Death Race 2000 (1975) Poster

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Action, dark comedy, political satire, SciFi, romance .... racing ... it's all here
mstomaso17 March 2005
David Carradine stars in this classic cult creation. Deathrace 2000 is the 20th anniversary of the murderous trans-continental road race, or, in the words of the US president "what you all want".

You could lose this film in the repertoire of John Carpenter. If you're a Carpenter fan, you really need to see this. Much is made of Corman's production of this film, but this is really not a Corman film in any sense - except for its very obviously low budget. Paul Bartel (of Eating Raoul fame) deserves the directorial credit here, and he really did well given the mediocrity of the material he had to work with.

Ostensibly, the film is about a race involving five participants - Frankenstein (Carradine), Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Stallone), Calamity Jane (Woronov), Mathilda the Hunn, and Nero the Hero - all of comic book stature. They are joined by navigators who double as concubines, which, I suppose, illustrates the trust and intimacy a driver must have with any partner involved in a high speed transcontinental race where the goal is to kill as many pedestrians as possible along the way. About a quarter of the way through the film, it becomes clear that the real story is about the connection between the US government, religion, mass-produced violence and a resistance movement, all focused on either promoting or ending the race once and for all. As despicable as the empowered elite may be in this film, the critique of the media is even more scathing.

Carradine is race hero Frankenstein. Sly Stallone plays his arch-rival Machine Gun Joe Viterbo, and an ensemble cast of fellow racers, media mavens, politicos, and willing and unwilling victims of "the great race" lend strong support. The acting is predictably campy and sometimes just a little too B grade. But the occasional pacing disaster just enhances the humor-value of the film. Stallone is particularly amusing, and gets great support from his sidekick. Carradine is typically bizarre, and even parodies himself with a few poorly choreographed kung fu techniques during his absurd fight scene with Stallone. As short as he is, Stallone is still a much larger and more fit man than Carradine, but gets handily whooped. The cinematographer makes no effort to hide the absurdity of this scene.

The script for this film is a series of well-delivered clichés strung together with cleverly choreographed racing action sequences. As such, it parodies tough-guy talk in films and in real life. The photography is excellent, and on par with John Carpenter's straightforward visual subtlety.

This film appears, at first blush, as a comedic celebration of violence. But it's really a very campy comment on the use of violence in sport and entertainment, as a way to distract and desensitize the public from serious issues such as economic stress, collectivist totalitarianism, the enshrinement of mediocrity, and "minority privilege" (a euphemism for rule by an entrenched powerful elite). The film is dated and does not need to be seen ten times to get it (though I just completed about my 12th viewing).

The political messages are worth hearing, the humor is worth paying attention to, and, if it's your first time, you will likely find this movie quite entertaining.
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A Parody of a Parody...
Gislef14 September 1998
Death Race parodies so many things it's hard to know where to begin. America-centrism (the government blame the French for everything), professional sports, pro wrestling (the drivers are badly acted "theme" types), Big Brother, and just about everything else you could name. At the same time it panders to the blood lust of the audience with cartoon violence. Sylvester Stallone is hilarious as a driver with the mannerisms of a 30's gangster, practicing on his accent for the Rocky movies. A must -see.
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This hilarious exploitation classic puts a smile on my face EVERY time!
Infofreak2 December 2002
'Death Race 2000', like 'Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls', 'The Omega Man', 'Repo Man' and 'Rock'n'Roll High School', is one of those dependable all time favourite trash classics that I watch regularly and never fail to get a smile out of. Anytime you're down just put 'Death Race 200' on and you're guaranteed to be cheered up! Directed by the late Paul Bartel ('Eating Raoul', 'Lust In The Dust')), co-produced by b-grade legend Roger Corman ('Bloody Mama', 'House Of Usher'), and co-written by Charles Griffith ('The Wild Angels', 'Little Shop Of Horrors'), this is simply one of the most enjoyable and entertaining exploitation movies of all time. The setting is the near future where a totalitarian regime keep the populace happy with a violent and extremely popular sport of hit and run car racing. The champion of the people is Frankenstein (David Carradine - 'Boxcar Bertha', 'Q') who has to race against a flamboyant group of rivals, led by his mortal enemy Machine-Gun Joe Viterbo (Sly Stallone!) who is intent on knocking him off the top. The other drivers include such cult figures as Mary Woronov ('Chopping Mall'), Roberta Collins ('Caged Heat'), Martin Kove ('The Karate Kid'), Leslie McRae ('Blood Orgy Of The She Devils') and Fred Grandy ('The Love Boat'). This is a rip roarin' non-stop action-packed black comedy that is an absolute hoot! I can't recommend this one highly enough. Essential viewing!
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A superb demonstration of why we need to keep independent cinema alive
mentalcritic27 January 2006
The B-film industry was once a thriving staple of Hollywood, with directors of all walks and ideals being able to make a film as long as they could raise the cash. Roger Corman, a producer and director among many other things, is one embodiment of the independent spirit. Producing over three hundred films in his career, his name is virtually synonymous with B-level schlock, and it is his productions that have given many of today's major stars their start. In fact, you will find three very familiar faces gracing Death Race 2000. Death Race 2000 is one of his more extravagant productions, but do not let that fool you. Even in 1975, the three hundred thousand dollars he spent on Death Race 2000 would have equaled lunch money on The Godfather Part II, released the previous year on a comparatively lavish budget of thirteen million dollars. While I like both films equally, Death Race 2000 impresses me more simply because it manages to entertain me from start to finish without spending enough money to fund an emergency ward for a month.

