In a futuristic society, a nasty cross-country car race is one of the most watched sporting events. “Frankenstein” (David Carradine, Bound for Glory), a grotesquely scarred racer, is a fan favorite. “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone, First Blood) is his nemesis. Drivers get extra points for killing pedestrians. In the meantime, rebel rousers conspire to overthrow the totalitarian regime.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Camp is a dead art form. Today’s film industry has positively lost its sense of humor. You either get dark and gritty, or snarky and stupid. But there was a time when camp was the butter and bread of the movie industry. Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000 is an ancient artifact from times long gone that effectively blends gore, action and social satire. It also uses its small budget smartly.
Although there is no indication that Death Race 2000 wants to be anything more than mindless entertainment (this is, after all, a Roger Corman production), it does make some interesting points about politics, religion and pop culture. The film also anticipates the future emergence of a monster called “reality TV.”
For such a low-budget film, Death Race 2000 looks pretty good. The production design is delightfully daffy and Tak Fujimoto’s camera work is terrific (he is better known for shooting Jonathan Demmne’s mainstream hits Something Wild, Married to the Mob and The Silence of the Lambs). Celebrated and Oscar-winning sound guru Ben Burtt (Star Wars) created the sound effects. I loved the matte work too.
David Carradine and Sly Stallone are hilarious (Stallone allegedly wrote most of his own dialogue) — the success of the film led them to better and bigger things. Blink and you’ll miss filmmakers Lewis Teague (Cujo), Charles B. Griffith (Eat My Dust!) and John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) in funny cameos. Director Bartel (Eating Raoul) also has a cameo. The cast also includes Mary Woronov (Silent Night, Bloody Night), Roberta Collins (Caged Heat) and Simone Griffeth.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Based on sci-fi writer Ib Melchior’s short story The Racer, Death Race 2000 is a fun B-movie — it’s one of Corman’s most entertaining productions. Grab the popcorn and enjoy. Death Race 2000 was remade in 2008. Color, 80 minutes, Rated R.
Followed by Deathsport (1978)