Color, 1975, 79 mins.
Directed by Paul Bartel
Score 100 points for this fast paced drive-in masterpiece, a rare example of a B-movie outdoing the big budget Hollywood product it's trying to imitate. Back in the mid-'70s, Roger Corman made a minor cottage industry out of women in prison and horror films thanks to his wild and wonderful New World Pictures. One of the high points, Death Race 2000, was intended to ride on the coattails of the ponderous MGM sci-fi/action/sports epic, Rollerball; what director Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul, Private Parts) delivered was a minor masterpiece of bloody social satire.
In the far off year 2000, America has become a bloodthirsty fascist state where fans gather for the "Death Race," in which outrageous contestants race their cars across the country and earn points for the number of pedestrians they hit along the way. The elderly and children earn the highest points, of course. The government's racing wunderkind, Frankenstein (David Carradine), is a biomechanically reconstructed superstar in competition with the bitter Joe Viturbo (a young Sylvester Stallone). Other competitors include Calamity Jane (Bartel regular Mary Woronov of Rock 'n Roll High School) and Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins of Caged Heat). However, some Americans, including Frankenstein's new navigator (Simone Griffith), have joined a growing resistance determined to bring down the death race and overthrow the President. Of course, the main purpose of the film is to supply plenty of action, blood, and laughs, and it delivers these by the bucketful for a very speedy 79 minutes.
Through a legal snafu involving the hand-drawn title cards, Death Race 2000 slipped into the world of quasi-public domain titles and even surfaced at the dawn of DVD in a passable print. However, this official release by Corman's New Horizons is by far the sharpest edition ever available. The full frame transfer was obviously intended to be shown matted off at 1.85:1 (there's a lot of headroom in most of the shots), and the color and detail are terrific considering the film's utter lack of budget. Trash movie fans will be delighted by a number of familiar faces, including Italian horror regular Harriet White (The Horrible Dr. Hichcock), Cagney & Lacey's Martin Kove, Bartel himself as a doctor, and a quick bit by director John Landis as a mechanic. The exciting cinematography by Jonathan Demme's favorite cameraman, Tak Fujimoto, clearly indicates his growing talent, and Bartel's swift, efficient, and very funny direction foreshadows his later black comedy masterpiece, Eating Raoul. The DVD also includes the Leonard Maltin interview with Corman included on the earlier VHS sell-through release, as well as trailers for this film as well as Big Bad Mama, Eat My Dust, and Grand Theft Auto.
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