One of the ultimate cult movies of the seventies and one I’ve never seen before in spite of my young teenage self being fascinated with the promise of so many posters and adverts extolling the value of a film fueled by fast cars, reckless driving and care-free violence… So, how does the viewing experience match up to three decades of what was less studious self-denial and more just a “failure to see”? Turns out Death Race has something to say and is not just a more dastardly Wacky Races, although the comparisons are clear on that score.
Produced by Roger Corman and directed by Paul Bartel, Death Race 2000 is a vision of a near future not much removed from the here and now. Reality TV may be more pervasive now than in 1975 but it was still an accident waiting to happen and to be viewed. The film features a trio of only slightly over-the-top TV commentators who use prosaic sports rhetoric which somehow makes the nature of the event even more shocking. The national sport of death racing across the USA is a distraction welcomed across the country and aficionados are so swept up with the game they are even willing to be killed by their heroes.
|Mildly OTT TV|
|Calamity Jane and Matlida the Hun|
|Nero the Hero and Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo|
Finally there’s the reigning champion, the President’s favourite and everyone else’s, Frankenstein (David Carradine – who was on 10% of the take for the movie…not many get to out earn Roger Corman on one of his films!) a man who has supposedly been injured and repaired so many times that he is barely human: as much of a machine as his car, cold unknowable and with only one thing on his mind.
|Where's the Buzz Bomb?|
Her group’s aim is also to destroy drivers along with the race and they begin to succeed with first Nero the Hero succumbing to one of their traps. But Frankenstein is too clever to fall for their traps especially when he realises that his new co-driver might be involved…
|Thrills and spills|
The characterization is of rich comic book textures and the plot proceeds with unlikely scenarios such as the drivers all lined up for a relaxing sensual massage after one stage – allowing Roberta Collins and Mary Woronov to show us a little bit more as they carry their competition a little too far.
|Roberta Collins and Mary Woronov "relax"|
As with Wacky Races, the fun is in the telling and not necessarily the result and the sports commentary keeps things fresh as the real battle becomes clearer.
Dusty verdict: In a world in which human life has become so devalued, there has to be hope for a better future – or not - depending on your mood. I’ll let you find out for yourself with the comment that, as Spock once said to his captain: “sometimes it is better to travel than arrive…” or something like that.
The others pantomime very well and, arguably Simone Griffeth has the only characterization that rings true as the reluctant revolutionary who falls for the man she thought she’d have to kill.
Death Race 2000 is available from Amazon – it’s a future firmly rooted in the brash, four-colour comic book world of the mid-seventies and that’s no bad thing.