Color, 1978, 89 mins.

Directed by Nicholas Niciphor and Allan Arkush

Starring David Carradine, Richard Lynch, Claudia Jennings, John Himes, Jesse Vint, David McLean, Brenda Venus / Written by Nicholas Niciphor and Donald Stewart / Produced by Roger Corman / Cinematography by Gary Graver / Music by Andy Stein

Format: DVD - New Horizons (MSRP $19.95)

Deathsport may not be the dumbest film ever produced by New World, but it certainly does try. A threadbare, queasy mishmash of Death Race 2000, Zardoz, and Robot Monster, this is the kind of poorly written junk in which characters refuse to speak with contractions ("I can not go there, and you must not tell him or it will be terrible"), while they have apparently managed to progress technologically while regressing fashion-wise to skimpy caveman gear and silver lame pants. '70s drive-in junkies and fans of controlled substances may find some entertainment value here, but all others should approach with caution.

A bunch of powerful leaders called "statesmen" make a habit of picking up athletic stragglers from the desert, then forcing them to participate in Deathsport, a vaguely defined activity in which deadly motorcycles chase people around in circles. One unlucky participant, Kaz Oshay (David Carradine), happens to be the son of some kind of psychic leader, and he manages to stage a couple of daring jailbreaks in between violent Deathsport matches. Tagging along with him is the lovely young Deneer (Claudia Jennings), while the diabolical and insane president (John Himes) sends the evil Ankar Moor (Richard Lynch), a codeless bounty hunter, after the duo. More mayhem ensues. Lasers fire all over the place. Motorcycles chase more people around. The audience suffers.

While all of Roger Corman's '70s productions were shot for very little money, Deathsport looks more ragtag than most. Without the cheeky, gory satire of Death Race 2000, it plays far too seriously, with all of its laughs coming from the stilted dialogue, bad stunts, and punishing visual decor. While the talented Allan Arkush (Rock 'n' Roll High School) started the production, chores were picked up by Nicholas Niciphor, using the pseudonym of Henry Suso. Possibly recognizing that he was saddled with a sinking ship, Roger Corman stepped in to complete the film himself, and the ragged production history immediately shows through. Carradine looks distracted and humiliated throughout, though at least the target audience gets lots of gratuitous frontal nudity from Jennings (Gator Bait), the famous Playboy Playmate who died in a car wreck shortly after this film was completed. Her role doesn't call for much, but at least she's fun to watch and performs like Meryl Streep compared to some other Playmates-turned-actresses (e.g., Barbi Benton). Andy Stein's droning synth score slathers every scene in a dreary mishmash of electronic garble and doesn't even qualify as good '70s camp.

As lacking as the film itself may be, New Horizons' DVD looks surprisingly good. The transfer is most likely open matte, though the film was lensed so poorly it's hard to tell. The opening credits display some nasty print damage, but the rest is in excellent shape and features the same razor sharp clarity and color definition of their Death Race 2000 release. The packaging promises a theatrical trailer and a Roger Corman interview with Leonard Maltin, neither of which materialize on the actual disc. A shame, really, as it would be interesting to see Corman try to remember anything noteworthy at all about this movie.

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