Death Race 2000 (1975)
June 6, 2016 7:22 AM - Subscribe

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 kill's brutality.

Death Race 2000 is a 1975 cult political satire action film 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. (wikipedia)

• 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."

• 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 At the Movies, Ebert named Death Race 2000 among movies that make a "great tradition of summer drive-in movies" that expose a "summer exploitation mentality in a clever way.”

• The film has garnered critical acclaim over the years, having a score of "85%" Fresh on the film critics site, Rotten Tomatoes, deeming it fresh.

• The film has long been regarded as a cult hit, and was often viewed as superior to Rollerball, made in the same year; another dystopian science-fiction sports film, similarly focusing on the use of dangerous sports as an "opiate.”

• A sequel comic book titled Death Race 2020 was published in 1995 by Roger Corman's short-lived Cosmic Comics imprint. It was written by Pat Mills of 2000 AD fame, with art by Kevin O'Neill.

• Both Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine did much of their own driving. In addition, producer Roger Corman drove in scenes that were shot on public streets, since the custom-built cars used in the movie were not street legal and the film's stunt drivers did not want to be caught driving them by the police.

• Explaining why he took the Frankenstein role, David Carradine says, "I started that picture two weeks after I walked off the Kung Fu (1972) set, and that was essentially my image, the Kung Fu character, and a lot of people still believe I'm that guy. The idea actually was: No. 1, if you walk off a television series, you better do a movie right away or you might never get to do one. And the second thing was to do something right away that would create the image of a monster to get rid of the image of that little Chinese guy that I'd been playing for four years. And, you know, it did kick-start my movie career."

• 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 undercranked in order to perpetuate the illusion that they were moving faster.

• David Carradine refused to wear leather, so costume designer Jane Ruhm had to make Carradine's iconic black outfit out of another fabric that looked just like leather.

• Sylvester Stallone wrote some of his own dialogue.

• Frankenstein's Alligator car and the Machine Gun car were re-bodied Volkswagens, and Matilda's Buzz Bomb was a VW Karmann-Ghia. The Roman Lion was built on a Fiat 850 Spider chassis. Calamity Jane's Bull was a Corvair. The white Resistance Army car that chases Frankenstein very briefly before crashing and blowing up was a 1965 or 1966 Ford Mustang.

• Mary Woronov, who plays Calamity Jane, did not know how to drive a car, so a stunt driver did all the actual driving for her in the movie. For close-ups, Woronov sat in a car towed behind a truck with a camera crew riding in it.

• According to Roger Corman, several of the custom cars featured in the movie were later sold to car museums for considerably more than it cost to build them.

• Carl Bensen plays Harold the announcer in this film (1975) and nearly the identical character in another cult classic car chase film Grand Theft Auto (1977) starring a young Ron Howard.

• The racetrack used for the opening track and grandstand scenes is the Ontario Motor Speedway near Los Angeles.

• The airplane that attacked Frankenstein's car was Burt Rutan's Vari Viggin.

• Matilda the Hun's "Buzz Bomb" racer features an obvious resemblance to the original Nazi V-1 flying bomb (which the Germans called their "Vengeance Weapon" and which Allied forces nicknamed the "buzz bomb").

• The car in which President Frankenstein and Annie drive away after their wedding is a Richard Oaks Nova kit-car, actually based on the Volkswagen Beetle chassis (but obviously not the body). These were available in kit form for many years starting in the mid-1970s.

• Body Count: 33.

• Paul W. S. Anderson directed a remake entitled Death Race, which was released August 22, 2008, starring Jason Statham.


This movie is a selection of the Shut Up And Drive! club.
posted by valkane (8 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Shut Up And Drive! will be screening this film tonight (Monday, June 6) at 9:00 pm ET. Click Here To Watch.
posted by valkane at 7:23 AM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Stallone is genuinely great in this.

I was not especially keen on the Paul W. S. Anderson sequel, but there are actually two sequels to that starring former boy band singer Luke Goss that I think are genuinely terrific, direct-to-video style actioners.
posted by maxsparber at 10:06 AM on June 6, 2016

Derail: That note about the VW kit-car brought back a 1970s-vintage childhood memory of seeing a VW kit car, probably an MG TG or Bugatti. There's a big gallery of various VW kit-cars here.
posted by larrybob at 10:57 AM on June 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Those kit cars are awesome!
posted by valkane at 11:19 AM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I rewatched this a year or two ago for the first time since the seventies and was pretty blown away at how cheap and amateurish it looked. I still love it but wow, some of the effects are just so bad. This matte painting especially.
posted by octothorpe at 12:18 PM on June 6, 2016

This is a movie I'll always stop and watch. Just such a terrible worldview that isn't so far from our own. The very 1970s look and feel about what the "future" will look like. The bright red paint-looking blood and the hilarious turns it all takes, especially when the nurses all put the retirees out on the street and then get knocked off themselves. I'm not a blood-lusty person, but it's so cheesy and over the top that it's fun.
posted by xingcat at 12:48 PM on June 6, 2016

Some joke about crashing
posted by infinitewindow at 4:32 PM on June 6, 2016

Sometimes when the vallhunds are barking at nothing I will think to myself that they're just defending us against the French, the treacherous French, who have destroyed our once-great national economy and wrecked our telephone system.

Other times one of them will be all snuggled up in my lap and I'll be patting her and instead of singing her some song I've modified into deepest stupidity I'll just tell her that some people might think she's cute but to me she'd one very large baked potato.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 11:15 PM on August 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

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