Saturday, March 8, 2014

Race War

Until now, I hadn't see Death Race 2000 (1975). So sue me. I had seen the new classic 2008 Death Race, and one or two of the sequels. I thought I had seen it, at a drive-in or on TV or something, but that was just zeitgeist or something.

It's the year 2000, and the theocratic dictatorship of America holds races across the country, with the dual objectives of getting there first, and running over the most pedestrians. You get so many points for schoolkids, more for the elderly, special points for nuns, etc. We used to play that game all the time when I was in high school - never knew where that came from.

Racers include David Caradine as Frankenstein, the horribly mutilated and stitched back together crowd-pleaser, Sylvester Stallone as his main rival, Mary Woronov (did I mention this is a Roger Corman flick), and Roberta Collins as popular Nazi Mathilda the Hun. Meanwhile, a group of dissidents led by a Carrie Nation-like demagogue, played by Harriet Medin, are fighting to overthrow the governemt and the Death Race.

I told you Roger Corman produced, now I must mention that Paul Bartels is directing, first time in that chair. From this I assumed DR2K would have satirical elements, but I was wrong. It is an out-and-out farce, pure black comedy. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but not a serious frame, even when Frankenstein is killing his pit crew.

Take the cars, for instance. They were built by Dean Jeffries, known for the 1960's Batmobile, Black Beauty and Monkee Mobile. I was expecting something from Mad Max, but these are a lot closer to Wacky Racer territory.

1 comment:

Curt Fukuda said...

I saw "Death Race 2000," when it first came out. It was shown in a theater in Milpitas, on a double bill with "The Rebel Rousers" starring Cameron Mitchell, Diane Ladd, Bruce Dern, and Jack Nicholson.
When the film started, I remember being appalled at how cheap the titles looked … just a bunch of high school-level pencil drawings with words superimposed over them. And, then I was amazed to see that the story was by Ib Melchoir (Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Angry Red Planet, etc.) and the screenplay was by Charles B. Griffith (Little Shop of Horrors, Bucket of Blood, Attack of the Crab Monsters, Not of This Earth, etc.). These were names that I recognized from countless films I saw on TV.
So, I was all set for a low-budget B-movie. It took me a while to get used to the fact that nothing was to be taken seriously in the film ... even though there were a few gruesome deaths. At the time, I had no idea who Paul Bartel was or that he had a quirky sense of humor. I later learned that Bartel intended the film as a comedy, which displeased Roger Corman. Corman expected a scifi action film not a goofy satire. Subsequently, Corman ordered additional violent footage shot (the head being crushed by a car, the fisherman's bloody demise, etc.). The different approaches by Corman and Bartel certainly give "Death Race 2000" an unbalanced feel. But, that quirkiness is part of the film's charm and strength ... not to mention the inclusion of some great cult performers.
So, as disoriented as I was by seeing "Death Race 2000," it made a big enough impression on me that I went back to the theater the following week to see the film again. And, to this day, it remains a foolish pleasure of mine.