DEATH RACE 2000 (1975) Reviews and overview

 

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‘In the year 2000 hit and run driving is no longer a crime. It’s the national sport!’

Death Race 2000 is a 1975 American science fiction action horror film in which contestants in a car race run down pedestrians to gain points.

Directed by Paul Bartel (Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills; Eating Raoul; Private Parts) from a screenplay co-written by Robert Thom (The Witch Who Came from the Sea; The Phantom of Hollywood; Bloody Mama) and Charles B. Griffith (Doctor Heckyl and Mr. Hype; The Little Shop of Horrors; A Bucket of Blood; Not of This Earth) based on the story ‘The Racer’ by Ib Melchior (director of The Time Travelers and The Angry Red Planet; Planet of the Vampires story and Reptilicus screenplay). Produced by Roger Corman.

Bartel later recalled “We had terrible script problems; David [Carradine] had to finish his Kung Fu series before starting and we had bad weather. We all worked under terrible pressure. Roger [Corman] and I had an essential disagreement over comedy. He took out a lot of the comedy scenes. He may have been right and was probably more objective.”

A sort of major remake, Death Race, came in 2008  with Paul W. S. Anderson at the helm starring Jason Statham but it dropped most of the elements that made the original work. Nonetheless,  two direct-to-DVD prequels, titled Death Race 2 (2010) and Death Race 3: Inferno (2013), followed, and a direct-to-DVD sequel, titled Death Race: Beyond Anarchy (2018), was also released.

A very belated Roger Corman produced sequel, Death Race 2050, was released in 2017.

The New World Pictures production stars David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Mary Woronov, Roberta Collins, Martin Kove, Louisa Moritz, Don Steele, Joyce Jameson, Carle Bensen and Sandy McCallum.

Reviews:

“It’s a cheaply made exploitation movie designed to appeal to petrol heads who like a generous helping of female nudity and bloody violence added to their dose of throbbing motors […] Death Race 2000 does attempt to make some satirical points. It’s impossible for it not to dwell on the public’s appetite for violence…” 20/20 Movie Reviews

“The gore gets a little excessive, perhaps not surprising given that the film was produced by Roger Corman, legendary for high-quality, low-budget exploitation films. The movie is not entirely without redeeming moral value, however. Like 1987’s The Running Man, it does a good job of satirizing the blood lust of professional sports and the TV shows that enable and encourage it.” All Movie

Death Race 2000 looks goofy in hindsight, but the movie still works […] thanks to quality of story but not because of their retro-goofy appearances. Technically, the movie is sound if not a bit sloppy in the editing department. The acting is fine; Carradine and Stallone carry the picture, and director Paul Bartel (Cannonball!) frames the action with enough style and technical know-how to keep the film firing on all cylinders during its many action scenes.” Blu-ray.com

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“Low budget aside, the filmmakers were able to use ingenuity and talent to furnish an unforgettable cult item which, 35 years later, compares favorably to the dizzying CGI-plagued hokum of modern Hollywood. You’ve gotta love the screenplay, and although the writers couldn’t predict how new mediums would revolutionize the 21st century, credit goes to them for envisaging an America obsessed with competitive reality television!” DVD Drive-In

“The most interesting thing about Death Race 2000 is how well the film has held up. OK, those matte paintings are abysmal and the costumes don’t look great, but much of the movie still works […] Again, the cars still look great and for a film of this genre, the story has some nice twists and turns. In short, Death Race 2000 is a hoot and it’s probably one of the most fun vehicular homicide movies that you’ll ever see.” DVD Sleuth

“Director Paul Bartel […] does a great job throughout Death Race 2000 of balancing goofy humor with sly social commentary—every gag is a nudge at consumerism, egotism, sensationalism, or something else of that nature. The movie is never laugh-out-loud funny, but the tone is consistent and the story (mostly) makes sense. Plus, this being a Corman production, there’s plenty of gore and nudity to keep low-minded fans happy.” Every ’70s Movie

“It was based on a rather vicious short story, and it occurred to Roger Corman that you could have something very effective if you placed a layer of political satire over the story. The resulting movie works on several levels; it takes a look at the public thirst for violence while gratifying it at the same time. Yes, the movie is more than a little disturbing, but it’s always quite hilarious.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“The movie is very tongue-in-cheek silly, but it treats itself as being very serious and can actually come across as a decent serious movie if you discount all the goofy cars and costumes and stuff. The only part in the film that breaks the goofy meter is when Frankenstein reveals his surgically altered hand with a grenade built in to be his ‘hand grenade’ and nobody even questions the terrible pun.” Films in Boxes