Death Race 2000's plot is simple enough. Five drivers in customised cars drive across a repressive American dictatorship, starting on the East Coast before making their way to New Los Angeles. Along the way, they may run over any pedestrians for certain scores. Rather than simply being the first to cross the finish line, the winner is he who can accumulate more points than the others. It is this critical difference compared to other racing films from which much of the comedy is derived. Those who have seen the film before will remember Euthanasia Day with a lot of fondness, and the utter incompetence of the resistance movement is hilarious in itself. But the real comedy derives from the individual drivers and their personalities. By far the most normal driver in the competition is Calamity Jane, a woman with a cowgirl fetish and metallic bullhorns on the front of her car. Coming next is Nero The Hero, who will look very familiar to viewers of The Karate Kid. His whole shtick revolves around being a Roman Gladiator, but the film does not really give him enough time to develop it.

Things get really interesting with racer number three, Matilda The Hun. Sporting Nazi symbolism and screaming "Blitzkrieg" whenever she scores a pedestrian, she is the least subtle indication that the makers had their tongues firmly in their cheeks during the creation of the film. Next are the two big rivals in the competition. Sylvester Stallone plays "Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo like a cranky adolescent who has snorted too much cocaine. There is literally nothing on the road he will not kill, and Stallone's trademark slurred speech suits the character to a T. But the real star of the story is Frankenstein, the other previous race winner and a friend of the President. David Carradine plays Frankenstein like a C-grade Darth Vader, delivering much of the comedy. His diversion on Euthanasia Day and the moment where he kicks Stallone's butt are worth watching the film for by themselves. Learning about why he wants to win the race, and what he will do in order to accomplish it, are hilarious in and of themselves. You can sort of see why Carradine and Stallone went on to become headlining stars whilst Kove enjoyed a brief career as the lead villain.

Death Race 2000 is as dated as hell, let's not kid ourselves. The matte painting of the starting race track is more obvious than an undone bluescreen effect. The blood is so fake that it looks pink at times. The editing makes it very confusing to see how one is getting run over, or who is punching whom during the aforementioned Carradine/Stallone altercation. On the other hand, its story of a dictatorship America that uses sport as an opiate for the masses, its portrayal of the media, and its depiction of blind obedience are timeless. They are even more relevant thirty years on than when the film first premiered. I like to think of the incompetent resistance movement as an indictment of the fact that we would have a better government if we had a credible or even opposing opposition. Seventy-nine minutes is too short a time to go into these political subplots at all, but that Death Race 2000 touches on them at all when far more serious and lengthy films made years later cannot even consider them is a credit to Corman and his company. Death Race 2000 is one of those films that should be preserved in a time capsule for the edification of future generations.

I gave Death Race 2000 a seven out of ten. Were I making it today, there are a few things I would do differently. The television segments would have been filmed using video or line removal rather than a camera at a television screen, for instance. Balancing this out, however, is the fact that so many of the shots are so effectively composed that it is no wonder Tak Fujimoto went on to become a multi-award-winning Hollywood cinematographer. In short, if you have not seen Death Race 2000 yet, then grab the new Roger Corman Classics DVD. It will be the best B-film, in fact one of the best films period, you will see all year.
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A Missing Piece From My Childhood
gavin694214 October 2006
In a dystopian future, a cross country automobile race requires contestants to run down innocent pedestrians to gain points that are tallied based on each kills brutality. Starring David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone.

When I was younger and my family would go for a drive, my father would often make the remark that if he swerved and hit someone, it would be worth twenty points. In my youth, I never really understood where he picked it up from, but now I think it is safe to say that "Death Race 2000" was his source.

While this movie is fairly cheesy, it is fun in a way most other films simply are not. I would not even call it a "dark comedy" because the violence is not dark, it is just campy. Beverly Gray calls it "comically macabre".

There is some strong underlying message about American values that could be interpreted differently by different people: is America an inherently violent nation? Or are we a nation trying to maximize our freedoms? (This dispute comes into play when "rebels" show up who wish to end the race and restore the old America.) What is interesting is that Corman was known to be anti-authority, so he should be saying that this race is barbaric. Yet, he clearly understands that the viewer enjoys the death scenes... without them, the film would be nothing. What does this say about us, or about him?

Stallone has a surprisingly small role, despite being the secondary character. He does not speak much and seems to be in the movie for no other reason than to use violence against women. In the vernacular, he "keeps his pimp hand strong".

