Death Race 2000
|Death Race 2000|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Paul Bartel|
|Produced by||Roger Corman|
|Screenplay by||Robert Thom|
|Based on||"The Racer"|
by Ib Melchior
|Music by||Paul Chihara|
|Edited by||Tina Hirsch|
|Distributed by||New World Pictures|
|Box office||$5 million–$8 million|
Death Race 2000 is a 1975 American science fiction sports film produced by Roger Corman, directed by Paul Bartel, and starring David Carradine, Simone Griffeth and Sylvester Stallone. The film takes place in a dystopian American society in the year 2000, where the murderous Transcontinental Road Race has become a form of national entertainment. The screenplay is based on the short story "The Racer" by Ib Melchior.
After the "World Crash of '79", massive civil unrest and economic ruin occurs. The United States government is restructured into a totalitarian regime under martial law. To pacify the population, the government has created the Transcontinental Road Race, where a group of drivers race across the country in their high-powered cars, and which is infamous for violence, gore, and innocent pedestrians being struck and killed for bonus points. In the year 2000, the five drivers in the 20th annual race, who all adhere to professional wrestling-style personas and drive appropriately themed cars, include Frankenstein, the mysterious black-garbed champion and national hero; Machine Gun Joe, a Chicago tough guy gangster; Calamity Jane, a cowgirl; Matilda the Hun, a neo-Nazi; and Nero the Hero, a Roman gladiator. Machine Gun Joe, the second-place champion, is the most determined to defeat Frankenstein and win the race.
A resistance group led by Thomasina Paine, a descendant of the 1770s American Revolutionary War hero Thomas Paine, plans to rebel against the regime, currently led by a man named Mr. President, by sabotaging the race, killing most of the drivers, and taking Frankenstein hostage as leverage against Mr. President. The group is assisted by Paine's great-granddaughter Annie, Frankenstein's navigator. She plans to lure him into an ambush in order to have him be replaced by a double. Despite a pirated national broadcast made by Ms. Paine herself, the Resistance's disruption of the race is covered up by the government and instead blamed on the French, who are also blamed for ruining the country's economy and telephone system. At first, the Resistance's plan seems to bear fruit: Nero is killed when a "baby" he runs over for points turns out to be a bomb, Matilda drives off a cliff while following a fake detour route set up by the Resistance, and Calamity Jane, who witnessed Matilda's death, inadvertently drives over a land mine while trying to leave the area. This leaves only Frankenstein and Machine Gun Joe in the race. As Frankenstein nonchalantly survives every attempt made on his life during the race, Annie comes to discover that Frankenstein's mask and disfigured face are merely a disguise; he is, in fact, one of a number of random wards of the state who are trained exclusively to race in the identity, and each time they die or are brutally mutilated, they are secretly replaced so that Frankenstein appears to be indestructible.
The current Frankenstein reveals to Annie his own plan to kill Mr. President: when he wins the race and shakes hands with Mr. President, he will detonate a grenade which has been implanted in his prosthetic right hand. However, the plan goes awry when Machine Gun Joe attacks Frankenstein and Annie is forced to kill him using Frankenstein's "hand" grenade. Having successfully outmaneuvered both the rival drivers and the Resistance, Frankenstein is declared the winner of the race, although he is wounded and unable to carry out his original "hand" grenade attack plan. Annie instead dons Frankenstein's costume and plans to stab Mr. President while standing in for him on the podium. Before she is able to do so, Thomasina shoots "Frankenstein", convinced that he killed Annie. The real Frankenstein takes advantage of the confusion and rams Mr. President's stage with his car, finally fulfilling his lifelong desire to kill him. Frankenstein becomes the new President, marries Annie and appoints Thomasina as Minister of Security to rebuild the state and dissolve the dictatorship. Junior Bruce, the reporter of the Transcontinental Road Race, opposes the race's abolition and impertinently claims that the public needs performances of violence. Annoyed by his complaints, Frankenstein kills Bruce by running him over with his car and drives off with Annie, to the cheers and applause of the crowd.
