Death Race 2000 (1975)

DVD Cover (Shout! Factory)
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Connections: Death Race 2000

In a dystopian future, a cross country automobile race requires contestants to run down innocent pedestrians to gain points that are tallied based on each kill's brutality. --IMDb
David Carradine
David Carradine
Simone Griffeth
Simone Griffeth
Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone
Mary Woronov
Mary Woronov
Roberta Collins
Roberta Collins
Review by Ginose
Added: February 01, 2009
Hey, I'd like to perform a little social experiment with all of you... here's the deal, I want all of you readers to stop for a moment and ponder this: Can you name the last truly FUN movie you saw? I mean fun. A movie made with no greater intention than its sheer entertainment value. Got one? Good. Did you enjoy it? Ah, I see... well, alright, when did it come out? Hmmm... Learning anything about yourself? Ah, well, how about this: how many, of the ones you're thinking of, came out in theatres in the last ten years? And I mean a widespread release. I've got a feeling that, judging by your response, you've either noticed how few of them there are, or you actually liked "Transformers".

Either way, the point of that was to separate people who like Roger Corman productions from those who won't/don't. For those of you familiar with the man and his studio's production credits, you'll know that a large quantity of these titles are b-budget schlock made with no greater sense of cinematic presence other than to entertain. To appeal to, not necessarily the masses, but to the niches of film fans who enjoy dinosaurs, ghosts and vehicular manslaughter, regardless of budget, production values or, indeed, talent. Make no mistake, Corman himself directed many gems, he is, however, fairly indiscriminate of what he produces. From "Piranha" to "Carnosaur", his company has been releasing fun, campy, enjoyable and, yes, sometimes even GOOD films for decades, most go unnoticed and are forgotten to all but the advent fans of cult cinema. Yet, somehow, every magical time when the mystical stars of the Outer Gods align and Nyarlathotep is feeling particularly devious some random studio director will grab up the rights to one of these cult classics and decide that it needs to be overhauled and prepared for a re-release into the mainstream audiences of today. Isn't it funny how rarely that works?

This, however, has little to do with the actual film up on the block, tonight. "Death Race 2000" is a love child of Corman's production company (New World Pictures, since I seem to dodge giving the name, for some mysterious reason) and, quite possibly, one of their most popular films. Being a courier of stars such as Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine (a true hero to us all) is truly what may bring most people to watch it in this day in age, but the blatant star worship doesn't do the true film, or its plot, any justice whatsoever: allow me to expand...

We're back in dystopia land (this time the ruins of the United States after a worldwide economic crisis) and, as always, the government of our future seems to be the problem, oh, what, with it's Bipartisan Party, fascist dictatorship and a leader known only as Mr. President. However, to coat its wrongdoings and to make the citizens feel that they actually give a shit about them, the happy regime has instated an annual cross-country road race in which teams (consisting of a driver and a navigator) are sent on their way to see who can get to California from New York first. However, winning the race is not a simple matter of speed: there's a considerate addition of a scoring system, which is totaled by a complete tally of points per U.S. citizen you hit and kill. Yes. As if the title didn't tell you this already. Well, on the road today we have the drivers: Frankenstein (primary contender, personal friend of Mr. President and the only man who has won the race twice), "Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo (Frankenstein's primary competitor and the only other winner of the race), Nero the Hero (a Roman themed racer with a terrible need to be loved by the people), "Calamity" Jane Kelly (Cow-Girl with a, you guessed it, bull-themed vehicle) and Matilda the Hun (She's a Nazi... pretty much just that, yeah) all revved and ready with their navigators and bad-ass cars. Little do they know that there's a group calling themselves "The Resistance" who are opposing the new government's rule (who'd a thunk it?) and hatching a devious scheme to end the "Transcontinental Road Race" once and for all...

My rant about "fun films" wasn't just a completely pointless bash against horrible remakes and the condition of film in general: this movie is fun. Extremely fun. "Fun how?" you may ask. Well, I'll put it this way: Whacked out cars, manslaughter, "Euthanasia Day" at the geriatrics' hospital, a matador, explosive babies, and a grenade hand. All of these things somehow come into play in this film and, by God, is it all appropriate to the action. For a goofy action-sci-fi movie, it does a good job of applying its setting and satire to its full effect, subtly giving you details about the condition of the world, without ever trying to cram all the exposition down your throat at once and does a fantastic job with its camp. It revels in campy goodness with no shame, with a giant hood-mounted knife and the Nazi character shouting "BLITZKRIEG!" at the top of her lungs after each kill, it hits the line between "fun" and "campy" and rides it all the way to the end, and, you know what? It worked. It worked well. Had they tried to make something like this into a serious action film with a strong underlying message it would have been atrocious. Horrid. Laughable for all the wrong reasons...

While performances aren't the strong-suit in this film, I'm ill to find one that I didn't enjoy. Every actor held their character damn near perfectly through the film's length, with none of them changing or developing (most don't have time to) and the leads' performances (oh, Carradine you handsome devil) held a whole different feel from the rest of the film, given they were the only ones who could drive the plot anywhere... however, In the end, they all worked: the good, the bad, and even Martin Kove (to a lesser extent). For better or worse, this movie hits all the right buttons and pulls all the right ropes in almost every department.

The only shining flaws in the film are the few completely unneeded sequences that were used to forward the whole "dystopia" thing; such as the condition of the cities and a particularly pointless scene between Frankenstein and one of his fans. Although they're hardly fluff, they still fit about as well as a heavily dramatic dialogue in a National Lampoon film and blemish this classics shining coat of wonder. But, eh...

In the end, it's not a great movie, it's not an intelligent movie and it's not a movie for everyone. But it's a fun entertaining movie. I don't know when fun became so cheap or unessential in the world, but I miss it. And, with that, I give this romp a solid 9.4/10. See it for what it is and you should enjoy it, no matter what the reason.
Chad #1: Chad - added 02/18/2009, 05:51 AM
Great movie, and 9/10 sounds about right.
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