David Carradine, who never busts out many a karate move in this film, is the real hero. He plays the race's most popular character ("Frankenstein") who has allegedly been pieced back together year after year. His bondage gear outfit and smooth Carradine attitude make him a clear favorite for movie viewers, as well.

All in all, this film is a cult classic and deserves to be. Corman wanted to compete with "Rollerball" (1975) for a fraction of the cost, so he purchased Ib Melchoir's "The Racer" and went from there. I think he succeeded. I do not know how much money each film made, but I know of nobody today who is out there calling "Rollerball" the better film.
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Race to Grab this Corman Cult Classic!! :
MooCowMo1 November 1999
Every once in a while, Roger Corman, "a dear friend of mine" ;=8), comes out with a little gem among the tons of coal he produces every year, and "DR2K" is one of them. Kind of a poor-man's "Roller Ball", "DR2K" is about the ultimate in New America's blood sport in a fascist "near-future", with David Carradine("Kung Fu")as the anti-hero Frankenstein. Produced by Corman, and directed by Paul Bartell("Eating Raoul"), the film is fast-paced, blackly humorous, and well-made. Unlike many Corman cheapies, the stark, spartan setting of "DR2K" only adds to the bleak atmosphere, where Mr. President rules from overseas, and old folks are routinely euthanized as part of the game. The game, in this case, being the Transcontinental Road Race where anything goes, and where pedestrians are run over and assigned kill points. Carradine plays a darkly foreboding Frankenstein, so-called because of the many limbs he has lost as a result of running the Death Race. A pre-"Rocky" Sylvester Stallone is grand as Machine-Gun Joe Viterbo, Frankenstein's arch-rival. Also stars Mary Woronov("Eating Raoul", "Rock & Roll High School")as Calamity Jane, Roberta Collins("Eaten Alive", "Hardbodies")delightful as Matilda the Hun, and 60's DJ Don Steele as a mincing little announcer. One of Corman's many little social cowmentaries, this one about the all-too American obsession for violence and sports; thankfully he allows Bartell to deftly and briskly direct. Still, it's a fairly low-budget affair; pedetrians get crushed, and things git blowed up real good, but it only makes you wonder what the film cud have been with a larger budget. Oh well, at least there isn't a giant evil pickle from Venus in this one... The MooCow says this Guilty Pleasure is definitely rentable, so just yell "Blitzkrieg!" and fire up that vcr!! :
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Cult at gazillion miles per hour
Coventry24 January 2005
Death Race 2000 is the finest example to show how easy it actually was back in the seventies to come up with a timeless cult film. Honestly, anyone could have invented an outrageously exaggerated premise like this but the fact that it was actually Roger Corman who dealt with it just proves how eminently he ruled the B-movie circuit back then. Death Race 2000 is one of the most entertaining films ever made and I, for one, can't imagine someone not loving the severely ridicule story of a coast-to-coast car race where the contesters score points by wiping pedestrians off the road. Silly, yes…but even more ingenious, flamboyant and offensive. Pure cult, in other words, and fundamental viewing for every soul who ever showed interest in extravagant film-making! The script is stuffed with imaginative findings (euthanasia day at the hospital!) and downright UNsubtle protest towards the American way of life (a factor that determines Death Race 2000 as cult even more). Considering it's a Corman production, the film also contains explicit violence, provoking messages and a truckload of sleaze! All the elements that guarantee untamed cult success! Of course it has to be said that it could have been an even better film if Corman and director Paul Bartel focused on a more proper elaboration of the versatile idea. The rivalry between Carradine and Stallone, for example, should have resulted in a more intriguing sub plot and even though DR 2000 already contains much absurdity as it is, the premise surely had potential enough to add even more sick jokes and cynical situations. David Carradine acts deliciously as always and Stallone is excellent as well. Death Race 2000 is cinema that separates the men from the boys, people! Stop exploring the cult genre in case you didn't had the time of your life watching this film.
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"100% red blooded American sense of humor."
Backlash0076 December 2001
Warning: Spoilers

Oh great American multitude and sports fans everywhere have I got a movie for you: Death Race 2000. The national and celebrated sport in the year 2000 is the transcontinental death race where racers compete not only for position, but for points as well. For every pedestrian hit, points are earned, depending on age and status of course. And of course it's nothing like the year 2000 but it makes for a great flick. Frankenstein (David Carradine), Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sly Stallone), Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov), Matilda the Hun, and Nero the Hero are the five racers vying for points and place. Stallone is a standout as the villain. Hilarious stuff takes place throughout the race; from euthanasia day at the geriatric hospital to the "French" air attacks. The best lines have got to be: "Is that a grenade?" "No, a hand grenade." This Roger Corman production has become a cult favorite, rightfully so, and one of the best films of the seventies.

