Sunday, December 11, 2011

Day 11: Death Race 2000

"I happen to hold the power of life and death."
"Oh yeah, I happen to hold the clam sauce!"

Roger Corman, while he has never achieved anything along the lines of commercial success, has built a career around churning out close to 400 low-budget exploitation movies that cater to a very specific audience, lovers of schlock. Corman also has an eye for talent behind the camera and has launched the directing careers of no less than James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Joe Dante, and Peter Bogdonavich.

One of his most famous movies is the 1975 Paul Bartel directed action epic Death Race 2000. Set in a post-apocalyptic America where a trans-continental race is held annually for some, unexplained reason. There's some talk about it being the most popular sporting event in history, but there's no real reason given for the race to occur. Anyway, five racers compete in this race (and why only five, seriously?) The drivers are Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins) a neo-nazi psycho babe, Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov) a demented cowgirl, Nero the Hero (John Kreese himself, Martin Kove), Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone) and the fan favorite Frankenstein (David Carridine).

There's a social commentary buried in here somewhere, but it's buried so deep that it's hard to tell what they might have been going for. The racers are awarded points for killing people that are on the road, and the point system is based on the victim's gender and age. The race appears to be televised, and there are some peripheral characters that are announcers, commentators and analysts, headed up by your buddy buddy and mine, Junior Bruce (The Real Don Steele, not making that up). There's also a resistance of some sort to The President of The United Providences of America as it's called, and they've planted one of their own as the navigator in Frankenstein's car. There's also lots of smack being talked about the French that reeks of someone's agenda.

Essentially what I'm getting at here is that while filmmakers like George Romero were working social commentary into the horror and sci-fi genres, this film can't be bothered. And I'm not saying that this is a bad thing, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie as just escapist nonsense. However, a movie that goes so far out of its way to put all of these things into play must have been going for something. Later books and movies such as The Running Man would play this sort of thing as a commentary on the voyeur state of entertainment, but this movie doesn't actually stop long enough to form some sort of treatise against such issues.

If you're a fan of cult movies and 70's exploitation shlock, you could do a lot worse than Death Race 2000, and at least it's not trying to act like it's smarter than it is (unlike the 2008 Jason Statham remake which is pure garbage). But if you were able to glean any sort of commentary from this movie, you've got a much sharper eye than me. Let me know in the comments section below!

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