- David Carradine as "Frankenstein"
- Simone Griffeth as Annie Smith
- Sylvester Stallone as Joe "Machine Gun" Viterbo
- Sandy McCallum as Mr. President
- Louisa Moritz as Myra
- Don Steele as Junior Bruce
- Mary Woronov as "Calamity Jane" Kelly
- Roberta Collins as "Matilda the Hun"
- Fred Grandy as "Herman the German" Boch
- Martin Kove as Ray "Nero the Hero" Lonagan
- Joyce Jameson as Grace Pander
- Carle Bensen as Harold
- Leslie McRay as Cleopatra
- Harriet Medin as Thomasina Paine
- Jan Worth as young reporter
Roger Corman wanted to make a futuristic action sports film to take advantage of the advance publicity of Rollerball (1975). He optioned a short story by Ib Melchior and hired Robert Thom to adapt it. Director Paul Bartel felt this was unshootable, so Charles B. Griffith rewrote it. Corman wanted Peter Fonda to play the lead, but he was unavailable, so David Carradine was cast instead. Carradine was paid 10% of the film's gross — he and Ron Howard were the only stars of Roger Corman Productions to ever get a percentage of the gross.
Bartel later recalled "We had terrible script problems; David had to finish his 'Kung Fu' series before starting and we had bad weather. We all worked under terrible pressure. Roger 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."
Bartel later said, "Most of my guilty pleasures in this film were ripped out by the roots by Roger Corman before the film ever saw the light of day and substituted with crushed heads and blood squibs. Nevertheless, there is a joke about the French wrecking our economy and telephone system that I still find amusing. And I am pleased by the scene introducing the Girl Fan (played very effectively by my sister Wendy) who is to sacrifice herself beneath the wheels of David Carradine's race car and wants to meet him so that the gesture will have "meaning"."
Contemporary reviews were mixed. Lawrence Van Gelder of The New York Times wrote that the film had "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 as an instrument of violence." Variety called the film "cartoonish but effective entertainment, with some good action sequences and plenty of black humor." Richard Combs of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that the comic conceits were "too shaky to hold the movie together and tend to self-destruct some distance short of any pop allegory for America." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film one star out of four and wrote that it "may be the goofiest and sleaziest film I've seen in the last five years."  Tom Shales of The Washington Post praised the film as "one of the zippier little B pictures of the year," adding that "it is designed primarily as a spectacle of kinetic titillation, and on that level, it's a foregone smash hit." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times was also positive, calling it "a fine little action picture with big ideas" and finding Carradine "terrific" in his role.
Roger Ebert gave the film zero stars in his review, deriding its violence and lamenting its appeal to small children. However, during a review of The Fast and the Furious on Ebert & Roeper and the Movies, Ebert named Death Race 2000 as part of a "great tradition of summer drive-in movies" that embrace a "summer exploitation mentality in a clever way". While Ebert hinted that he didn't find the film as awful decades later as he did in 1975, he made it plain he would not alter or disavow his original zero-stars rating for it either.
The film has garnered critical acclaim over the years, having a score of 83% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 35 reviews, with an average rating of 6.65/10, deeming it "fresh". The site's critical consensus states, "Death Race 2000 is a fun, campy classic, drawing genuine thrills from its mindless ultra-violence."
The film has long been regarded as a cult hit, and was often viewed as superior to Rollerball, a much more expensive major studio drama released later in the same year; another dystopian science-fiction sports film similarly focusing on the use of dangerous sports as an "opiate" for the masses.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
Comic book miniseries
A comic book sequel miniseries titled Death Race 2020 was published in 1995 by Roger Corman's short-lived Roger Corman's Cosmic Comics imprint. It was written by Pat Mills of 2000 AD fame, with art by Kevin O'Neill. The pair had already worked together on several comics, including Marshal Law. The comic book, as the title indicates, takes place 20 years after the film ended and deals with Frankenstein's return to the race. New racer characters introduced here included Von Dutch, the Alcoholic, Happy the Clown, Steppenwolf, Rick Rhesus and Harry Carrie.
The comic book miniseries lasted eight issues before being cancelled.
Paul W. S. Anderson directed a remake entitled Death Race, which was released August 22, 2008, starring Jason Statham. The remake began production in late August 2007. Besides Statham, this new version also stars Ian McShane, Joan Allen, and Tyrese Gibson. It also includes a cameo (by voice-over) of David Carradine, reprising his role of Frankenstein. Two direct-to-DVD prequels, titled Death Race 2 (2011) and Death Race 3: Inferno (2013), starring Luke Goss, Tanit Phoenix, Danny Trejo and Ving Rhames, and a direct-to-DVD sequel, titled Death Race: Beyond Anarchy (2018), were also produced.