"Hit and run isn't a felony. It's the national sport."
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Carmageddon, or how I learned to stop worrying and love those crazy seventies
rogierr12 February 2002
'Mad Max' meets the 'Running Man' and they both drive over miss Daisy. 'Death Race 2000' is a disconcerting smithereen job, but also fun. It is unprobable to say the least: 'Frankenstein' as the embodiment of national virtue? Nice thought over a dose of mescaline maybe. With unbelievable music too. Everything seems 2 B possible: ethical correct splatter comedies? You've got it. The acting in this supposed SF (caricatures of the immoral society of the future) is absolutely horrible (apart from Carradine and Griffeth). Add some black humor and non-existing emotions and you have Death Race 2000: the obscure cult flick in which Sly gets slapped around some as driver Machine-Gun Joe Viterbo. And retrospectively one of his best roles, besides 'First Blood' and 'Rocky'.

Luckily there was room in the rating for some graphical splatter and nudity, which is why this has become a cult movie. And fat chance the uncut version will be banned where I live. It is more than questionable if the story is really about the fear of America becoming that chauvinistic and drenched in bloodlust. I get the impression that most of it is just a glorification of violence. But in a more thoroughly humorous way than e.g. Wild Bunch (1969) et al. Imagine the American president has a summer house in Peking, or driver Mathilda the Hun has a nazi-navigator Herman the German...

DR2k was appropriately filmed by the great cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (Badlands, Silence of the lambs, Sixth Sense, and last but not least Ferris Bueller's day off). Good for Paul Bartel that he made Death Race 2000 before George Miller made Mad Max (1978), because it would have been a completely obsolete cartoon otherwise: something like Evil Knievel vs Dick Dastardly. Nevertheless DR2k is quite enjoyable. This movie may be inspired by 'the Cars that ate Paris' (Weir, 1974) and seemed to have inspired 'Carmageddon' (VG) and Mad Max of course. Guys, it's been real. Jesus Chrysler, I'd almost rate this 6/10.
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Great entertainment, for a minority of viewers..
SmokeyTee1 November 2004
Just exactly when bad taste ceases to be funny and becomes plainly cruel is a personal thing. However I have tried this film on a few friends and they did not enjoy it. That said I had rented the old VHS from the art-house vid shop 3 times before purchasing a cheap DVD copy when it popped up.

Personally I thought some of this was laugh out loud funny and other parts frankly embarrassing to watch.

I highly recommend Deathrace 2000 but take no responsibility should you decide to watch it! Tim
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The movie that made Sylvester Stallone a trivia question
Robert Reynolds12 April 2001
This film received one of the ultimate compliments: they made it into a pinball machine (a good one, too) and it's probably one of two subjects Sylvester Stallone wishes would go away! Fred Grandy is probably glad his role isn't as prominent. Actually, as a movie, it's pretty decent. I enjoyed it myself. Mary Woronov did a great job and most of the other leads are good as well. Stop the proceedings, Oscars for everyone! Worth watching.
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A work of unique genius
funkyfry8 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Deathrace 2000 is one of the best films ever released by the Roger Corman organization, and in fact it's one of the best films ever released on the exploitation/drive-in circuit period. The film is not great because it presents us with interesting, realistic characters or a complex, well-developed story. Although it's often spoken of in terms of its brilliant political satire, for the most part its political ideas are on a very basic level. What makes it a great film is its total lack of shame and pretension – in contrast to those who seem to see the film as a kind of veiled political statement, I think the film was pretty obvious about what it is. And I think its great strength lies in the fact that director Bartel was able to give us a movie that fulfills all our demands for an exploitation film, and not only that but is in fact a decent action film, while at the same time overflowing with sadistic humor and no apologies. I don't see the film as a satire masquerading as an exploitation film – I see it as the ultimate exploitation film, free to be what it wants to be, telling us that it's OK to laugh at the darker things in life. We can enjoy watching a guy's head splattered on the road by a Nazi supermodel type. We can laugh at ourselves and our ridiculous cultural obsession with violence, and we can rise above and be conscious of just how ridiculous it is without sinking to the kind of pedantic moral-ism lampooned in the film in the person of Grace Pander (Joyce Jameson) and her morosely self-serious rebel clan.

The pacing of the movie is another of its strengths – never let the audience stop and think about whether they should be offended. It doesn't take long for the film to introduce the major characters and the central story concept. Frankenstein (David Carradine) is the all-time champion of the "Death Race", a cross-country motor race in which contestants score points for killing pedestrians. Each racer has a partner of the opposite sex whose job is equally navigation and sexual satisfaction; Frankenstein's new partner, Annie Smith (Simone Griffeth) has a third job: working as a fighter in Pader's resistance movement on a special mission to assassinate Frankenstein.

The cars look very primitive today, and my friend who is a mechanic could easily identify the exact model of Volkswagen that was modified for the futuristic cars. But no matter. Each has been modified to fit a colorful persona for the racer, like WWF stars in the 1980sMartin Kove's "Nero the Hero" with his Roman gladiator trappings is memorable, Sylvester Stallone makes a good early appearance as the poseur "Machine Gun Joe" (a character I would guess is loosely modeled on Charles Bronson's early Roger Corman character "Machine Gun Kelly" – this "Machine Gun" business might be good luck for aspiring action stars!), but Mary Woronov blows everyone away with her no-holds-barred uber-feminist Calamity Jane (best line: "nobody scores my co-pilot!").

