Death Race 2000 (1975)
By: Stuart Giesel on March 15, 2013 | Comments
Shout! Factory | Region A | 1.78:1, 1080p | English DD 2.0 | 78 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Paul Bartel
Starring: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Mary Woronov
Screenplay: Robert Thom, Charles B. Griffith
Country: USA
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It's the future (well, the year 2000 as imagined in 1975) and a famous transcontinental road race is run by the government every year to keep the masses entertained, as well as to distract them from any thoughts on protesting or rebellion. This year sees five racers driving from coast-to-coast, each with their own motif or gimmick: mobster Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone), Roman-esque Neo the Hero, neo-Nazi Matilda The Hun, cowgirl Calamity Jane and the legendary Frankenstein (David Carradine) who is rumoured to be more machine than man from a career of horrible injuries. The difference with this particular road race is that you not only have to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, but you have to kill or injure as many pedestrians as possible, and you earn different points depending on whether the pedestrians are young, old or really young (i.e babies). In the middle of the sparring between racing foes Frankenstein and Machine Gun Joe is an activist movement who uses terrorist-style tactics to try to bring the cruel race to a halt.

Death Race 2000 can be viewed simply as an extremely fun, if dated, piece of nonsense with a more blood and gore than your usual race film. But with its extremely obvious and pointed attacks on sport, the media, politics and religion, it can as easily be seen as a subversive, satirical poke at the decline of morals and the loss of decency or restraint in modern entertainment. Obviously there's a political message there with the whole dystopian future and controlling government thing - that people shouldn't be so distracted by bright, shiny things to not be concerned about what their government is up to -- but ultimately who gives a shit, really? Death Race 2000 is a blast, and when it's not running over pedestrians and spurting shocking red blood all over the place, it's bombarding the viewer with cartoonish characters like the TV announcer who literally bays for more blood, cheesy outfits, even cheesier car designs, cheap yet effective sets, and a bunch of Stallone-Carradine face-offs.

Director Paul Bartel does an admirable job of working with what he had, which presumably under the Roger Corman banner means not much at all. The racing scenes are nicely filmed, even if a few shots are too sped-up for my liking. And there's a delightful sense of anarchy running through the film - none of the satire ever gets too heavy-handed or preachy. Because, after all, this is a Roger Corman exploitation film, meaning there's a bunch of naked women and bloody violence to enjoy. And that's one of the interesting conceits presented by Death Race 2000 - here we have an exploitation film out to make a buck by giving its viewers blood and gore and boobs, yet at the same time based around the gleefully sick ways that reprehensible, morals-free modern entertainment is used to keep the population under control.

Stallone isn't in the film as much as his billing suggests, but whenever he appears he seems to make the most of it, bringing an enjoyable and fun presence to a thin role. The real star of the film, David Carradine, brings as much gravitas as one can to this sort of production. Frankly, the other drivers don't make much of an impression, at least not as much as some of the bit-players like TV announcer Junior Bruce (Don Steele), who ghoulishly salivates over the prospect of more fatalities to come, or interviewer Grace Pander (Joyce Jameson), always prattling on about how so-and-so was such a dear friend of hers. These characters predate the vacuous modern TV presenters and interviewers that we're used to by a few decades, but you wouldn't know it from their mannerisms and sayings. Yes, it can be said that thanks to reality TV and the sort of mindless, mostly insipid and certainly mean-spirited sludge we trawl through these days, Death Race 2000 looks more prescient than ever.

Despite the lurid concept, Death Race 2000 isn't as gory as you might expect, though there are enough pedestrians run over, chomped up and crushed to satisfy all but the most demanding of gorehounds. The spirit and light-heartedness of the production means that it never gets as dark or nihilistic as it could have been. Even a scene where old people outside a nursing home line up on the road in preparation for their grisly demise is funny rather than being sick or brutal. The production may be cheap, but Death Race 2000's bold concept and fun execution makes this one of the most memorable racing films ever made. Just ignore the pointless and misguided remake.
The Disc
Another great Blu-Ray release from Shout Factory, at least on-par with their other Corman releases like Humanoids From The Deep. The 1080p presentation is detailed and bright, showing up the cheap sets in all their cheesy glory. The shocking red practically glows on screen. There's some noise and artefacts throughout, but they don't detract - if anything they add to the grindhouse feel of the production. The stereo track is nothing great; it's acceptable, nothing more. You're bombarded by the roar of the engines and the screams of the crowds but it's never immersive, the track preferring to assault your ears rather than massage and romance them.

As with their other Roger Corman releases, Shout Factory have compiled a good assortment of extras. Two Audio Commentary tracks are welcome additions for fans of the film. Both tracks are excellent and informative. The first, with Roger Corman and Mary Woronov (who plays Calamity Jane in the film), is a treat, and Corman proves as affable as ever in his detailed explanation of the challenges faced by the production. The second track is equally as good, as Assistant Director Lewis Teague and Editor Tina Hirsh provide some insightful and amusing behind-the-scenes info.

Elsewhere there are a bunch of featurettes that are well worth watching: Playing the Game - Looking Back at Death Race 2000 (your typical generalised making-of), Ready to Wear (covering the costumes), Designing Dystopia (car and set design), Start Your Engines (an interview with author Ib Melchior who came up with the original concept the film is based upon), and Killer Score (composer Paul Chihara talks about developing the score). There are also interview featurettes: David on Death Race is - as the name suggests - a brief interview with David Carradine, and as with the other Shout Factory Blu-Ray releases, Leonard Maltin Interviews Roger Corman.

The rest of the features include a Theatrical Trailer (and optional commentary with director John Landis), TV and Radio Spots, New World Trailers, a booklet and reversible Blu-Ray sleeve.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Death Race 2000 is a cheesy, satirical racing film with plenty of heart (and some smarts) that just happens to revolve around a gleefully horrible concept of killing pedestrians for points. It's a Roger Corman production, so it's cheap and nasty, but this one is supremely entertaining and has more subtext than your usual exploitation film.

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