("You could put this movie on a flip flop and eat it!"). Turkey Shoot kicks fucking ass, and having access to such a pristine version means you’re all out of excuses.