Directed by Paul Bartel
Starring David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Simone Griffeth
Review by Jordan
When presenting a scathing criticism of a totalitarian Government, with drones saluting a charismatic Head of State, it’s good to not take yourself too seriously. With David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone facing off in an annual cross-country road race endorsed by the American President, where reaching the finish line first only accounts for a portion of the victory points and running down bystanders the rest, it’s clear that director Paul Bartel and producer Roger Corman wished for their film to ignite laughs first, wincing second and contemplation third.
Senseless violence in films of course is no cause for celebration nor an instant entertainment barometer, as Roger Ebert so passionately spoke of in his own review of Death Race upon it’s release, having seen it in cinema filled with cheering kids far too young than should be allowed admittance, but here it truly is fantasy: mulched heads and exploding cars painting a visceral picture of a dystopian world in which an All-American event is taking place.
“My children, whom I love so dearly, it has been my duty in the long and difficult years since the World Crash of ’79 to serve you as best I could. Never before in history have masses forgone all comfort, so that the spirit of genius might thrive and seek the golden key to a new time of plenty in the fertile field of minority privilege. And now, my children, the drivers are ready. The world is waiting. Once more, I give you what you want” boasts Mr. President to get events started, events which exploitation and cult film fans would fondly remember as a truly bizarre precursor to Mad Max and co. and a strange slip-road off the career of the prolific Stallone.
Death Race 2000 is not a film designed with greatness in mind, in fact most people would perhaps not deem it worthy of their time at all, but its undoubtedly a classic because of its influence on a range of grungy genre films since, not least everyone’s favorite trip to Tromaville The Toxic Avenger. Seeing two screen icons face off both behind the wheel and in those pesky media commitments in between legs offers some indispensably awkward moments of bravado, with Carradine particularly cool as the mysterious and beloved Frankenstein trying to bring the race down from the inside.
The hero at the center of it all though remains the energetic commentator, whose enthusiasm as he runs through the updated kill values and current leader-board buoys our own until an explosive finale where Corman’s stamp is printed the clearest. If only more exploitation films today had the political undertones of their 70’s counterparts, the direct-to-DVD scene would be a far brighter place.