The original Turkey Shoot is an Ozploitation classic. Beloved by Quentin Tarantino, the 1982 film is a violent, sexual gore fest that delighted in its own shock value. A loose satire of oppressive governments and the Reagan era, the original Turkey Shoot tells the story of a group of prisoners hunted for sport in exchange for their freedom by a collection of sadistic elite. Despite how badly the visual effects have dated, Turkey Shoot is still a divisive film, with audiences deploring and adoring it.
The 2014 remake is unlikely to invoke such strong reactions. Instead, general reactions have been either disappointment or pleasant surprise, and die hard fans of the original usually fit into the former category. This is, perhaps, because of how drastically the story has changed. Directed by Jon Hewitt, the new Turkey Shoot tells the story of Rick Tyler, an ex-Navy SEAL on death row for a massacre he may or may not have committed. At the last minute he is picked up by a producer and placed in a television game show: Turkey Shoot. The stakes are life and death – there are three levels which Rick needs to survive in order to attain a pardon and his freedom.
The film is slick; it feels like a B-grade blockbuster, and thus much of the appeal of the original for modern audiences is lost. It’s not schlocky, the violence isn’t giggle-worthy. There’s no real nudity to speak of and the visual effects are decent. Like its forerunner, Turkey Shoot goes for an international setting for the sake of financial practicality and storytelling, but the Australian setting seeps through. The television death show conceit isn’t exactly new ground either, in an era where films like The Hunger Games and Battle Royale are so widely revered. Even the 2009 non-event Gamer starring Gerard Butler features a similar “death-dome to earn freedom, but televised” gladiator premise.
Comparisons to the original aside, Turkey Shoot is a straightforward, enjoyable action flick. Putting aside the multitude of hallway shots and a handful of unnecessary establishing shots and reaction close ups, the pacing and tension accelerates neatly. A few of the close combat fight scenes are cut awkwardly, and if you’re a Melbournian, you’ll squirm when you see Melbourne Central in place of the New York subway. There are funny moments, particularly during the game show set up, with the loud titles and stilted hosts providing the most direct parody present in the film. Dominic Purcell (of Prison Break fame) is purposefully wooden in a totally down the line take on the stoic action hero that borders on boring but is ultimately appropriate for the role. There’s some giggles to be had in the slipping accents of the minor characters. Belinda McClory, who co-wrote the screenplay with husband and director Jon Hewitt, is the strongest actor in the film. Playing the producer of the television show Turkey Shoot, McClory manages to inject a little nuance into the film, crafting subtle facial expressions, emoting and just generally acting rather than performing.
Ultimately though, the remake of Turkey Shoot is tame. Hewitt wanted to make “an action film with resonance”, firmly believing that today’s wars are fought for television. It’s difficult to gauge just what Turkey Shoot’s intended resonance is, where it is trying to sit in today’s culture and in the original’s legacy. The film’s drama prevents its satirical aspects from fully manifesting, but the plot and characters are too generic to build any pointed social commentary. Interestingly Antony Ginnane produced both versions of the film as well as both versions of Patrick, another highly regarded Ozploitation film that integrated modern technology into its remake. With these changes in mind, and in light of the genre’s recent resurgence, the question is: what is the role of modern Ozploitation?
Turkey Shoot opens in limited release on December 4, 2014.