I must admit, I wasn’t expecting much from Turkey Shoot heading into my screening of it. I figured it would merely be a terrible little film that would be easy for me to skewer and as a result a good laugh would be had by all. I certainly wasn’t expecting a film that would somehow perfectly represent the goals of this site, and as a result somehow turn into a minor obsession.
I have always had a bit of a soft spot for Australian films. While it is probably due to my early introduction to the Mad Max films, as I slowly discovered others I realized that their was something about their visceral delivery along with their kinetic visual style that appealed to me even then , and has continued ever since.
Over the years I continued to track down other Australian films and time and again I came away impressed and entertained by the films that were being produced in Australia even though they lounged in relative obscurity. In recent years Hollywood has seen a flood of actors and directors coming from Australia, allowing others to finally recognize that Australia is producing films and talent that can rival any other country. But this review isn’t about one of those great modern films. It isn’t even about a good film. And it certainly isn’t about a film that should be remembered or cared about. No, if ever a film truly deserved to languish in obscurity, it is Turkey Shoot.
It is the distant future, the year 2000. We … are … fascists. Although the film is really set in 1995 while being marketed as 2000, but really, like that is relevant. But any other information is a bit difficult to gather. You see, the intro to the film is rather fuzzy on what the problem with the future and the government is. Or what country it is happening in. Or any other sort of relevant detail.
It seems that a few weeks before filming was to begin one of the principal investors pulled their financing, directly resulting in the shooting schedule being shortened from forty four days to thirty because of a lack of funds. This meant throwing out the first fifteen pages of the script, which were now too expensive to film. Of course, this also meant all the exposition for the film was now eliminated, leaving it up to the viewer’s imagination as to why the world was now such a terrible place, if it was even terrible at all. For all we know the protagonists of Turkey Shoot could just be Doug and Wendy Whiner and were making a huge fuss over nothing. Do you know? I don’t know. Nobody knows!
This elimination of any exposition has both a positive and negative effect on the film, though unfortunately, the negative is the easiest for the audience to key in on. With no setup to the camp, and by eliminating any sort of social message, the viewer is not only confused by what is going on, but any weight the film was intending to have is now lost. With no moral framework to latch the story onto the plot boils down to; camp bad, so run for your lives! And this sharp disconnect seemed to infect the cast as well, as half seemed to embrace the inevitable campy shell of a film that was now all that remained, while the other half still seemed to cling to an ideal that Turkey Shoot still could be a high minded message movie.
Unfortunately this tug-of-war is passed on to the viewer, leaving them constantly in a lurch about just what type of film Turkey Shoot truly is. The first fifteen minutes are played incredibly dour and straight, yet sure enough the phrase “Head down, ass up!” is screamed every five minutes, inevitably sending me into a fit of giggles at every utterance. But while as the film progressed it became increasingly unclear just what direction the film wanted to go in. The plot and much of the acting was desperately trying to play to the lowest common denominator, while the butchered script seemed tethered to the idea that this was a serious morality play. As the running time ticked away, I began to wonder is Turkey Shoot would ever decide on which direction to take.
It really did come out of nowhere, yet It was what the film was both lacking and desperately in need of. It, was the addition of Beast Man from Masters of the Universe. Now of course at the time Beast Man had yet to be invented, but as sure as Prince Adam had The Power it was Beast Man, a hulking man-animal with fangs, red cat-like eyes and body hair that looked suspiciously similar to Michael J Fox’s in Teen Wolf. And as an added bonus, Beast Man’s name was Alph, and while it was never clarified if he had an unquenchable thirst for the flesh of cats, he did seem to have a liking for pinkie toes.
And just when I thought Turkey Shoot couldn’t tie-in another archaic 80′s reference, along comes Carmen Duncan as Jennifer. Initially Jennifer seems rather normal, though more then a bit obsessed with her crossbow which she references with more then a hearty dose of sexual innuendo. But soon she is slapping on outlandish eye makeup, saturates her coif with hair spray, randomly becomes a lesbian and vamps out to such an absurd degree that she would have been more then a worthy adversary for Diana on V. How can I be so sure? Because she tries to kill someone with her tongue. Her tongue.
It was then, as the man-animal and the lesbian version of Jem (Though Pizzazz of The Misfits is probably more applicable but I’m desperately trying to not show off.) ran wild across the Australian countryside that Turkey Shoot finally started to feel as if it had found its voice. It may not be a voice that many share, enjoy or even tolerate, but director Brian Trenchard-Smith finally started pulling out all the stops. It was when Trenchard-Smith finally abandoned the wafer thin plot and simply attempted to out crazy each successive scene that Turkey Shoot begins to finally impart some lively energy onto the audience, and in turn I was finally able to unplug my brain and revel in the gory mayhem.
And gore there was. Exploding heads, impaled eyes, severed bodies and even one person shot up with a Gatling gun until he literally melts on screen. Surprisingly, most of the effects hold up fairly well, though still not exactly what one would label strong. This results in the gore being far from stomach churning, but mild indigestion could possibly result. Though the twitching hand was a nice touch.
But even as Turkey Shoot cranks up the insanity, the film still struggles with its uneven delivery. Steve Railsbeck’s method acting is almost laughably bad, while Olivia Hussey is clearly miserable. Far too few of the actors are fully engaged with the absurdities of the film, and thus Turkey Shoot simply staggers from scene to scene rather then racing to the finish. But, this is a film that still looks like it has promise. Like a fine wine Turkey Shoot hasn’t properly aged yet and watching it before it peaks will only result in an uneven, and ultimately disappointing, experience. But give the film another decade, and Turkey Shoot could stand along any of the great, terrible trashy exploitation films in cinematic history. There is genius in this film, it just needs time to fester.