Turkey Shoot (1982) is commonly viewed as a stand-out entry in the annals of Australian exploitation film. Set in a dystopian near-future where young deviants are imprisoned and hunted by elders as wild game, it remains a scummy, ludicrous and oddly entertaining piece of work. Now we have another Turkey Shoot, where a wrongfully imprisoned Navy SEAL (Dominic Purcell) is pitted by a cartoonish TV exec (Belinda McClory) against a legion of killers on a titular reality programme for a chance at freedom. Beyond the hunter-versus-hunted setup and its own military antagonist named Thatcher (Nicholas Hammond), there’s next to nothing about the plot that warrants being called a remake/re-imagining/re-whatever-the-hell-the-producers-are-going-with. What it has strangely in common is divey production values, a taste for absurd killing and an unfussy pace that makes it as tolerable but empty-headed as most B-pictures.
The original film boasted a gonzo vibe through its peculiar supporting cast, but the one found here isn’t quite so compelling. Viva Bianca plays a military commander and Kick-Ass Female Character™ who is demoted to Purcell’s love interest with almost ironic rapidity. The actors playing the TV show’s hosts (Suzannah McDonald and Juan Jackson) are maybe the highlight, because they know what kind of film they’re in and play it right to the hilt. McClory and Hammond are much the same, which is nice given that McClory is the film’s co-screenwriter and Hammond is a decades-long acting veteran. The less said about Purcell’s in-game opponents, however, the better, because while they have little to do, they are handed embarrassing cultural stereotypes and zero favours otherwise.1 One recurring villain, a hilariously incompetent sniper called Ramrod (Robert Taylor), grumbles notions of celebrity and public reputation, before the movie skips hurriedly on to Rambo-esque knife and gun-play.
And that violence is another ‘Visual Chaos in Cinema’ video essay waiting to happen, since one-on-one fights feel too stitched-together to be even remotely pulse-pounding. There’s small pleasure in just watching Purcell – the kind of actor who surprises only by not having appeared in an Expendables movie – as he poses and twitches through fights like a video game character, assisted by a sound mix of wallops and neck-snaps. Beyond that, the film is shot with the almost-charming dinginess of an Asylum picture. There’s a heap of examples, but my favourites include the use of actual car-crash footage in a vehicle pursuit2, amusingly mismatched crowd shots for the Turkey Shoot audience and a green-screened sniping prologue that resembles the stagnant, blocky feel of the early-noughties Grand Theft Auto video games. When the only convincing-looking thing in a film with fights, explosions and a Black Hawk helicopter are the bumpers on its fictional television programme, you might have a rush job on your hands.
The movie bills itself as a satire, and reaches for this through an ongoing mystery invoking the collusion of media narratives and the military complex, but doesn’t have any substantive commentary to make. If you know that countries go to war for bad reasons, and that the media feeds its public a narrative inaccurate to reality, than Turkey Shoot will teach you nothing new, nor will it present those facts in an inventive light. Worse still is the recurring tone of self-effacement that only detracts from whatever timeliness it has left. Its big reveals and jabs carry as much impact as an Facebook image macro, written in Impact font, so the only enjoyment remaining is the trashy murdering and punching that houses them.
Although, in a way, the defaulting to cheap thrills is totally in line with the original. The older film might be enjoyable because of its retro fuzz and practical effects, but it was never made to be anything but filler between the trickier A-films, and this newer one is certainly no different in its own context. The Ozploitation film-makers would not have been above lifting a profitable name to sell product either – indeed, Turkey Shoot (1982) was renamed Escape 2000 and Camp Blood Thatcher in other territories – so why complain that this new release does the same? The crop of current DTV dumpings that this new film joins is bound to get its fond remembrances by some in the future, and good for them. The temptation for now, though, is to let it drift in the morasses.