- It was often reported that the 1976 video game Death Race (which was remade in 1990) was a licensed adaptation of Death Race 2000, but the developers have denied that this was the case.
- The video game Carmageddon was developed under the Death Race 2000 license, in anticipation of a planned original film sequel. When the sequel was cancelled, the game dropped the Death Race 2000 license.
- At the beginning of the song "Isle of Dead" by Buckethead, a short excerpt from the film can be heard.
- In the 1992 Roger Corman-produced film Munchie Strikes Back, clips from the film (including the helicopter chase) are used as part of a video game called Death Race 2000.
- The Alex Jones Show frequently uses the audio of the scene where Harold explains the scoring system as a bumper. The program also airs similar bumpers, which feature clips from other dystopian films such as Soylent Green and They Live.
- List of American films of 1975
- The 10th Victim
- Battle Royale
- The Cars That Ate Paris
- The Running Man
- Mad Max
- The Road Warrior
- The Blood of Heroes
- The Hunger Games
- Wacky Races
- Rollerball (1975)
- Rollerball (2002)
- Video games
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- "Death Race 2000 - The Numbers". The Numbers. Retrieved 2011-07-24.
- Christopher T. Koetting, Mind Warp!: The Fantastic True Story of Roger Corman's New World Pictures, Hemlock Books, 2009, p. 80-83
- Bosnan, John and Nichols, Peter, "Death Race 2000" in Clute, John and Nichols, Peter, eds. (1998) The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2nd edition) Orbit
- Bartel, Paul (September–October 1982). "Paul Bartel's Guilty Pleasures". Film Comment (18.5 ed.). pp. 60–62.
- "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976, p. 48
- Van Gelder, Lawrence (June 6, 1975). "The Screen: 'Death Race 2000' Is Short on Satire". The New York Times: 17.
- "Film Reviews: Death Race 2000". Variety: 48. May 7, 1975.
- Combs, Richard (February 1976). "Death Race 2000". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 43 (#505): 27.
- Siskel, Gene (June 22, 1975). "Dismal duo for a drive-in double bill". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 5.
- Shales, Tom (June 11, 1975). "'Death Race 2000': Smashing And Ruthless Exploitation". The Washington Post: B6.
- Thomas, Kevin (May 2, 1975). "Barbarism in Big Brother Era". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 21.
- "Roger Ebert's review". Rogerebert.suntimes.com. 1975-04-27. Retrieved 2014-05-27.
- "Ebert & Roeper: The Fast and the Furious (Year 2001)". YouTube. 2010-03-07. Retrieved 2017-07-31.
- "'Death' Be Not So Good. Still". RogerEbert.com. 2008-08-28. Retrieved 2017-07-31.
- "Those Coen Boys, What Kidders". RogerEbert.com. 2008-09-11. Retrieved 2017-07-31.
- "Death Race 2000 (1975)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-20.
- Creepy, Uncle (2010-04-01). "The Original Death Race Gets the Deluxe Blu-ray and DVD Treatment and More Corman Classics to Come!". Dreadcentral.com. Retrieved 2011-03-21.
- "DVD releases for: Death Race 2000". allmovie.com. Retrieved 31 July 2010.
- Graser, Marc; Garrett, Diane (2007-06-01). "Film: Universal Restarts 'Spy Hunter', Paul W.S. Anderson To Direct Adaptation". Variety. Retrieved 2007-06-01.
- "Ian McShane Joins Death Race". ComingSoon.net, sourcing The Hollywood Reporter. Aug 8, 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-08.
- Alexander, Chris (April 6, 2016). "Roger Corman Turns 90! Releases BTS Stills from DEATH RACE 2050!". ComingSoon.net. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
- Alexander, Chris (January 10, 2017). "Roger Corman's Death Race 2050 Blu-ray Review". ComingSoon.net. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
- Smith, Keith (2013-05-24). "The Golden Age Arcade Historian: The Ultimate (So Far) History of Exidy - Part 2". The Golden Age Arcade Historian. Retrieved 2017-11-06.
- "The Making Of... Carmageddon". Edge. Archived from the original on 2012-05-09.