Death Race 2000 (1975) – Paul Bartel

 

The 101 Action Movies brings a Roger Corman  produced classic for viewing, which pits David Carradine against a new comer named Sylvester Stallone.

In a world where Mr. President (Sandy McCallum) has been in power for a while, after a devastating war with the French, in order to prove their virility, and their love for reality television and violence, the expanded United Provinces of America have a cross-country race from New York to New Los Angeles featuring five racers, who aren’t only racing to be first across the country but also to score as many points by running down people on the way.

carradineThe 5 drivers are Nero the Hero (Martin Kove), Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov), Matilda The Hun (Roberta Collins), Machine Gun Joe (Stallone) and Frankenstein (Carradine). Each driver is paired with a navigator, joining Frankenstein is the lovely Annie (Simone Griffeth) who has an ulterior motive for being assigned to the two-time champion.

As the race begins hosted by a flurry of excitable ‘news’ reporters like Grace Pander (Joyce Jameson) and Junior Bruce (Don Steele), the 5 individually outfitted cars, made to resemble the personalities of their drivers (it seems to be foreshadowing that Stallone’s car has a huge hunting knife protruding from it) tear across the country.

Walking between gore and satire, the racers aim for hospitals which have euthanasia days where they live elderly people in the middle of the road to be hit, surviving spouses are awarded prizes, and fan groups proclaim their love by being run down by their heroes.

slyWorking to stop all of this is the Army of the Resistance led by Thomasina Paine (Harriet Medin) who interrupts the broadcasts with their message of reclaiming democracy and trying to stop the racers one at a time, with a plan of replacing the sure-thing, Frankenstein, with another racer who can then assassinate Mr. President on the racing podium.

There’s blood, there’s nudity, there’s campy dialogue, fun sequences, and honestly, I found it a damned sight more engaging than the ‘remake’ from 2008. This one wasn’t afraid to take shots at religion, politics, race and fan culture.

It’s easy to just look at this film on the surface as a goofy, fun and unique race film, but there are pointed comments on all of these things.

carsThe one thing that looked shoddy, which is saying something for such a low-budget film which you know going in is going to look a little shoddy, is the staging of the fight between Frankenstein and Joe – to me, it was so poorly done that I just couldn’t believe that Frankenstein (with Carradine’s skinny frame) could believably kick Joe’s ass.

Sorry.

The rest of it really was a good ride. It’s a short film, not even clocking in at 90 minutes, but it’s appeal is undeniable.

If you haven’t seen it, or aren’t quite sure about venturing into Roger Corman territory (though you may be surprised to learn of some amazing directors and effects experts who did their time with him) this one is probably an easy in. And after that there are so many more films you can see.

What’s your favorite Corman film?

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