Death Race 2000 (1975)

A lesson in getting the most for your money…

by Adam Miller

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There’s a good reason why DEATH RACE (2008) is being made. Namely, its predecessor, DEATH RACE 2000 was a solid B-movie produced by Roger Corman that became a hugely popular piece of cult cinema. It was one of the first bad films I ever saw. I caught it on AMC late, late one night in dorm room with a couple lady friends (bown chicka wow wah) and, despite the late hour, we just had to stay up watching the movie till its conclusion.

The formula was pretty simple: its America in, I assume, the year 2000. The world is ruled by a corrupt President who orchestrates the national sport, Death Race. The racers drive cross country in their custom cars (and I mean custom as in with Bowie knives and machine guns mounted to the fender) trying to run over as many pedestrians as possible. Every pedestrian is worth a certain amount of points. The racer with the combination of most points and best time wins.

The film is thus firmly in the tradition of ROLLERBALL (1975) and THE RUNNING MAN (1987), but I have consistently found DEATH RACE 2000 the most enjoyable of the three films. This is because while its content is ludicrous (racers painted up to look like Frankenstein?) its production is absolutely earnest and workmanlike. There are no fancy camera techniques or special effects, both of which I’m sure the DEATH RACE remake will be filled with. This is too bad, because the lack of cinematographic pizzazz lets the originality of the film’s content shine through. They really made all those crazy cars!

It’s the cars (and the carnage) which DEATH RACE 2000 is really all about, but there are sprinklings of great dark humor (like commentary on kills by TV announcers) some wonky eroticism (David Carradine in a Frankenstein mask dancing in his underwear with a beautiful naked woman), and even some anti-authoritarian politicking.

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DEATH RACE 2000 is a fantastic film made for little money but with intelligence and care. It’s worth finding the latest DVD release with Roger Corman’s commentary. Almost makes you think you could make a movie too!

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