Death Race 2000
R1 - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (5th September 2010).
The Film

For everyone who grew up playing any version of “Twisted Metal” or even “Mario Kart,” fond props have to be given to the original crazy car racing movie “Death Race 2000” (1975). From the genius of producer Roger Corman and made for a few hundred thousand dollars, “Death Race 2000” is the type of crazed dystopian low-budget movie you would come to expect from Corman who had his fingers in some of the greatest films, and directors, to come out of the 1970’s. What makes “Death Race 2000” such a classic is not just seeing a young Sylvester Stallone or David Carradine, but the geniously satirical look at the obviously 1970’s vision of the future.

In the year 2000 the United States has become some facist police state that merges religion, an authoritarian regime and mass media ruled by a bloodthirsty public addicted to the yearly reality TV show ‘Death Race’ where 5 drivers race across the nation, killing people in their path for points hoping to win the race and get the highest score. Fan-favorite Frankenstein (David Carradine) has come back for another race after having most of his body replaced with bionic machines to keep him going after the countless accidents he’s been involved in over the years. With rival Machine Gun Joe (Sylvester Stallone) and racers Calamity Jane (Mary Waronov), Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins) and Nero the Hero (Martin Kove), the racers move across country as the rebellion against the Death Race tries to upset the competition to rally the country against Mr. President’s (Sandy McCallum) fascist regime, though Frankenstein has plans of his own.

The ridiculousness of the race itself is fun and exciting in the way it’s presented, along with the rebellion led by Thomasina Paine (Harriet Medin) and the theme of each driver. Each kill along the race is presented for laughs with goofy music to just show off how crazy the facist future has become. You can give it credit for predicting the craze of reality TV or showing off some great comedy and car moves, but really you have to admire everything that’s done on such a budget. All the modified Volkswagens trumped up to themes with different weapons, running over obviously fake dummies, the movie is almost a work of art.

Much of this comes from Roger Corman’s ingenious ability to produce movies on the cheap and Paul Bartel’s good comedic vision in his directing and all of the actors really getting what’s going on in the movie. There’s some gratiuitous nudity that you would expect from a 70’s Corman film, some silly looking violence, but it’s all a part of the comedy and the satire. Carradine’s slightly stilted Frankenstein speeches about overthrowing the government and Stallone’s over the top Chicago gangster look and tone is a great addition to the characters.

The most disappointing part of watching "Death Race 2000" might be that the days of cheap, quick, grindhouse style movies that Corman was known for have more or less faded from major films. So much emphasis is placed on the blockbuster, being able to pump out low budget movies that free flow through their little bit of social commentary supplied with entertainment, the retrospective dystopian future is really enjoyable.

In contrast to the more action oriented remake “Death Race” (2008) the comedic dystopia filled with modified VW’s is a great look back into the 70’s filmmaking and the golden age for Roger Corman movies. There could be more to the social commentary today than in the 70’s since media violence seems to have been upped since the 70’s and reality TV has become huge, but really the movie is about the satire on sports and people gobbling up what gets put on TV, even if the race is rigged, that still matters today. And because of that satire it also comes down to the jokes which are still funny and not dated to anything just in the 1970’s, and the ridiculousness makes it even more fun. A great re-release from shout factory to keep cult classics like this alive.

Video

Presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic aspect ratio, the transfer looks fantastic considering it’s a 1970’s film, keeping the grain and artifacts that maintain the texture of the 70’s low budget feel, while also bringing some great clarity to the movie. Even with the more dense grain in scenes there’s great colors and clarity in the film that make it a great looking release that still feels like a 70’s movie. Were it cleaned up too much more it would feel so fake and inauthentic that it would loose a lot of the enjoy ability. There’s also a Blu-ray release and with quality like this, really you have to imagine the Blu-ray looks amazing.

Audio

Presented in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 dual mono audio track, it has the same idea in transfer as the visuals, keeping with the 1970’s feel by keeping the 2.0 audio track rather than trying to mutate it into something 5.1 that gets too artificial or goes against the original feel of the film. Everything about the audio, in the way the vocals have been leveled and the sound effects interact and the sound track has the 1970’s feel to it. Another great, authentic feeling transfer that doesn’t try to do too much with something already great. If there’s one complaint it’s the lack of subtitles available for the movie, just a little oversight.

Extras

What really sets the Shout! Factory release apart is the amount of special features available to increase the enjoyment of the movie. There are two audio commentaries, a collection of featurettes and some original materials on the disc to make it great.

The first audio commentary is with assistant director Lewis Teague and editor Tina Hirsh, this audio commentary brings in two of the more behind-the-scenes players who have their own stories on how the movie got put together. It’s especially interesting to hear Hirsh’s opinions as an editor since she seems to have a different look or insight about the film in which scenes and actors she really liked putting together. There’s a few more pauses and gaps in this commentary, it doesn’t seem to flow quite that naturally, but the details are interesting and you’ve still got the great “Death Race 2000” playing on screen to keep you involved.