Carradine knows what he's doing – he doesn't take the film any more seriously than it takes itself, but instead plays the character as two-dimensional par excellence. His best moment comes when he removes the scarred and disfigured mask that provides the persona of "Frankenstein" – "what did you expect, another pretty face?". Carradine's laconic screen presence matches the character and the sterile futuristic world perfectly.

Griffith's script is one of his best, and that's saying a lot because the guy was seriously funny (see his original "Little Shop of Horrors" and his masterpiece "Bucket of Blood"). It's based on a story by sci-fi writer Ib Melchior, who didn't like the movie (it didn't take itself as seriously as he wanted it to, as I recall). I can't say enough about how much I adore Paul Bartel's films, and this is one of his best (along with "Eating Raoul"). Paul Bartels doesn't feel like he needs to dumb down his films so that people will realize they are a joke – he thinks that a joke SHOULD be potentially dangerous and has no fear of offending the audience. It's not that he's a provocateur, in my opinion, but rather he's a classic satirist – he wants to show us how ridiculous our society is without wallowing in self-righteousness. His movies are always fun, and for that reason they'll never be fully embraced by the majority of critics who think that you have to throw a wet towel over your film in order to send a serious message.

This is brave film-making of the highest order – fast, fun, funny, sexy, uncompromising and intelligent.
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campy cult classic
SnoopyStyle24 May 2015
In a fascist dystopia future, five racers; Calamity Jane, Matilda the Hun, Nero the Hero, Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone) and Frankenstein (David Carradine) travel across the country to win the TransContinental Roadrace. Running over people scores the racers points. Annie Smith is Frankenstein's navigator and possibly plans to kill him as part of an anti-race resistance.

It's a campy cult classic. This world is outrageous and silly. However it's a one-joke world and not that funny. It may be a good drinking game. There is no doubt of the movie's camp credentials. It isn't anything more than that.
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A high-octane B-movie with satirical cheek
Mr-Fusion8 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
"Death Race 2000" seems like it was tailor-made for the midnight movie crowd. Gonzo is the word that comes to mind. You can't help but chuckle at some of the gleeful violence in such a roughly hewn movie, and the acting herein varies from wooden to cheesy (and a big draw is watching Stallone ham it up in that hair). Not to mention David Carradine in the bondage Darth Vader getup.

It's all too ridiculous and that's its charm. Like watching the love child of "Cannonball Run", "The Running Man" and "Mad Max". Which really doesn't seem doable anywhere else but on paper; but here, it works.

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A Great Movie
Duncan Gosseyn28 March 2014
I avoided DEATH RACE 2000 for a long time because I thought it would be too violent and sadistic just like the remake with Jason Statham. But I figured that since it was made in the 70s it couldn't be that bad. And it isn't. Special effects have gotten much better. The blood in the remake looks real. Anybody can tell that the blood here is fake. The violence is also quite minimal. I mean, there's a scene where a guy's head gets crushed under a car tire but trust me, it really isn't as gory as it sounds.

The movie is only around 75 minutes long, which is as long as it needed to be. There really aren't any scenes that I thought were unnecessary. I really liked the story and the political commentary. The action scenes were pretty good for a movie that cost just $300,000 (around $1.5 million in today's money) to make. I still can't get over the fact that this spectacular (and I promise I'm not using that word sarcastically) movie was made for only that much money. (By the way, I didn't give this movie 10 stars for being good AND inexpensive, just for being good. I'm just saying that the fact that it was inexpensive is amazing given how good it is.)

Anyway, another thing that I really liked about this movie is that it is really funny. I don't want to give any specific examples since DR2K is so short and it's best if you watch it without knowing much about it, but there are some scenes that might seem sadistic at first but really aren't.

This isn't a movie that takes itself too seriously, which I really liked. Here's the thing. Every dystopian movie has an absurd premise. I can't think of a single one that doesn't. So why are they so serious? (There are maybe a few exceptions, like LOGAN'S RUN, which is somewhat serious but not excessively so.) Take THE HUNGER GAMES for example. It's so serious but, ultimately, the premise is quite ridiculous. The makers of DEATH RACE 2000 knew they were making a movie with a droll premise and apparently didn't hesitate to make it lighthearted and humorous. I thought it was hilarious how Matilda the Hun, the Nazi driver, yelled "Blitzkrieg!" every time she ran someone over. Sylvester Stallone as "Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo has some really great lines such as "You lousy stinking dirtball. You've got two seconds to live!"

I can't believe that the late Roger Ebert gave this movie 0/4 stars. That was another reason why I avoided this movie for quite a long time. Now don't get me wrong, I really liked reading his reviews and I agreed with his opinions on many of the movies that he reviewed. But go read his short review of DR2K:

It's really not a review of the film itself. It's more of a criticism of movie theaters that don't enforce MPAA ratings.

