Death Race 2000 Review

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In the futuristic year of 2000, a fascist America supports a transcontinental road race in which drivers score extra points for murdering pedestrians. The rebel underground plant an assassin (Griffeth) on the crew of racer Frankenstein, but it turns out the champion has his own agenda.


A distinctively crass, hugely enjoyable sick satire from director Paul Bartel, working for uber-producer Roger Corman – allegedly, Bartel kept thinking up more and wilder jokes, while Corman insisted more and more people got run over.

It has a comic strip premise which is neverthless wholly credible in a sick sort of way, with character-themed race car drivers – the leather-clad and purportedly scarfaced Frankenstein (Carradine), snarling hood Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone), cowgirl killer Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov) and fun-loving Nazi valkyrie Matilda the Hun (Robert Collins) – who seem to have inspired generations of wrestlers and TV gladiators, and hilarious work from Don Steele and Joyce Jameson as the smarmy, hypocritical, fanatical sports commentators who alternately harrass and hail the automotive killers (‘of course it’s violent, that’s how we like it, violent, violent, violent!’).

Shot obviously on the cheap, with carny-look custom cars (with hood-mounted bullhorns or monster teeth) and dollops of ketchupy splat, it includes many Looney Tunes-style gags as rebel forces attack the race, prompting a great running joke as the state-controlled news media refuse to admit the existence of American dissidents and blame all revolutionary acts on the French (who have apparently wrecked the United States’ economy and once-great postal service).

Among the crassest laugh-lines in the cinema is the reveal that Frankenstein has had his hand replaced with a detachable bomb (‘what do you call that?’ ‘a hand grenade’), and there are deservedly classic performances from Stallone (‘loved by thousands, hated by millions’) and Woronov as the craziest of the racers.