“As a satire, there’s ephemeral commentary on freedom, the oppression of corrupt regimes (where even celebrities and high profile citizens can come under fire), the manipulation of the media, the phoniness of TV personalities, the barbarism of sporting events, and the immoderate ferociousness of fanatical fans […] But these underlying notions are all mostly lost to the overwhelming components of an archetypal B-movie…” Gone with the Twins

Death Race 2000 is an exploitation film and it is incredibly violent […] Yet, the film is a cautionary tale.  It declared in 1975 that this is where America was headed; into a world of bread and circuses, into a world where celebrities are God, into a world where citizens have “tuned out” from politics and don’t know what is being done in their names. So the violence in the film certainly has a moral underpinning.” John Kenneth Muir’s Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV

Death Race 2000 is directed, edited and photographed in a crude and unappealing way but inside hides a drollness […] The lines come quickly and funnily […] The level of gore in the film is rather funny in a stupid way (although Paul Bartel claims that all of was edited in afterwards by Roger Corman).” Moria

” …has a good time belaboring the easy, targets—spectators, sportscasters, victims and the sort of clergy who have a benediction for anything. When it comes to political satire, however, “Death Race 2000″ finds the going tougher. In the end, it reveals itself to have nothing to say beyond the superficial about government or rebellion. And in the absence of such a statement, it becomes what it seems to have mocked—a spectacle glorifying the car is an instrument of violence.” The New York Times, June 6th 1975

“The film plays up the blood and explosions to a point of dark, absurd comedic effect. There’s also some satire that though mostly mild and middling is occasionally really funny […] Dialogue is at times awfully written and even more poorly delivered […] The cult classic hasn’t exactly aged well but its low budget thrills remain surprisingly fun.” Popcorn and Existentialism

“With its absurd premise and macabre sense of humor, Death Race 2000 comes off as a mindlessly entertaining, thoroughly campy piece of work that’s ultimately undone by a distinct lack of plot. Director Paul Bartel attempts to compensate by throwing in various oddball characters and inexplicable moments of comedy, but the frequent lulls in the narrative become more and more problematic as the film progresses.” Reel Film

“Grandiose in its delivery of atmosphere, Death Race 2000 is something wholly unique and one of the better pieces of wacky science fiction you will ever see. It is smart, accusatory and witty in its satire of both we the audience and other filmmakers as well. Violence is shown as a laughing matter. Is the movie ridiculous? Sure, but it has a point. I absolutely recommend it…” Varied Celluloid

“Script, from an Ib Melchior story, makes its satirical points economically, and director Paul Bartel keeps the film moving quickly. Almost all of the film takes place on the road, with carnage and crashes occurring like clockwork.” Variety, December 31st 1974

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Cast and characters:

David Carradine … Frankenstein
Simone Griffeth … Annie Smith
Sylvester Stallone … Machine Gun Joe Viterbo
Mary Woronov … Calamity Jane
Roberta Collins … Matilda the Hun
Martin Kove … Nero the Hero
Louisa Moritz … Myra
Don Steele … Junior Bruce (as The Real Don Steele)
Joyce Jameson … Grace Pander
Carle Bensen … Harold
Sandy McCallum … Mr President
Paul L. Ehrmann … Special Agent (as Paul Laurence)
Harriet Medin … Thomasina Paine
Vince Trankina … Lt. Fury
Bill Morey … Deacon
Fred Grandy … Herman the German
William Shephard … Pete
Leslie McRay … Cleopatra
Wendy Bartel … Laurie
John Favorite … Henry (as Jack Favorite)
Sandy Ignon … FBI Agent
John Landis … Mechanic
Darla McDonnell … Rhonda Bainbridge
Roger Rook … Radio Operator
Paul Bartel … Frankenstein’s Doctor (uncredited)
Charles B. Griffith … Resistance Army Member (uncredited)
Keith Michl … Roadblock Builder (uncredited)
Dick Miller … Chicken Gang (uncredited)
Lewis Teague … Toreador (uncredited)

Filming locations:

California

Technical details:

1 hour 20 minutes
Audio: Mono
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1

Trailer:

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