Obsolete Review: Death Race 2000

A cross-country road wreck!

In our end days of brain-dead knee-jerk politics and xenophobic paranoia, has there ever been a better time for futuristic death-sport? I think not. I, for one, would pay top dollar to see Donald Trump and Tea Party yokels like Rand Paul, Sarah Palin and fatuous mouthpieces like Olbermann, Beck and Huffington strap themselves into a cross-country death race and feel the ‘G’s! It takes the vision of low-budget maestro producer Roger Corman and director Paul Bartel (EATING RAOUL) to put a spin on America’s eternal favorite pastime- watching its citizens destroy each other in blood-thirsty patriotic competition. In this near-future spectacular, gladiator-style drivers race cross-country, scoring points for the most pedestrians flattened along the way. (Why is this not on TV?)

David Carradine is Frankenstein, America’s favorite folk hero and repeat race champion who credits his recovery from scores of near-death accidents to “good old Native-American know-how.” A stoic, mysterious figure clad in black skin-tight zippered S&M pantsuit and death mask, he is built for speed. Simone Griffeth, his newly assigned hot blonde ‘navigator’ (sidekicks paired with each driver) may be a double agent for the ‘treacherous French.’ In the meantime- we meet the range of over-the-top (WWE-style) cartoon drivers mugging for the media, including young Sly Stallone as hot-headed mob man ‘Machine Gun’ Joe Viterbo and Factory girl – turned Corman regular Mary Woronov as Calamity Jane. (Matilda the Hun and Nero the Hero meet their early demise in the race.) Announcers and politicians vie for airtime in a grotesque ‘Wide World of Sports’ pastiche, building hype for the annual event. And they’re off!!

With cars outfitted in fake teeth and death devices, they tear across America in high-velocity POV, as color commentators (including Don ‘Screamin’ Steve’ Steele from ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL) fill us in. In this event, it has become a fan’s greatest honor to offer yourself as a ‘kill’ to your fave driver, and like clueless tourists standing behind ‘The Today Show’ set, they crowd the routes, waiting to become a statistic. 

The ominous synth / '70s jam soundtrack and shoe-string magic marker titles aid the atmosphere immensely, as we see the racers becoming as paranoid as the public, always wondering who’s working for who. Soon the field of racers is reduced to two- Frankenstein and Machine Gun Joe. Frankenstein himself is planning to make the most of his presidential handshake at the finish line- he’s planted a grenade in his prosthetic hand. But his navigator uses the weapon early to blow up Joe – (“You’ll have to shift the gears for me now.”)

At the finish line, as the winner (Frankenstein doppelganger) takes the stage, packing a knife to shiv the prez (Sandy McCallum), she takes a bullet from a rebel assassin in the crowd (the ultimate navigator sacrifice). The real Frank then takes out the figurehead in his accustomed fashion- driving at full ramming speed into the platform. Hooray for President Frankenstein! In an epilogue, we see him speaking to reporters with recovered navigator wife, intending to restore democracy and abolish the barbaric race. But he can’t pass up one more good kill- running over a pesky reporter (Steele) for old time’s sake. It’s good to be the King.

Corman’s exploitation chassis famously provided the frame for many emerging filmmakers (Scorsese, Coppola, Howard, Dante etc.) to hone their vision. In this case – Bartel’s wicked socio-political satire, presaging reality TV, “Freedom Fries” and the NASCAR/Tea Party nexus. It also has fast cars that blow up real good, and flourescent orange blood. Let us all learn as a society by its fine example.