Camp Master Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig) welcomes new arrivals Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey), Rita Daniels (Lynda Stoner) and Paul Landers (Steve Railsback) to Re-education Camp 47.
Summary by Richard Kuipers
In no-nonsense exploitation film style, Turkey Shoot swiftly maps out plot and character. In this early scene prison boss Thatcher sets out a clear picture of the world the prisoners have entered and what’s expected of them. The tone is ominous and the audience is left in no doubt that terrible things are in store for Paul, Chris and Rita. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith expertly packs the widescreen Cinemascope frame with extras, giving the film a ‘big’ feel on a modest budget. The lush surrounding jungle, where the ‘turkey shoot’ will take place, is starkly in contrast with the camp’s dusty harshness.
In the totalitarian near future, ‘social deviants’ are sent to prison camps for re-education and behaviour modification. The new arrivals at Camp 47 are Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey), a shopkeeper accused of helping a rebel; Rita Daniels (Lynda Stoner), a suspected sex worker; and Paul Anders (Steve Railsback), a dissident who has escaped from several other camps. After suffering brutal treatment at the hands of Camp Master Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig) and his chief enforcer, Ritter (Roger Ward), the prisoners accept a deadly deal. They will be human prey in a ‘turkey shoot’ Thatcher has organised for Secretary Mallory (Noel Ferrier), and VIPs Jennifer (Carmen Duncan) and Tito (Michael Petrovich). If they can evade the heavily armed guests in the surrounding jungle until sundown, Chris, Rita and Paul will be set free. As the ‘turkey shoot’ progresses, the prisoners turn the tables on the hunters.
Without doubt one of the most notorious Australian films ever made, Turkey Shoot has attracted both wildly positive and negative reactions over the years. Described as ‘a catalogue of sickening horrors’ by prominent Australian critic David Stratton in his book The Avocado Plantation (1990, Macmillan), it was singled out for extraordinary praise by Quentin Tarantino when he visited Sydney in 2003 to launch Kill Bill: Vol 1 (2003). With its unapologetically excessive display of gore and general mayhem, it’s little wonder Turkey Shoot has an international reputation among 'B’ movie buffs like Tarantino. A serious critical restoration of the film is unlikely, but what’s undeniable from any angle is the professionalism with which Brian Trenchard-Smith directs an extremely savage action thriller that still seems fortunate to have been classified ‘M’ (Mature audiences) and not ‘R’ (Restricted to over 18s) in 1982.
After coming to prominence with the zesty Australia-Hong Kong coproduction The Man From Hong Kong (1975), Trenchard-Smith was hired by prolific producer Antony I Ginnane (Patrick, 1978; Thirst, 1979) and delivered everything the film’s lurid advertising campaign promised: ‘Hunting is the national sport … and people are the prey!’. One of many films riding the futuristic thriller wave initiated by Mad Max (1979), Turkey Shoot is set in a dystopia that makes George Orwell’s 1984 seem benign. The amoral totalitarian government represented by Thatcher and Secretary Mallory regards anyone who is not actively for the regime as a ‘social deviant’ in need of ‘behaviour modification’. Worse still, inmates are enthusiastically viewed by Thatcher and cronies as game to be hunted for sport. The basic plot takes its cue from Richard Connell’s influential 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game, filmed in 1932 and reworked many times since in films such as John Woo’s Hard Target (1993) and Peter Watkins’s overtly political Punishment Park (1970).
Turkey Shoot was made when conservative Margaret Thatcher was UK Prime Minister, but apart from opportunistically naming its villain Thatcher (the film was released on video in the UK as Blood Camp Thatcher), Turkey Shoot is much less interested in political commentary than finding gruesome ways to dispose of victims and display bare flesh. It is an exploitation film, designed to extract every possible thrill from its attention-grabbing elements. There’s a (unisex) shower scene, cruel lesbian torture enacted by huntress Jennifer, people blown apart by gunfire and body parts lopped off by machete. Perhaps the most excruciating scene is the eating of a toe by Tito’s carnival freak assistant Alf, played by Aussie wrestler Steve ‘The Enforcer’ Rackman.
Like many Australian films made under the 10BA tax incentives at the time, Turkey Shoot cast overseas actors in key roles in the belief this would assist with foreign sales. Steve Railsback starred with Peter O’Toole in the ‘sleeper’ hit The Stunt Man (filmed in 1978, released 1980), and played Charles Manson in the famous telemovie Helter Skelter (1978). Michael Craig came from a respectable career in British movies, and Argentine Olivia Hussey made headlines in 1968 as the 17-year-old star of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. Of the local performers, it’s lanky Mad Max (1979) and Stone (1974) alumnus Roger Ward who leaves the most lasting impression as the sadistic Ritter. While many viewers will find deplorable what the imported and local actors were required to do – Australian audiences stayed away when it was released and mention of the title is still guaranteed to spark animated discussion – Turkey Shoot can be regarded as one of the highest or lowest points in Australian exploitation cinema, depending entirely on personal taste.
Turkey Shoot was released in Australian cinemas on 14 October 1982.
Notes by Richard Kuipers