The next audio commentary is the real gem with Roger Corman and actress Mary Woronov, where Roger Corman waxes nostalgic on the filmmaking process, bringing in all the actors, producing the film and everything about putting together the cars and costumes, pretty much anything and everything he can remember about the movie. Woronov is a great supplementary commentator who brings in her own little stories about the actors and acts as a sounding board for Corman’s stories laughing along with him and asking the sorts of questions to keep his stories going. It’s an amazing and worthwhile commentary track if you want to hear everything you need to know about throwing together a movie on the cheap in the 70’s.

The first featurette is “Playing the Game” runs for 10 minutes and 45 seconds, this first featurette talks with Roger Corman, Joe Dante, actors from the film about setting up the movie as a satire, buying and building the cars, casting David Carradine and bringing in Sylvester Stallone. There’s a brief ode to director Paul Bartel and a discussion of the eroticism of violence.

Next is “Leonard Maltin interviews Roger Cormanfeaturette which runs for 5 minutes and 54 seconds, I’m not a huge fan of Maltin, but Corman just has a nack for telling stories about his old movies that just makes me want to listen. They talk about director Paul Bartel, the naming of the title, casting the movie, and cars though some of this information is repeated from elsewhere. Maltin seems to twitter (the type of giggling laughter, not the web service) every time Corman says something so he’s an obvious admirer, but really Corman is the key part here and worth watching.

“Designing Dystopia!" featurette is a detailed look at the film’s art direction and car designs and runs for 12 minutes and 23 seconds, speaking first with B.B. Neel, the art director for the film, where he talks about all the crazy filming locations and throwing together each of the sets. It’s great to hear about how this low-budget process got thrown together so quickly in terms of setup and finding the right places where they could basically film for free. Next is car designer James Powers who talks about putting together the vehicles on a budget and Dean Jeffries, car constructor, who talks about shooting and filming these low budget cars.

“Ready to Wear: interview with costume designer, Jane Ruhmfeaturette runs for 14 minutes and 40 seconds, speaking with the costume designer about putting together the different costumes on such a low budget with less of an understanding about costume design. She talks about doing art direction before getting into costume direction for the Cormans, even designing the tile sequence of “Death Race 2000.” She shares some great stories about Carradine ripping apart her first ever costume design and saying ‘go f**k yourself’ at the first fitting, then coming to apologize by singing songs. Amazing interview with great stories about costume design, one of the best featurettes on the disc hands down.

“David on Death Race: interview with David Carradinefeaturette runs for 3 minutes and 47 seconds and is really a segment of an interview from another disc’s special features in 2008, but Shout! Factory wisely included it just to get his voice involved. Carradine talks about his cult classics and the hardcore few that know his cult films, making about a million dollars, personally, off of “Death Race 2000” over the years and his enjoyment of the film.

“Start Your Engines: interview with Ib Melchiorfeaturette runs for 11 minutes and 47 seconds, speaking with the original author for the book that inspired the story of “Death Race 2000” talking about how the film works off of his original book, his idea for the book coming from meeting a Salt Lake City mayor who was a race fan and got him interested in the idea of racing at a race where there was a fatal accident. Its interesting to see how his serious story was turned into a comedy while keeping the message and how he thought it was even better than his original story and the benefits he got off of the film. He comments a bit on the remake and overall a great interview.

“Killer Score: interview with composer Paul Chiharafeaturette runs for 11 minutes and 33 seconds, Chihara talks about the movie as his first composing job, coming from cornell, hanging with Yoko Ono, getting the call from Roger Corman to help provide some electronic effects and wound up doing the entire score just by talking to him. He talks more about the different crew members working on the film, how he scored the movie just by writing songs that was often put in places differently than he intended though it worked even better.

Next is the poster and still gallery which contains about 93 images all from either on set, from different promotions and posters from all over the world.

The original theatrical trailer runs for 56 seconds.

Then there’s the theatrical trailer, also 56 seconds, with a ‘Trailers from Hell’ audio commentary with John Landis talking about the making of “Death Race 2000” including Paul Bartel’s silliness and joking about the production value.

There are 3 radio spots, each just audio of course, running for 28 seconds, 27 seconds and 27 seconds respectively.

The disc also includes the TV trailer which runs for 38 seconds.

Finally are some bonus trailers from Shout! Factory for other similarly released grindhouse movies. All amazing and are for:

- “Deathsport” runs for 1 minute and 13 seconds.
- “Up from the Depths” runs for 1 minute and 9 seconds.
- “Galaxy of Terror” runs for 1 minute and 55 seconds.
- “Forbidden World” runs for 2 minutes and 34 seconds.

Overall

The Film: A- Video: A Audio: A- Extras: A+ Overall: A

 


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