Vehicle homicide + Rocky = Death Race 2000
Rocky Balboa takes his machine gun and goes buck wild in the 1975 Roger Corman classic, Death Race 2000. Don’t fool yourself here, this is an exploitation film. It’s pretty silly. But it’s a silly exploitation film with Sylvester Stallone in it. You have to watch it once just to see him go to town shooting like a psycho. The rest of the film is forgettable, but the thing I like about it is the style. Much like The Cars That Ate Paris (1974), here we get twenty-times more custom car action. You’ve got an alligator green car, a suped-up Volkswagen, and a custom jalopy with bullhorns on the front. Yes, you see someone rammed with the bull car. It’s awesome.
The movie begins with a marching band announcing the beginning of the death race. A bad matte painting fills the frame as the 20th annual roadkill celebration opens, but I don’t care. This movie is not trying to be good. It’s trying to be a cheap exploitation film crammed full of as much crazy stuff as possible. It has both David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone in the same film. David Carradine plays Frankenstein, the driver of the alligator green desturction-mobile, and Stallone plays Joe, a whacked-out psycho. I was curious how a psycho could live so long driving in a race like this. I guess it’s the car. Or the machine guns.
This movie is all about fooling you into thinking it is something more than it is. That’s the point of sports announcers in general, really. They hype everything. And the hype is crazy in this movie. Carradine as FRANKENSTEIN is hyped to no end, second only to MACHINE GUN JOE, who shoots into the crowd during his opening moments on screen. It’s crazy.
Announcer: Yes, here he comes folks. It’s FRANKENSTEIN! Yes, FRANKENSTEIN the legend. FRANKENSTEIN, the indestructible! He’s been wiped out, battered, shattered, creamed and reamed! A dancer on the brink of death. FRANKENSTEIN! Who lost a leg in 98! An arm in 99! With half a FACE and half a CHEST, with all the guts in the world….HE’S BACK! God only knows what he looks like under that mask, but he’s back. America LOVES you Frankenstein!
This race is all about extremes. The winner of the race is not only the one who finishes first, but the one who has the most kills. The kills are ranked with different point values. The blood and the spectacle is on par with most other exploitation films, but the movie is not as extreme as Dawn of the Death, if that’s possible. Nobody eats anybody else in this film. People just get hit by a car and launched like a beach ball instead.
Like Dawn of the Dead, this movie is filled with social commentary. The race itself is a commentary on violent spectator sports and the hype is commentary on today’s media. The Frankenstein hype from the above quote is almost entirely fake. The character is not disfigured and not deformed. He pulls off his mask for his navigator early in the film and he’s just a normal looking David Carradine. That’s it. It’s a running joke.
This movie is hilarious. It has irony up the ying-yang and a lot of deliberately over-the-top scenes. Many of the media scenes are so dry or so loud that they’re funny. For example, a dead-pan announcer reminds the viewing audience of the many rules changes, explaining that when the cars hit teenagers, the kill is now worth 40 points. Maybe they’re trying to force people to stay home for some reason. If crime was a problem, that might explain it, but why not just hire more police? No, cars run over people instead, which I guess inspires fear or something. Don’t think about it too much.
The movie isn’t all about the race, for some reason. They cars stop at a checkpoint and we get some character type. Get ready to cringe. Stallone slaps women, Carradine slow-dances with his navigator, and they all go to a buffet. Each scene is filled with over-the-top dialogue. Roger Corman crams all the nudity and all the sexual innuendo into these moments.
Stallone did not break in until 1976 when he made Rocky. Until then, he was stuck in crap like this. His improv talent is pretty poor and his dialogue delivery is bad. David Carradine isn’t much better, but the script doesn’t do anybody any favors. It’s just bad.
The last of the commentary comes in the form of censorship and government protest. The “rebels” in the movie make several attempts to disrupt the race and the racers themselves eventually turn on The President, an evil dictator. Frankenstein turns out to be the lead rebel, even though he was the biggest media darling before. Pretty funny.
The announcers are caricatures and promote the fascist American Way, like in V for Vendetta. One announcer is told what to say and when to say it, even though the events of the race tell different.
All in all, this movie is exploitation from beginning to end. The only thing deep about this one is its social commentary. It has themes about the media, sports, and the government, to name a few. In the end, Frankenstein runs over the President, and takes over as head of state, which is commentary in itself. He abolishes the race, runs over the media, and promises everyone a new thinking man’s sport.