Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Death Race 2000!


Death Race 2000 is a movie I have to be in the mood for. It's sarcasm isn't always what I'm hankering for in a movie, but when I am in the mood for that it's a great set piece to bring out. I've owned a VHS copy for many years, once upon a time eager to see a movie I'd read about many times. It wasn't exactly underwhelming, but it sure wasn't what I expected all those years ago. Now I know exactly what it is and I am much more pleased.


The premise is so pure it carries the flick a long way. A televised race across the United States in which points are given to the drivers for running down various members of the population. That's satire! The story is by Ib Melchior and the movie as directed by Paul Bartel (who typically does a cameo) has the smarmish wit he brings to the process. Front and center is Hollywood bad boy David Carradine in the lead role of "Frankenstein", a multiple-time winner of the event and reputed surgical wonder after a multitude of crashes. A pre-Rocky Sly Stallone is on hand too in an over-the-top spin on a gangster-style driver named "Machine Gun Joe Viterbo". There are a host of other familiar faces including Simone Griffith as a slinky and beautiful dame who has secrets galore. In fact it seems most of the characters are not what they seem.

The violence of the movie seems pretty tame by modern standards, but there is a bit of gore for those fans. Since this is a Roger Corman production there's got to be some of that as well as a bit of nudity. The movie does a decent job of pointing out the preference modern culture has for increasingly violent entertainment, and the way in which celebrity is managed by the powers-that-be to increase that power and maintain control. Also the modern media comes in for considerable scrutiny, with blithering announcers catering to the whims of the authorities and to the base desires of their audience. The loudest and most braying voice is from "The Real Don Steele", a disc jockey who does a sterling job as the event announcer.


Ironically the remake of the movie, simply dubbed Death Race, is a wild actioner with Jason Statham on board an exceedingly violent movie which falls victim to many of the deficiencies identified in the original satire. The humorlessness of this movie is striking given its lineage.

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5 comments:

  1. I avoided DR2000 back when it came out as the premise seemed horrifying! But as I read more about it through the years and it became more and more a cult item, I finally watched it just a few years back and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. It really WASN'T what I was expecting at all but, as you say, it looks like the deadly serious Statham film MIGHT be just that. The original reminds me of a 2000AD kind of story.

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    1. "The original reminds me of a 2000AD kind of story."

      Ironies of ironies... When 2000AD was still in the development stage (back in '75 or '76) the poster for the original DR2000 featuring Frankenstein staring straight on at the camera was seen by (Judge Dredd writer) John Wagner in a newspaper ad . Apparently he thought the image was "as cool as fuck" so cut it out of the paper & sent it to artist Carlos Ezquerra (who had been asigned the task of designing the look of Dredd)telling him that "Judge Dredd should look a bit like this" & in retrospect it's easy to see the connection. So if nothing else, this movie has had a direct influence on one of the iconic characters of modern popular sci-fi. From what I understand Wagner never actually saw the film, but I'd be amazed if other writers & artists who worked on the comic were equally ignorant of it, so it's almost certain it had some influence on other aspects of those original stories.

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    2. Fascinating. That's a connection I knew nothing about. Thanks.

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  2. And 2000 A.D. alumnus Kevin O'Neill illustrated a sequel to Death Race for a short-lived line of Roger Corman comics a while back.

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    1. I have some of those comics around here. Wild and fun but little else. Very colorful as I recollect.

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