Death Race 2000 (Review)

Death Race 2000 (1975) is one of those rare B-movie gems that really stands out as a true cult classic, still holding up to repeat viewings even now, more than 30 years since its initial release.  David Carradine steals the show as the elusive Frankenstein, a masked figure allegedly made up of artificial human body parts, who also happens to be the defending champion of the “Death Race” competition – a cross-country road race where scores are tallied based on how many innocent bystanders the driver runs over or kills during their run.  Try to imagine something like The Running Man meets the Grand Theft Auto games, and you’ll get a good idea of what Death Race 2000 is all about, with costumed celebrity icons who commit vehicular homicide purely for the joy and entertainment of the viewing public.

Here is Carradine as Frankenstein (bottom) and his monster car (top)

This campy dark comedy makes surprisingly good use of its obviously limited budget, offering wild car chases and stunts that feel quite real, despite the fact that the cars themselves look somewhat cheap and silly on their own.  There is also some surprisingly brutal gore effects and a fair bit of unnecessary T&A, thanks in large part to the influence of infamous B-movie producer Roger Corman. The social/political messages of revolution that are thrown around end up falling kind of flat by the end, but they also serve the greater purpose of setting up the hilarious twist that is revealed concerning our hero Frankenstein, and what he plans to do (with the help of his right hand) once he finishes the race. A young Sylvester Stallone also offers a memorable supporting performance as the film’s antagonist, Machine Gun Joe.

Essentially, Death Race 2000 is a cheap but effective dark comedy that glorifies vehicular violence, and taken as such, it’s a surprisingly fun ride.  It’s one of those films that carries a higher entertainment value than it probably deserves, and still stands the test of time as a great cult classic which is certainly best viewed in the company of friends and beers.

R  A  T  I  N  G:  4 / 5  S t a r s

Death Race 2000 (1975, USA, R: 84 mins). Directed by: Paul Bartel.  Starring: David Carradine, Sylverster Stallone, Simone Griffeth, Mary Woronov, Martin Kove, Louisa Moritz, Roberta Collins, and Don Steele.

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~ by Mark D'Amico on August 25, 2011.

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