Death Race 2000/Death Sport (1975/1978)
By: Paul Ryan on December 10, 2008  | 
DVD
Umbrella (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced)/4:3. English DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 161 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Paul Bartel/Nicholas Niciphor, Allan Arkush
Starring: David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Claudia Jennings, Richard Lynch
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
With the recent release of Paul W.S. Anderson's Death Race Umbrella Entertainment has released the original Roger Corman car-chase campfest Death Race 2000 along with its lesser-known follow-up Death Sport in a nice 2-disc set. This gives fans the opportunity to compare and contrast the fast, cheap and downright crazy original with the more serious (and infinitely more expensive) remake.

Having previously reviewed the el-cheapo Avenue One release here I'll spare you a lengthy synopsis of Death Race 2000's plot. Suffice to say, this new, remastered release provides a new opportunity to enjoy what is a terrifically funny, gloriously over-the-top exploitation classic which offers many new pleasures on each repeat viewing. If you haven't seen it before, and you have a taste for cars, gore and blacker-than-black humour, you're in for a treat.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for its follow-up Death Sport. With the setting moved to the 31st century ("after the Neutron Wars"), and bikes replacing cars as the vehicles-de-jour, this one has similar ingredients, but the results are disappointingly bland. Entirely lacking the wit and energy of the original, this features David Carradine (looking far less engaged in the proceedings than he did in Death Race 2000) as loincloth-clad, sword-wielding warrior Kaz Oshay, who is captured by the nefarious Ankar (Richard Lynch), minion of the decrepit ruler Lord Zirpola (David McLean). Oshay is forced to compete in the coliseum-like Death Sport, where prisoners fight for their freedom against soldiers riding armoured motorbikes, known here as "death machines", because they're armed with DEADLY LASERS!!!

Sadly, this one isn't much fun. With production values, costuming and music reminiscent of a lesser episode of Blake's 7, you'd hope the makers of the film might try to inject some humour to distract from the general cheesiness. Instead, the only laughs are unintentional, as Carradine fights cannibalistic mutants (who look strangely reminiscent of the pop-eyed aliens out of Killers From Space) with a "crystal" sword that looks very, very plastic, while delivering lines like "taste my blade" with a glum seriousness. There's also an unpleasant misogynistic streak, as female characters (mainly Claudia Jennings's bored-looking heroine) periodically get tortured by some wind-chime/strobe light thingy whilst fully nude. This was a troubled production, with original director Nicholas Niciphor (credited as "Henry Suso") dropped after clashing with Carradine and Jennings. Allan Arkush (lately a regular director on TVs Heroes) finished the film.
Video
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (and 16x9 enhanced to boot) Death Race 2000 looks generally fantastic. Compared to the Avenue One release, the difference in this transfer is like night and day. Despite some periodic scratches and grain (especially in shots involving undercranked footage), and occasional colour-timing flaws, this looks at times like it was made just yesterday. If you've only seen the film on VHS or one of the many earlier budget DVD releases, this is like watching an entirely different film. Death Sport is presented in 1.33:1 pan and scan, but the cropping isn't hugely noticeable. There are a number of scratches and artefacts (especially around reel changes) but is otherwise generally clear. Both discs are in NTSC format.
Audio
Dolby 2.0 Stereo for both films. Both are fairly clear and well balanced without really standing out.
Extra Features
Death Race 2000 gets a few extras, which are minimal, but very welcome. Death Sport gets zip. Not even a scene selection menu.

Commentary for Death Race 2000: Producer Roger Corman and co-star Mary Woronov (Calamity Jane) provide an extremely informative and entertaining commentary. Packed to the brim with anecdotes across the production, cast and release, this a great listen, and worth the price of purchase alone.

Theatrical Trailer for Death Race 2000 (55 secs): The same trailer from the Avenue One release, but with better picture quality.

Bonus Trailers: Death Race 2000 features trailers for Corman productions Grand Theft Auto and Eat My Dust, along with previews of car-related flicks Two-Lane Blacktop and The Chain Reaction.
The Verdict
It's really wonderful to see a quality release of Death Race 2000 finally arrive in Australia. Solid video and audio, not to mention a great commentary track, make this an essential purchase for fans of 70s exploitation cinema. As for Death Sport… It's maybe worth a look for the curious… Maybe.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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