johnlink ranks DEATH RACE 2000 (1975)

Last night I needed something irreverent, thoughtless, and fun. DEATH RACE 2000 popped up in my On Demand, and I thought it sounded like it fit that bill. I was surprised at how clean and pristine the HD print of this thing looked. I was expecting low-fi and would have been fine with that. I’ll certainly take a beautiful remastering though!


I watched DEATH RACE 2000 (1975) on 4.4.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

The movie is as advertised. A handful of racers, armed with their cars and a navigator in the passenger seat, race across America. They divert and re-merge multiple times in a way which makes the ‘race’ seem random and irrelevant. But that really doesn’t matter to the entertainment the film offers. The drivers get points for killing pedestrians on the way. Bonus points if they are infants or elderly. It is grotesque, but tries to make a point about modern sport spectacle. This film absolutely predicts THE HUNGER GAMES, even if the makers of HUNGER GAMES probably would think of  DEATH RACE 2000 as the wacky uncle noone wants to admit being related to.

The ‘hero’ of the film is Frankenstein (David Carradine), so called because his multiple races have left him with artificial limbs and scars. Only he really doesn’t look all that bad since he is supposed to be the good guy. His nemesis is one Machine Gun Joe Viterbo played with gusto by Sylvester Stallone.

There is a rebel alliance out there trying to undermine the games and kill the drivers. They have a connection to Frankenstein’s beautiful blonde navigator, Annie (Simone Griffeth). Director Paul Bartel, working under the guidance of Producer Roger Corman, uses the down time in between legs of the race to get Annie, and any other female involved in the film, to remove clothing. It’s all 70s shtick, and it works to add a level of humor and gratuitousness to the proceedings. The fact of the matter is, despite some gorgeously colorful bright red mise en scene in the non-race interiors, the movie is much, much better when it is on the road.

The camerawork for the races is mostly stunning. Lots of long shots showing open road. This is counter-balanced by some off-the-wall goofy scenes like a bullfighter taunting one of the driver’s with his cape until he gets run over and killed (for points, of course). The horror and the lack of any sense of morality is masked by humor, but it all serves the purpose. This film, made in 1975, is predicting a 2000 in which we now have the United Provinces of America complete with a Commie red American flag with an iron fist in place of the stars. It’s a movie made with joyful violence about how ugly joyful violence can be, accented by such lines as “If they scatter, go for the baby and the mother.”


The Driver/Navigator relationships serve to heighten world, even as the distrust  builds or the indifference becomes murderous. Again, the movie is at its strongest when exploring this stuff, and at its weakest when Carradine and Stallone play faux macho games and get in a silly fight. The acting fluctuates between workmanlike and awful, but the characters are undeniably memorable. That the acting sometimes undermines the writing is an unfortunate reality, but not one uncommon to 70s B-films.

And even though the final death, the final moment of action, is super lame the audience still walks away feeling like the movie delivered exactly what it wanted to deliver. The themes were worn on the sleeve, the violence was sometimes shocking, the nudity provided eye candy, the driving was wonderfully shot (less than a decade after BULLITT ushered us into the modern era of car chases), and the characters popped off the screen.

For a good, silly, pointless night of fun certainly hit up DEATH RACE 2000. Just don’t expect to walk out any smarter than you walked in.



Bonus point for the cinematography in the driving scenes. Excellent work.




~ by johnlink00 on April 5, 2014.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks DEATH RACE 2000 (1975)”

  1. Nice review. : ) I love this movie. I shouldn’t. I’m a weird girl sometimes. lol

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