Turkey Shoot (1982)
Starring: Steve Railsback, Olivia Hussey, Michael Craig
Also known as: Death Camp Thatcher (UK video), Escape 2000
“Freedom is obedience, obedience is work, work is life.” (Charles Thatcher, Turkey Shoot)
It is the future: the year 1995, to be precise (though everyone still has early 1980s hairdos). After a nondescript country falls under the control of an evil totalitarian regime, correctional camps start springing up across the country to teach deviants how to live ‘properly’ and do what they’re told. This is the harsh reality facing our protagonists in Turkey Shoot. Oh, and there’s a werewolf in there somewhere too for no reason.
Turkey Shoot is an Australian exploitation film that bombed in both its native country and in the US (where it was known as Escape 2000). It was only when it was released in the UK – as Death Camp Thatcher – that it found success, mainly because its new name combined with its story of oppressed people rising up against their leaders struck a chord with the UK public for obvious reasons at the time.
The film follows a small group of camp prisoners, most notably Paul (Steve Railsback) – a pirate radio presenter who was caught broadcasting anti-dictatorship messages – and Chris (Olivia Hussey), a shy shop owner who was captured when a protestor randomly stumbled into her store and the police thought he was conspiring with her. The head of the camp, Charles Thatcher (see what they did there?), fancies a bit of sport and so he picks five prisoners, including our two new chums, and offers them a deal.
The five are allowed to leave the camp and roam the surrounding forestry, but after three hours Thatcher and four of his associates will start hunting them. If they can survive without being caught until sundown, they will be free forever. If the hunters catch them however, they’ll be killed. It’s basically a cross between First Blood and Battle Royale.
To keep things interesting, the five hunters each have their own weaponry and wildly different personalities. One is an upper-class lesbian with a crossbow and a collection of explosive arrows, another roams the forest in a bulldozer alongside his pet werewolf wrestler. Shut up, it’s the future. They can do what they want.
The first half of Turkey Shoot is taken up explaining the camp scenario and generally showing how nasty the camp staff are. It goes on a little too long and the film makes it point long before it decides it has. Thankfully, once the group leave the camp and the hunt begins, the pace starts to get a lot faster and the action a lot more ridiculous, especially when the gore starts flowing.
It may take a while but once the blood starts to spill in Turkey Shoot it does so in numerous inventive ways. Hands are cut off, bodies are split in two at the waist and in one memorable scene a machine gun somehow manages to make a head and body explode into thousands of pieces.
The cast are generally entertaining for their own reasons. Steve Railsback is an intense lead, the chap playing Thatcher chews so much scenery it’s a wonder he hasn’t gained weight by the end of the film and while legend has it that Olivia Hussey was a tricky actress to work with (she refused to do any nude scenes, which explains why she showers with her jumpsuit on), she plays the innocent shy victim role perfectly.
Meanwhile, the film’s soundtrack is a wonder in itself. The score served up by Brian May (no, not that one) is brilliantly ludicrous, with synths and various bizarre sounds adding an extra layer of weird to the already mental goings-on.
Turkey Shoot is schlock but it’s fun schlock. While the hunting scenes in the film’s second half are much more entertaining than the first half’s over-long camp scenes, it’s still compelling viewing throughout and you really do want Paul and Chris to give Thatcher a much-deserved kicking. It’s not a must-have but if you get the opportunity to see it you should.