Death Race 2000 –
Special Edition (1975/Buena Vista
Picture: B –
Sound: C+ Extras: B- Film: B-
The richness and greatness of films of the 1970s was so
great, that even B-movies could sometimes surprise and be fine films. This even applies to a long time B—movie
producer like Roger Corman, who had been at it for a while. One of the best films he ever backed was
Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000 (1975), which serves as a wacky satire of
the future, one of the most interesting descendents of Stanley Kubrick’s A
Clockwork Orange (1971) like Murder In A Blue World (reviewed
elsewhere on this site) and one of the better entries in the “death and sport
as genocide” cycle in the genre at the time.
The story is about The United States of America in the
year 2000, which now has a fascist leader as president and the two parties have
merged with the help of corporations to be The Bipartisan Party. Like Norman Jewison’s Rollerball the
same year, a deadly sport where people take the violence as part of the fun has
been devised. Here, it involves special
race cars designed to kill and mow anyone in their way. The title activity involves running over as
many people as possible to build points and win the game in a cross-country
race that will be televised live throughout and non-stop. Both the violence and the coverage seemed
like a wild idea at the time, but with 24-hour broadcasting, more acceptance of
violence in the society and the self-hating celebrated ugliness we know as
“reality” TV. Sadly, the world has
caught up too much with the film.
It is obvious the viewing audience in the film is
encouraged to enjoy the killings, but the relation to a audience watching the
actual film in a theater or at home is more ambiguous, with the film being so over
the top (typical of Corman productions) that it is done as a joke. The film has an R-rating, but is not as
outright violent as most films we see now, though some of the moments are still
shocking here and there and some of that comes more from political
incorrectness than graphicness. There
is also more matter-of-fact nudity typical of the time that is actually mature
as compared to most films that offer nudity and imitation sex now. Still, there was enough of all to get the
film banned in many places worldwide.
Specifically here, the film features a racer named
Frankenstein (David Carradine) who has earned that name from having so many
artificial body parts and implants from his many races. He has competitors including a gangster type
with machine guns galore (Sylvester Stallone a year before the first Rocky),
a gladiator type (Martin Kove) and two separate female drivers (Mary Woronov as
Calamity Jane and Roberta Collins as Matilda The Hun) to get to the finish line
with the most carnage in their way.
Though the film has some limits due to its intended silliness, it has
great bold moments all the way to the climax and some of it is not as funny as
it once was since too much of it has come true. It is a minor classic and deserves the fine treatment it gets in
this new DVD edition.
The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image is a new
transfer that shows off the great Metrocolor the film originated in. For a low-budget film, Tak Fujimoto’s
cinematography looks terrific and he went on to shoot films like Jonathan
Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs (1991, reviewed elsewhere on this site)
and both the costumes and cars are fun.
The way color is used and the kind of color used is a plus and the new
transfer shows it off to best effect.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is fine for its age and sounds like a new
transfer as well, something I hope we see more in these Corman/Disney
reissues. It has not always been the
case in the first batch, but this sure works well here. Also, some visual errors have been corrected
form the original release print eliminating some bloopers.
Extras include the original theatrical trailer, a new
featurette about the film and a terrific audio commentary by Corman and
Woronov. Though it may be rough in a
few places, Death Race 2000 is a classic of the “death sport cycle” of
Science Fiction cinema and is one of the key films of Corman’s producing
career. Now, they are talking about
remaking it, but I doubt it will be as good as this original. Next, maybe we’ll see the 1978 motorcycle
recycle Deathsport or Bartel’s next racecar deathsport film Cannonball!
on DVD and how they endure.
- Nicholas Sheffo