Every year the National Film Registry announces another 25 titles that get the honor of being kept preserved as part of American culture. So far they’ve named 525 films from major motion pictures to home movies. As eclectic as the blue ribbon panel acts, they’ve yet to pay tribute to the greatest drive-in movie in American history. When will Death Race 2000 get the respect? The film looked into the future and combined NASCAR and Death Panels before they became buzzwords on cable news channels. Death Race 2000 (Roger Corman’s Cult Classics) delivers the greatness of the ultimate future sport movie.
In the year 2000 (back when that was the future), America forgets its trouble when the Death Race arrives on the calendar. This televised road rally pits colorful characters in weapon enhanced sportscars. Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov) rides a cowgirl car. Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins) zips round in a Nazi buzz bomb. Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone) brings Chicago gangster action to the hardtop. The star of the event is Frankenstein (David Carradine). He’s been in so many wrecks that his body is stitched together like the legendary monster. He only cares about winning. The key to victory isn’t merely to be the fastest across the country. You get plenty of bonus points for killing people. They aren’t merely turning innocent bystanders into speedbumps. It turns out to be a great way for retirement communities to check out longtime guests. Young girls sacrifice themselves to their racing idols. This is the greatest sporting event in the world.
Not everyone is delighted. There are radicals that want to stop the race since it’s merely a distraction that allows the President (Sandy McCallum) to rule. If the Death Race is stopped, there’s a chance people will want to take back their country. This time, the targets on the road are fighting back. Their ultimate goal is to stop Frankenstein. How bloody can this blood sport get?
Death Race 2000 delivers on two levels. You can watch it as an outrageous sporting event or political statement. There’s thrills, kills and intellectual stimulation. What director Paul Bartel and his crew were able to accomplish on a shoestring budget is a marvel to behold. Recently a worthless action movie director spent mega-millions for a soulless remake that barely deserves mention here. If you were conned into watching that rip-off, don’t let it prejudice you against watching the original. Carradine and Stallone are a competitive duo that aren’t even matched in today’s NASCAR. Death Race 2000 is a drive in movie that’s as cool as its title.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The high definition transfer was taken from the Interpositive Film Element. This might not mean much to non-film geeks. What matters is this is the best the film has ever looked on home video. The cars glimmer as they streak across the screen. The Blu-ray release should be sought out for those with the system. The audio is 2.0 Mono. The low budget nature of the film means you won’t have your ears blown off. The levels will let you almost understand Stallone’s lines.
Audio Commentaries include a previous release chat between star Mary Woronov and producer Roger Corman. Mary gives plenty of insight as to what the late Paul Bartel was doing with this death sport flick. There’s a new commentary featuring Assistant Director Lewis Teague and Editor Tina Hirsh. They have plenty of tales from both sides of production.
Playing the Game: Looking Back at Death Race 2000 (10:45) explain how the motor mayhem came about. Roger Corman leads the narrative.
Leonard Maltin Interviews Roger Corman (5:54) is a lively chat between the icon and the historian.
Designing Dystopia! – Detailed Look at the Film’s Art Direction and Car Designs (12:22) breaks down the images on the screen. B.B. Neel gives all the secrets of the set.
Ready to Wear: Interview with Costume Designer, Jane Ruhm (14:39) has her enjoying the kitsch quality of her wardrobe. She didn’t have much of a budget to make an impact on the stars.
David On Death Race: Interview with David Carradine (3:47) is from 2008 before he died. He talks about his career in cult classics. He made Death Race 2000 to get rid of the sweet monk image from Kung Fu.
Start Your Engines: Interview with Author IB Melchior (11:46) has the short story author admit he liked what the filmmakers did to his material. This is a Hollywood rare moment.
Killer Score: Interview with Composer Pual Chihara (11:33) gets him to admit he didn’t know the tone of the film. He was a classically trained composer who hung out with Yoko Ono.
Poster and Still Gallery is packed with images from the film and promotions from around the world.
Theatrical Trailer (0:56) lures us in with the promise of wrecks and killing.
Trailers From Hell (2:55) lets John Landis talk about the trailer. John appeared in the film. Years later he’d direct Stallone in Oscar. Joe Dante cut the trailer.
Radio Spots (1:25) is three audio temptations.
TV Spot (0:37) gives more explosions per second.
Death Race 2000 (Roger Corman’s Cult Classics) edition is the ultimate version of the ultimate drive-in action flick. There are plenty of films with cool titles that don’t come close to the promise. This film goes beyond the expectations. This film deserves to be embraced as cinema greatness in the drive-in genre.
Shout! Factory presents Death Race 2000 (Roger Corman’s Cult Classics) Directed by: Paul Bartel. Starring: David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone and Mary Woronov. Written by: Robert Thom and Charles B. Griffith. Running time: 78 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: June 22, 2010.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.
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