At first glance, a viewer could be forgiven if they thought Turkey Shoot, also released as Escape 2000 in the US, comes to us via an Italian master of shitty cinema such as Enzo G. Castellari or Alfonso Brescia. Turkey Shoot has the same look and feel, but it hails from Australia.
Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, from a screenplay by Jon George and Neill D. Hicks, Turkey Shoot takes place in a near future where an unnamed fascist regime has control over vast swathes of humanity. Like in all good totalitarian states, citizens who insist on holding onto their personal freedoms are sent to reeducation camps. Turkey Shoot follows the tribulations of the three newest detainees at Camp 47.
Paul Anders (Steve Railsback) is a dissident who has been captured and escaped from reeducation camps multiple times. Rita Daniels (Lynda Stoner) was nabbed for prostitution. Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey) is totally innocent of crimes against the state, but got swept up nevertheless. She is terrified of having been sent to the camp, and can’t believe such a horrible mistake has been made. There was no mistake. Such is life in a totalitarian state. Even those who obey the rules must always live in fear.
The camp is set up somewhere in the wilderness (it’s Queensland). The inmates are subjected to a lot of abuse from the guards, but there isn’t much reeducation going on. Beatings and group showers seem to be the order of the day.
The camp is run by warden Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig). He’s a true believer in the power of the state. He also encourages his underlings to be predatory and ruthless towards the inmates. The worst of the guards are Ritter and Red (Roger Ward and Gus Mercurio). Ritter deals in violence while Red hangs the threat of rape over every female in the camp. What a pleasant bunch.
As if being held in a concentration camp weren’t bad enough for Anders and company, Thatcher has a social life to think about. Other high party officials are at the camp for a game hosted by the warden. They are Secretary Mallory (Noel Ferrier), the government official in charge of the camps; Tito (Michael Petrovitch); and Jennifer (Carmen Duncan), a sociopathic aristocrat who is handy with a crossbow. What kind of game is the warden hosting that would require skills in weaponry? It’s a hunt, of course, à la The Most Dangerous Game.
It’s a good thing the hunt came about, because the movie was floundering in the camp. The camp scenes were little more than sadistic pastiches of abuse, and they weren’t all that imaginative. The scenes with Ritter joyfully torturing and taunting prisoners feel improvised or only half thought out.
These scenes also wallow in dreadful cheapness. This flick had a budget of over 3 million bucks. For that kind of cash, the camp dormitory set should have been able to afford something better than inflatable pool mats for the prisoners’ beds. Perhaps Trenchard-Smith was husbanding his resources for the hunt and the final act. If so, it was worth it.
A plodding and unbelievable film morphs into shitty gold once the hunt is underway. Our three main protagonists, plus fellow inmates Griff and Dodge (Bill Young and John Ley), set off into the jungle, with the promise of freedom should they survive the day.
The bad guys waste little time tracking down their prey, but find the targets are not so easy to kill. It’s here that all restraints on the film are removed. It becomes a bloody mess of gunfire, hacked limbs, and mechanical accidents. There’s even a wolfman mutant (Steve Rackman) added to the cast of bad guys for no other reason than it provides for more bloody action. All of this leads to a denouement back at the camp, where all the remaining prisoners begin a fight for their freedom.
This final act is very satisfying, for no other reason than Trenchard-Smith and company make sure that the bad guys, and I mean every single one of them, dies in spectacularly gory fashion. No joke, the effects in these scenes would find a ready home in a Tom Savini horror flick.
Without the gratuitous nudity and the blood, Turkey Shoot would have been a slog. That makes this a textbook example of an exploitation flick. The first half of the film hurts its ranking in the Watchability Index, but it sticks the landing. Turkey Shoot takes over the #67 spot from Olympus Has Fallen. Check it out.