Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Cast: Steve Railsback, Olivia Hussey, Michael Craig, Carmen Duncan
Watch Turkey Shoot online in the UK: Shudder UK
Every other weekend, our resident horror obsessive Anton Bitel delves into Shudder’s selection of horrors.
There is a thrill in the human hunt. This was established by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s pre-Code The Most Dangerous Game, whose title puns on different meanings of ‘game’, as a hunter tracks members of his own species for sport. In 1971, Peter Watkins took this premise for a politically charged spin in his bleakly serious faux-documentary Punishment Park, which imagines an alternative, authoritarian United States training its National Guardsmen by having them hunt dissidents released into the California desert, in a system unjustly gamed from the start against the fugitives.
It would be tempting to say that Turkey Shoot is also politicising this subgenre’s thrills. After all, the film opens with real footage of rioting, and ends with text quoted from H.G. Wells concerning revolution – and, in between, the ‘game’ are political prisoners in a reeducation camp commanded by a man called Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig), whose very surname resonated with the right-wing ideological scene of the Eighties – indeed, in the UK, where Thatcher’s namesake, Maggie, had been Prime Minister until 1990, the film was even re-released (in 1993) under the title Blood Camp Thatcher. This was the Conservative era, the Reagan era, when illiberal governments were not so very far away – even from Australia – or too hard to imagine.
Yet director Brian Trenchard-Smith (The Man From Hong Kong) has crafted a piece of pure Ozploitation, using his imaginary dystopian future as a playground for all manner of sadistic scenarios and genre play. Those ‘deviants’ sent to Camp 47 are brutalised, tortured and – worst of all – required to take showers together, with death a common punishment for any perceived transgression of the rules. When three members of the social élite – whose cartoonish villainy is conveyed with absurd (heh) camp and non-stop innuendo from actors Carmen Duncan, Noel Ferrier and Michael Petrovich – pay a visit to the camp, Thatcher agrees to put on a hunt for them, with rebel Paul (Steve Railsback), innocent Chris (Olivia Hussey, perfectly out of place), craven Dodge (John Ley), resourceful Griff (Bill Young) and meretricious Rita (Lynda Stoner) their desperate prey. And so the chase is on, in fields, on rock faces, through fields, under jungle canopies and along creeks, with each confrontation offering plenty of openings for outrageous perversion (most of the kills are sexualised) and over-the-top gore.
Trenchard-Smith knows that the film he is making is at least half turkey – tells us as much in the title – but he embraces the silliness, while relishing making his set-pieces as bloody and violent as possible. By the time the super-strong, hyper-hairy, cat-eyed, flesh-eating mutant monster Alph (Steve Rackman) has been introduced as assistant/pet to one of the hunters (“I found him in a circus,” the hunter says, “I promised you I’d bring something excessive”), Turkey Shoot drops all pretence at seriousness, and instead goes about the crazy business of pitting man against man, man against monster, man against woman, woman against woman, and narrative coherence against any opportunity to make something go splat or kaboom. The results are an explosion of amiable extremity.
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