Starring: David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Simone Griffeth, Mary Woronov, Roberta Collins
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Death Race 2000 is a product of Roger Corman, King of the B-Movies, and it may be his crown jewel. Made for $300,000 in 1974, it shows; hokey backdrops, obviously undercranked car chase scenes, plot holes you can drive a kit car through, but even for all of these faults there is a freshness and infectious energy that shines through. Thirty six years after the movie was made and even ten years after the fictional race took place the movie still holds up. Not just holds up. It excels.
It’s the year 2000. Twenty one years after the crash. Mr. President and his Bipartisan party have ruled the country for the last twenty years. To divert the country from the failed economy and suspension of civil rights the government sponsors the Death Race, a transcontinental dash from New York to Los Angeles that has been run since 1980. The Death Race is no ordinary race. Beating your opponents to the finish line is no guarantee of a win. To win you must mow down as many pedestrians as you can. Junior and Grandma score more points than Mommy and Daddy, and Mommy always scores ten points more than Daddy. However, not everybody is fooled by the bread and circus’ routine. There is a resistance led by Thomasina Paine, the great granddaughter of the revolutionary patriot Thomas Paine. This year the resistance has managed to place a mole on one of the race teams with plans to stop the race, which they see as a perversion of the American way.
There are five teams of driver and navigator competing in the twentieth running of the Death Race. There is Frankenstein, David Carradine, favorite and two time winner of the race and his new navigator, Annie Smith, Simone Griffeth. the next most likely winner is Machine Gun Joe Viturbo, get it, Viturbo – “the turbo”, played to the hilt by Sylvester Stallone, the other competitors are Matilda the Hun, Roberta Collins, who screams “blitzkrieg” joyfully every time she “scores,” Calamity Jane, portrayed by Mary Woronov, and Nero the Hero. They all drive theme based cars which would fit right in at any monster truck rally. The race starts in a packed stadium in New York City. You know it’s the year 2000 because the shot includes a matte painting that looks like it was painted by Elroy Jetson looking out his bedroom window. The competitors are soon out of the city and racing though the countryside, which looks suspiciously like Southern California not New England. The crash of 1979 must have been so bad it wiped out the entire interstate highway system because after a short jaunt at the beginning of the race all of the drivers opt for country two lanes and even dirt roads.
There is no doubt about the heritage of this movie; it’s painfully obvious that the whole movie was shot in and around Los Angeles, the cars while striking and inventive are all VW Beetle based kit cars, the story is more than a little ridiculous if you make the mistake of paying attention to the details instead of just letting it wash over you and there is as much T&A as you could get away with in 1974, which was quite a bit. It’s B-Movie material and proud of it, but somehow this movie manages to transcend it’s roots it can be deep and cartoony at the same time, poignant while exploitive, hokey yet beautiful. Director Paul Bartel manages to walk the fine line between a dystopian science fiction tale and a bloody dark comedy.
The video is presented in widescreen format. I never noticed any aliasing, moiré or any other digital artifacts. The transfer was made from an outstanding print. The colors are strong and crisp, several scenes are simply breathtaking. It’s not all perfect however; some of the action scenes, which I imagine were shot by second units are a little grainy and murky, not bad, just different enough in quality from the rest of the video that it sticks out.
The audio is in the original mono. The mix is fine. Dialog is clear and easily understood. The score by Paul Chihara is as original as the rest of the movie. During the commentaries the editor and Roger Corman speak about difficulties with the original sound effects, but to be honest I never noticed while watching the movie. I did notice the cars didn’t sound quite right but I just figured that’s the way cars sounded in this version of the year 2000.
Shout factory has pulled out all of the stops for this edition of Death Race. The iconic artwork is lifted straight from the original movie posters and fits perfectly with the other entries in the Roger Corman’s Cult Classics series. The two sided insert is showcased by a clear Amaray case. Included is a twelve page booklet about the movie. There are two audio commentaries, one with Roger Corman and Mary Woronov. The other with assistant director Lewis Teague and editor Tina Hirsh. There are seven featurettes including interviews with David Carradine and Roger Corman. All of the extra material is worth watching, no filler.
In short Death Race is a blast, no guilty pleasure it’s a genuine B-Movie classic.
The Movie 9/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 5/10
The Bonus Features 9/10
Overall (not an average) 9/10