Monday, October 1, 2007
As I discovered this weekend, Roger Corman's 1975 production of Death Race 2000 makes a swell double-bill to Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. Both movies mock the American blurring of cars, sex, and violence, though Death Race 2000 takes itself much less seriously. That'll happen when a film's budget can be transported in piggy banks. Director Paul Bartel recalls, "Because Death Race was so cheap and looked so cheap in many ways, it was easiest to do it satirically and not have to worry if it seemed futuristic" (p. 156). I first became intrigued with Death Race 2000 because of its promised depiction of a dystopian American future. But, aside from the cheesy matte shot that frames the race -- and a few 70s-era buildings that looked vaguely futuristic in an EPCOT Center sort of way -- Death Race 2000 is set securely on back roads that demanded no filming permits.
Despite its half-hearted efforts and political and media satire, this movie is really abut a transcontinental road race in which drivers run pedestrians over for points. Heads explode like tomatoes while, at the pit stops, it seems that no women can keep her clothes on. This was, after all, a 70s-"Hard R" flick. Still, you've got to love a movie whose main character is called Frankenstein after losing various body parts to car wrecks. And, yes, Sylvester Stallone plays a Chicago mobster-type racer who crashes into his own pit crew to score points. Death Race 2000 is made for an evening of bad jokes and bad food (I chose pizza combos but would select pork rinds if I ever planned to watch it again).
Death Race 2000 is an awful movie, a classic of exploitation cinema.
Bartel, P. (1984). Death Race 2000: New World's violent future. In D. Peary's (Ed.), Omni's screen flights/screen fantasies: The future according to science fiction cinema (pp. 152-157). Garden City, NY: Doubleday.