Death Race 2000 (1975)
By: Paul Ryan on July 31, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Avenue One (Australia). All Regions, PAL 4:3. English 2.0. 79 minutes
The Movie
Director: Paul Bartel
Starring: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Mary Woronov. Martin Kove
Screenplay: Robert Thom, Charles B. Griffith Music: Paul Chihara
Tagline: Hit & run isn't a felony…It's the national sport!
Country: USA
In the "future" of 2000 AD, the economically-struggling United Provinces of America is ruled under the total control of Mr President (Sandy McCallum), who keeps a passive populace under control with a steady diet of violent sports and inane television. The yearly highlight of the sporting calender is the annual Trans-Continental Road Race, a gruesome, no-holds-barred road race - and form of population control - where points are won by killing pedestrians, and the older, or more vulnerable the victims, the higher the points! This year's contestants are:

Frankenstein (David Carradine): A leather-clad multiple amputee, recipient of several organ and limb transplants and close friend of Mr President. Also reigning champion.

Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone): a tough-talking, zoot-suit wearing, tommy gun wielding brute and Frankenstein's arch-nemesis. Loved by thousands, hated by millions!

Calamity Jane Kelly (Mary Woronov): A rootin'-tootin', hard livin', hard-lovin' cowgirl racer.

Nero "the Hero" Lonigan (Martin Kove): A narcissistic, washed-up loser, with a faithless navigator named Cleopatra.

Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins): A blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Neo-Nazi bombshell, striving for the dominance of the female master race.

Attempting to put a stop to the race (and the reign of Mr President) is a band of inept rebels. Led by the school-marmish Thomasina Payne (Harriet Medin) and her sexy great-grand daughter Annie (Simone Griffeth), the rebels regularly show up to cause trouble along the way, at least when they're not arguing amongst themselves…

Death Race 2000 is one of those cult movies that is truly worthy of its reputation. A forerunner of director Paul Bartel's black comedy masterpiece Eating Raoul, this is rough-edged, but very enjoyable. Adapted from a more serious Ib Melchior short story by Robert Thom and Little Shop of Horrors writer Charles B. Griffith, the film is over the top, campy and often quite - intentionally - funny. Amid the wilfully gratuitous gore and nudity, there are plenty of amusing satirical asides and clever background detail. Yes, its cheaply made - it is a Roger Corman production after all - but it's a deliriously entertaining ride.
This DVD comes from the folks at Avenue One, a distributor known for their less-than-great transfers. The pan and scan video is taken from an NTSC video master, with plenty of colour bleed and pixilation, not to mention interlacing. There's even some minor spots of video tracking at times. The cover claims that the picture is "digitally remastered from original 35mm print", but it sure as hell isn't. False advertising aside, the video is watchable enough, but probably better on smaller screens. No subtitles are available.
Dolby Stereo 2.0. Flat, muffled and occasionally distorted. Not good.
Extra Features
According to the cover slick, "menu music", "chapter search" and a "full length feature" - how generous! - count as special features. They don't, but there is a small smattering of extras all the same:

Trailer: (full frame, 54 secs) A trailer very much of its time. Fast, trashy and full of explosions. It does look like its missing some footage however.

Bonus Trailers: And God Created Woman (4x3 ws, 2.39m ). An incomplete, English-dubbed trailer for the 1957 Bridgitte Bardot vehicle. Communion (4x3 ws 56 secs). Utterly atrocious picture and sound, but mercifully brief.

Biographies: Bios of David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone are included, which are mildly interesting but nothing special.

Sylvester Stallone Filmography: A few text screens listing Stallone's career up to 2001. Meh.

Picture Gallery: Seven screens of stills. You can just taste the excitement, no?

Credits: In case you missed them in the film proper you can access the credits as a separate screen. If that doesn't get you excited, then frankly I just give up.
The Verdict
A true museum-piece of seventies exploitation cinema, Death Race 2000 is great fun and much better than you expect. Regrettably the local DVD is pretty poor in all departments, and far better versions are available from overseas. Still, as a rental it might just do you.
Movie Score
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