Death Race 2000 (1975)
Death Race is ace
During his seven-decade career, Roger Corman has become know as the king of low-budget “B” movies. Among his most famous works are Women in Cages, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and the film I will be examining this week, Death Race 2000.
Death Race 2000 takes place appropriately enough in the year 2000. Our own year 2000 was pretty scary, with Y2K hanging over our heads, not to mention the release of Sisqo’s “Thong Song”. Well, apparently we could have had bigger issues. The film provides a very scary picture of what the future (or rather, our past) could have been.
In Death Race 2000, we learn that there is now only one political party in the U.S., and it is led by a cult-like figure named Mr. President. Life isn’t easy in this kind of system, but the people are kept happy by watching the televised Annual Transcontinental Road Race. It is kind of like the Daytona 500. Except it is three days long. Oh, and you also get rewarded for running over pedestrians. Infants and senior citizens casualties will get you the most points. Thankfully, our game shows haven’t gone in this life or death direction. Cash prizes and potential husbands and wives are all that are up for grabs.
There are several interesting drivers depicted in the film. The hero is Frankenstein (David Carradine), who is part man, part machine due to all of the crashes he has been involved in over the years. Frankenstein’s main rival is “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone). Coming along for the ride are an array of buxom young blondes who make sure the film’s violence is balanced with a healthy portion of gratuitous nudity.
The race is simply a backdrop for a bigger story. A group of disenchanted individuals are sick of living under Mr. President’s regime and plan to take action. While the first script called for them to go live in a park for a few weeks to show their dissatisfaction, a re-write was ordered, one that called for them to attempt to kill Mr. President. Frankenstein finds himself involved in the plot, which leads to a thrilling conclusion as he tries to both finish the race, and do what he feels is best for the human race.
The late David Carradine is outstanding in this film as Frankenstein. Whether he’s cracking wise, running over old ladies or making sweet, sweet love to young ladies, Carradine shines. With all due respect to the great Jason Statham (who played Frankenstein in the 2008 remake, Death Race), there is no other actor who could hang with Carradine.
Sylvester Stallone is also tremendous in a rare villainous role. Some may not be aware that he even had a career before he hit it big with Rocky. Indeed he did, and it included not only this film, but also the 1970 softcore porn film The Party at Kitty and Stud’s. As “Machine Gun” Joe in this film, Stallone delivers an over-the-top (which coincidentally is the name of one of his best films) performance that ranks right up there with his finest works – Rocky, First Blood and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Roger Corman. Sure, he could have complained about his budgets. He could have bemoaned the fact that he isn’t among the one per cent of filmmakers who get the most money (people like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay), rather he is among the other 99 per cent. Instead of using his $400 smart phone to send out status updates about how he is constantly struggling financially, Corman put his nose to the grindstone and put food on his family’s table by producing the classics Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Wasp Woman and The Great Texas Dynamite Chase. The films of Roger Corman will always occupy a special place in my home video collection.