Death Race 2000 (1975) – By Duane L. Martin

Let me just start this review by saying, if you’ve seen the movie Death Race from 2008, which was a remake that was loosely based on Death Race 2000, and you still haven’t seen Death Race 2000, then you need to run, not walk to get your hands on a copy of this film.  I remember watching the 2008 Death Race and thinking it was pretty good.  Now that I’ve seen Death Race 2000, I realize…Death Race was little more than just another a pathetic re-make, as so many re-makes are.

Now, why do I say that?  Well first off, they sucked all the fun out of it.  This movie is fun as hell, while Death Race was far more serious.  Death Race also changed the story drastically, which worked for that particular film, but the change in story totally blew off what made this film so much more fun.

Before I get on with the review, for the benefit of those who haven’t seen it, let me fill you in on what it’s about.  It’s the future (ten years ago) in the space age year of 2000, where the president is a dictator, wars have destroyed major cities, everyone still dresses and wears their hair like it’s the mid 70’s and the Death Race is the most popular sport in the world.  So, how does this major sporting event work?  Well, it’s a race across the country to New Los Angeles, with two objectives.  Well…three actually.  First, survive the race so you can actually make it to New Los Angeles, second, be the first one to get there, and third, score points by running down and killing various types of people along the way, including babies, women, the elderly, etc…, each of which are worth different point values.  As the race is the most popular sport in the world, naturally it has some super dedicated fans, some of whom are willing to sacrifice themselves to their favorite drivers to help them score points.  The most popular of the drivers is a man they call Frankenstein because of all the limbs and other body parts he’s lost in the races and had replaced over the years.  This is actually a lie, as Frankenstein is only a character, and as one is killed off, a new man is selected to take up the role.  In this case, it’s David Carradine.  Each driver has a navigator, and his also happens to be the granddaughter of the head of the resistance movement that’s trying to stop the race.  She’s been planted with him to set him up to be kidnapped so they can trade his life for an end to the Death Race.

That’s the basic story.  There’s a lot more I could get into about the other drivers, but I won’t go into that here, other than to say that Frankenstein’s arch nemesis is a driver called Machine Gun Joe Viterbo, played quite amusingly by Sylvester Stallone.

When I said this movie was fun, I mean it’s seriously fun, from start to finish.  The civilians getting run down right and left, the cars that look like they just drove out of an episode of Scooby Doo, the colorful driver / navigator teams and all the great violence just made for one hell of a fun ride.  Throw into the mix some great commentators, including one who is the ultimate stereotype of mid-70’s cheese, and you have yourself one wild ride.

David Carradine is very subdued in his portrayal of Frankenstein.  He comes off as the quiet bad-ass type, even though he’s as skinny as a match stick in this film, which looked particularly strange when he was beating the snot out of Sylvester Stallone in one scene, and when he was going to make love to his navigator in another.  He was the right person for the part, but in my opinion, he didn’t have the right physique for it.

The cars in the film were all very cartoonish, and that’s what made them so awesome.  Frankenstein’s had fangs, Joe’s had machine guns and daggers, etc…  I’m not sure who designed them because I haven’t had the chance to watch the included featurette on the cars yet, but they really completed the whole look and feel of the film perfectly.  Obviously the film was never meant to be overly serious, so having a variety of goofy looking cars only added to the fun.

So you have two films, one loosely based on the other, but only one that’s really worth adding to your collection, and that’s this one.  The 2008 incarnation of Death Race is cool and all, but it’s not one you’re going to go back to watch over and over again.  Death Race 2000 is.  The best part is, Shout Factory has done an amazing job with this release, which is just one in a whole series of Roger Corman films they’ll be releasing.

The special features on this disc are far too numerous to list here, but they include tons of interviews, featurettes about the design and style of the film, trailers, TV and radio spots, a 12 page booklet and more.  It’s a huge list of great stuff that will keep you entertained long after the film is over.

For b-movie fans everywhere, this release is something special, and one you’ll definitely want to add to your collection.

If you’d like to grab yourself a copy of this awesome Shout Factory release, here’s where you can get it:

Death Race 2000 – DVD Version

Death Race 2000 – Blu-Ray Version