DEATH RACE 2000 is one of the most entertaining movies I've ever seen. You might think it's a movie that's so bad it's good but it's not. It's just good.
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Death Race 2000 could have been great but isn't
jaibo25 September 2008
There's some great ideas in this low-budget dystopian car race film, a sort of cross between Rollerball, 1984 and The Gumball Rally. The Totalitarian government of a futuristic, post-Industrial crash USA has instigated a cross-country car chase in which drivers get points for killing pedestrians, and the less able to work the pedestrian is, the more points he/she is worth (geriatrics are worth most). The media is in on the barbarism, but some revolutionaries are trying to sabotage the race.

Paul Bartel's film suffers both from it's minuscule budget (whatever the economic/social disaster that has caused the fall, it's left the whole of America looking like a deserted backwoods, where only cable TV exists), really obvious political satire and lame attempts at wacky humour. On the plus side, there's a real relish in the carnage and a total lack of humanism, which makes the movie particularly galling for liberals. But the cheapness in both budget and shots finally works against what is a marvellous idea - Death Race 2000 is a film better imagined from its plot than experienced by watching what ended up on screen.
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oh the splendor of the b-movie!
"Death Race 2000" is a low budget genre melting pot from 1975 starring David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone as two of five feuding race car drivers competing in a futuristic sport that is won based on racking up points from killing pedestrians and others. Based on a 1956 short story, it's a highly satiric sci-fi actioner that uses ironic and downright sadistic touches to examine America's abhorrent fascination with violence.

The ridiculously contrived and outlandish futuristic setting was put into heavy rotation during the mid-70's in several other films ("Westworld"; "Soylent Green"; "Logan's Run") as a means to tell downbeat and cynical stories that allowed the audience to escape their own reality, but still experience a certain catharsis.

In the case of "Death Race 2000" the results are a mixed bag, as the over the top material races from dark comedy to "Sleeper"-like sci-fi to undercooked romance and back again. It works because of the tongue-in-cheek direction of Paul Bartel, who would go on to helm the brilliant dark comedy "Eating Raoul". The whole thing is great fun, and has a surprising innocence underneath all of the mostly cartoonish violence.

This said, the main gripe would have to be the inconsistent pacing, as the race and the story took breaks between laps, which leaves the viewer peeking at their watch.
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Stupid? Hardly.
wilbrifar16 May 2003
I'm astonished by the number of reviewers who see this film as "stupid". It has one hell of a witty script, with amazingly accurate jabs at everything from media hype to uber-patriotic propaganda. Just listen to the president blaming everything on "the treacherous French and their stinking European allies". Sounds chillingly like "Freedom Fries", doesn't it?

This wonderful little gem is far more intelligent that it's usually given credit for, and certainly smarter than 99.9% of the films made today. Those who dismiss it as stupid junk because of its outrageous premise are missing the point. I haven't seen anyone write a film this smart in at least 20 years.
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Wonderful sick satire that excels in every department
Vince-527 May 2001
Death Race 2000 is, without a doubt, a camp masterpiece. Paul Bartel's energetic direction and jet black humor speed the proceedings along like the racers' custom-made autos. The photography is razor sharp, done in vivid color that beautifully captures the landscapes, rushing roads, and splatters of blood. The phenomenal cast turns in spirited performances all around, with the top prize taken by the exquisite Mary Woronov as sexy cowgirl Calamity Jane Kelly. Whether gyrating on a dance floor or going after a matador in her Bull car, she effortlessly steals every scene she's in. The only flaw in the movie (and it's a minor one) is the resistance; with so many colorful characters and hilarious dialogue and situations, you really don't care one way or the other about Thomasina Paine and her opposition forces. Still, this low-budget (about $300,000) New World opus is an audacious, wildly funny, gorgeously garish delight and an essential classic. "Go for the baby, the baby!"
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"Go for the baby, the baby!"
The_Movie_Cat2 November 2000
Warning: Spoilers

Death Race 2000 opens with a cartoon title sequence that looks like a child's crayon drawing on polystyrene. It's backed up with a theme tune that sounds as if the tape's chewed, and cuts to a poorly superimposed "futuristic" setting.

The rest of the film is like this. Cheap, somewhat curiously directed, poorly acted and shouldn't work. Yet somehow it does. Is this the most subversive American movie ever made? There's occasional digs at other races (The Nazi driver "Herman the German" for one), but in the main it's U.S. culture that is being constantly lambasted. A future America where the Stars and Stripes are red and gold, and the President (Sandy McCallum) says things like "I have made the United Provinces of America the greatest power in the known universe." Even when slating other races, the finger points back to gung-ho xenophobia, as when the President hilariously states "It is no coincidence, my dear children, that the word 'sabotage' was invented by the French."

Not only is this open season on it's country of origin's own culture, it also has some of the sickest humour ever seen in a mainstream movie. The central concept is of a car race where killing pedestrians gains the drivers points in the contest. "And toddlers, under twelve, now rate a big 70 points", explains a TV announcer. There's also a specially arranged "Euthanasia Day" at the local geriatrics' hospital, and the supreme sickness of the title quote.

