DEATH RACE 2000 (1975) Review

Directed by: Paul Bartel
Starring: David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Simone Griffeth

In the far off futuristic year 2000 the United States of America is no more. Now a fascist police state, the United Provinces is run by Mr. President who satisfies the citizens with a new type of gladiatorial sport, the Annual Transcontinental Road Race. Far from being an ordinary race this one takes place across three days and finishing first isn't the only way to win. The competitors are encouraged to run down as many pedestrians as possible, with different age groups giving the drivers a certain amount of points. Teenagers are worth 40 points, toddlers and children under 12 earn 70 points and the big score is anybody over the age of 75, giving the driver a whopping 100 points each.

Five drivers and their navigators take part in the race but it is the mysterious driver Frankenstein (Carradine) who takes centre stage. The masked, caped man is the government's champion and has supposedly been rebuilt many times over after losing arms, legs, eyes and other body parts in previous races. He wears a mask to hide his horribly disfigured face.

But as simple as things may seem at first, there is a rogue element involved; a rebel group who's aim is to stop the race and take down the oppressive government. They've even managed to plant one of their own as a death race navigator...

Let's get something out of the way first; DEATH RACE 2000 is a badly made film. Roger Corman pretty much cobbled it together in a hurry to take advantage of the publicity for ROLLERBALL. He wanted a futuristic action, sports film and so optioned the short story The Racer by Ib Melchior and had it adapted into a screenplay. But when I say it's badly made that in no way means that it is a bad movie. It is in fact a very entertaining piece of b-movie exploitation, full of droll humor and satire and has deservedly gained a cult following and became the inspiration for the classic videogame Carmageddon. Some even argue that Darth Vader was modelled somewhat on Frankenstein which given their similarities seems entirely possible.

The acting is campy, the story and dialogue border on the ridiculous and the fight scene between Frankenstein and his rival Machine Gun Joe (Stallone) is the most hilarious and badly choreographed you will see, but I can't seem to help loving the shit out of this movie. And the droll humor comes thick and fast, with some hilarious moments like the 'Euthanasia Day' at the geriatric hospital and the government blaming the rebel attacks on the French. I also love the Wile E. Coyote type tricks that the rebels use, like the ol' fake tunnel gag.

Many people would say that DR2K glorifies violence but I think I'd have to disagree. To me it's just one big parody, in fact it parodies a lot of things but mostly America's obsession with cars, violence and sports. There's obviously an attempt at a political message here too but it's not as strong as it could be and I'm glad because I think if it were it might have detracted from the rest of the film.

For pure trashy, b-grade exploitation DEATH RACE 2000 is a brilliant movie and I think the best part about it is that even through Corman's aim was to piggyback off of ROLLERBALL, his DEATH RACE went on to become a much better and more widely celebrated film. A must-see for fans of exploitation, trash and b-movies. It also has one of Stallone's best performances (which admittedly isn't saying much).

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