What adds to the film is its sense of unmitigated cheese. David Carradine is lame in the lead role, while many of the other – equally lacklustre – performers struggle with a third-rate script. Sample line? "You know Myra, some people might think you're cute. But me I think you're just one large baked potato." This combines with "pit stop" scenes which involve little else other than gratuitous nudity. Violence in the movie is shot and edited as if it thinks it matches the gore of Cronenberg or Tom Savini. However, it's merely tame and almost comical as badly staged red paint explodes everywhere. Some of the car racing is also sped up, which resembles less fast cars, more Keystone Kops. However, as much of this is overlaid with incongruous classical music there's every possibility that this is intentional. It's also fun seeing Sylvester Stallone beaten senseless by a skinny Carradine in a poorly choreographed fight. Imagine Mad Max involved in a fight between Wacky Races and Benny Hill and you're part way there to imagining what this unique film is like.

Stallone is "Machine Gun Joe", described as being "loved by thousands, hated by millions", which is quite apt. While I'm a Stallone fan (apologist?) it's worth noting that this is less a Stallone acting appearance (Rocky, Copland...), more a Stallone by-the-numbers performance (Rocky IV, Judge Dredd...)

Of course, while all this is thrown together at such a force and with such a delightfully hammy velocity that it makes it great amusement, there is evidence that it's one-joke satire isn't enough to fill it's paltry 78 minutes running time. Like the cars that are supposedly driving fast but are really puttering along at a snail's pace, the final quarter of the movie runs the risk of grinding to a halt. A final satirical barb by a racing commentator ("The race is the symbol of everything we hold dear, our American way of life. Sure it's violent, but that's the way we love it... violent, violent, violent!") seems to overstate the matter and falls flat.

The ending is resolved with yet more poorly animated titles and a narration that talks about man's need for violence. One of the best bad movies I've ever seen, Death Race 2000 is within reach of absolute greatness, though doesn't - quite - manage it. 6/10.
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Threadbare thrills and satire
moonspinner559 June 2007
In the year 2000, Americans fervently support a cross-country car race in which the drivers pick up points by mowing down pedestrians (senior citizens garner the highest points!). The star of the show is Frankenstein (David Carradine), who has seen plenty of smash-ups and is now made of bones, metal and plastic; he initially chafes with his new navigator, a feminine blonde who is working as a secret operative. Low-budget black comedy from New World does occasionally look good (better than something like the original "Rollerball", anyway) and gets a terrific boost from Carradine, lean and no-nonsense both in and out of his black leather costume (his best moment comes when he dances gracefully with the blonde in his black Speedo). The race doesn't really matter, nor do the comical television commentaries or the limp political skewering. Director Paul Bartel doesn't seem to have his heart in thuggish behavior or pulpy violence--he's more of a cartoon-addict, and the film could really use more of his twisted humor and less of the macho swaggering. ** from ****
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A film with no redeeming features
Rock Savage17 May 2002
This is a sad little film. Not quite a comedy and not quite an action film. The result is a poor imitation of a 1970s porn film without the sex. This film has no redeeming features. A serious level of desperation must have effected the cast to allow themselves to have appeared in such a trashy, inept and boring effort. A very very poor job. One to avoid.
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Violent death race in which contestants get score points for running drivers down and sacrificing themselves.
ma-cortes2 July 2013
Paul Bartel's wickedly funny sci-fi black comedy with frantic acting , chills , humor and gory fun . This cult hit is set in a Dystopian future , 21th century , a cross country automobile race , there five car (several of the cars in the movie are re-bodied Volkswagens) contenders challenge the national championship in which drivers score points by killing pedestrians in a televised death race . Assorted ruthless people leave patches of rubber across the country competing for grand prize in legal transcontinental auto race . It requires contestants to run down innocent people to gain points that are tallied based on each kills brutality . As there participates an assertive and charismatic masked man called Frankestein (David Carradine , the role was originally offered to Peter Fonda, who considered the movie too ridiculous for words) , Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone did much of their own driving and wrote some of his own dialogue) , co-driver Annie Smith (Simone Griffeth was excellent as David Carradine's enticing co-pilot) , Mary Woronov as Calamity Jane , Roberta Collins as Matilda the Hun , Martin Kove as Nero , among others . In the final of the race the lives of the competitors , pedestrians , the President and the death race itself are in deep peril .

This cult fave based on the 1956 story by Ib Melchior about a futurist international sport , a violent and bloody car race where the drivers score points for hitting other vehicles ; though the screenplay retains only the basic premises of the original short story ; the characters and incidents are all different . New World's Roger Corman wrote the original treatment of the film, which was serious in tone , but thought it was not right and, in his words, was "kind of vile" ; he decided the dark material of the story would be better served by making the movie into a comedy and had Robert Thom rewrite the treatment . This exciting movie is full of noisy action , moving scenes , thrills, chills , satire and lots of violence . The object is to race cars and kill as many competitors as possible , as it packs spectacular chases with skillful stunts and without computer generator effects . From the beginning to the end the unstopped action and the emotions are interminable . The surreal style of cartoon suffused all movie , outrageous in its subject matter and black zany in its treatment . ¨Death race¨ owes to ¨Tom and Jerry¨ cartoon and to Coyote's fruitless pursuit of the Road Runner . According to Roger Corman, film's producer ,several of the custom cars featured in the movie were later sold to car museums for considerably more than it cost to build them . The racetrack used for the opening track and grandstand scenes is the Ontario Motor Speedway near Los Angeles . The cars didn't run most of the time, so they had to be pushed down hills in order to get them to move ; moreover, the cameras used to film the cars were under-cranked in order to perpetuate the illusion that they were moving faster.

The motion picture was originally directed by Paul Bartel . This American filmmaker's anarchic work was consistently more amusing than nearly all of his undergoing contemporaries . He began as a filmmaker of animated shorts , like Frank Tashlin , who also started in animation . Bartel's reputation rests most securely with ¨Eating Raoul¨ which took him ages to finance and almost as long to distribute ; he subsequently made a spoof western titled ¨Lust in the dust¨ and ¨Scenes from the class struggle in Beverly Hills¨ a wild black comedy as well as lusty lewd ; furthermore directed ¨Private parts¨ , ¨Not for publication¨ , among others . ¨Death race 2000¨ was followed by ¨Death Sport¨ (1978) with David Carradine , Richard Lynch , Claudia Jennings , Jeese Vint , William Smithers ; ¨Cannoball¨ mostly interesting for a plethora of cult cameos , not top drawer production but nonetheless acceptable , with David Carradine , Mary Wonorov , Joe Dante , John Landis , Martin Scorsese and many others ; recently has been made ¨Death race¨ with Jason Statham , Robin Shou, Robert LaSardo , Tyrese Gibson and Joan Allen ; ¨Death Race 2¨ by Roel Reine with Luke Goss , Lauren Cohan , Sean Bean and Ving Rhames ; and ¨Death Race : Inferno¨ with Luke Goss , Lauren Cohan , Sean Bean , Ving Rhames and Dougray Scott ; all of them no as good as the original , but still watchable .
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most surprising: it's not awesomely bad, it's just awesome
MisterWhiplash11 October 2008
Roger Corman had one of his handful of real legitimate artistic achievements with Death Race 2000. This is not to say that it's Oscar worthy material or should get a whole lot of prestige, but it is definitely a cut above a lot of the intentional schlock that Corman and company put out over the years. Part of that is the intensity and panache of the film-making, of Paul Bartel and crew's filming action with the kind of automotive verve that Miller would have later in the Mad Max movies but put to a wilder edge by whatever means were available in the (low) budget (it's also a major credit to Corman, usually the penny-pincher, that this looks like a movie budgeted far beyond its actual means). Even today it contains a punch that, honestly, continues to out-do stuff like, well, the Paul Anderson remake.

The other part is the writing, with a script that skewers what could be some sour material and creates this crazy landscape of degenerates, outlaws, crooked politicians (redundant, sure), madcap TV personalities, and the occasional bad-ass. The most occasional one is the star, Frankenstein, in one of his great parts by David Carradine, who is one of many drivers who in the Death Race go across the country (apparently, it would seem, in one day, since you know they have cars like that in the year 2000) racking up points by running over as many people as possible, with children and the elderly garnering the most points. How some of the logistical problems actually come off- why wouldn't people just stay indoors if it's the most highly anticipated "event" of the year to save their lives- is left up in the air, but by the time the story is really moving its hard to even care.

This is, in essence, a near perfect exploitation flick, something grungy and rude and crude and featuring loud and crazily designed death-mobiles, plenty of naked women popping up, fights, explosions, goofy bits like Frankenstein's hand with a near-permanent grenade stuck to it, and characters with lots of meaty and fun dialog to work with (Stallone, in one of his first big performances, hams it up wonderfully and is actually not too hard to understand with his speaking voice). I also loved the totally tasteless political satire bits, like the mention of France as an evil super-power or just the nature of the President and the resistance movement to stop the Death Race by any means necessary.

Watch it friends, grab a few brews, and be prepared to actually have a really fun time with exemplary film-making on a shoestring (yes, a shoestring); its attitude and action remain fresh, which is really hard to accomplish when usually looking at the Corman body of producing work which is varied and often full of total crap. Every so often there's a ruby in the midst of it all, and this is one of them.
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Awful, does cult equal bad script and bad acting?
Richard Brunton18 November 2000
Awful. The story's bad, the action and the acting, although Stallone out acts everyone and is the least cardboard like character. This isn't even a form of social commentary, it's extremely poor film making. Surely we aren't at the stage of calling a film a cult classic purely because it's old and innocent? What about if it's bad through and through? - Believe me, this is!
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