Directed by Paul Bartel
Screenplay by Robert Thorn and Charles B. Griffith
Based on the short story “The Racer” by Ib Melchior
David Carradine (Kung Fu, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2) stars as Frankenstein and Sylvester Stallone (Copland, Bullet to the Head) is Machine Gun Joe Viterbo; rival racers in the annual Transcontinental Road Race, a race that measures points by the amount of innocent people you can run down while making your way from coast to coast. Women are worth 10 points, more than men in all age brackets. Teenagers will give you 40 points and toddlers under 12 will get you a big 70 points. The big score is for anyone, any sex over 75 years old, for a whopping 100 points.
Death Race 2000 was released in 1975. I was 13 years old at the time. Therefore I was still living with my parents and still under their oppressive thumb when it came to what movies I could and could not see. You can just imagine what side of the fence Death Race 2000 landed on. So, I waited…and waited…and yet somehow I never got around to watching the movie. That is until now, 38 years later at the age of 51. After waiting all these years to see Death Race 2000 I have to say that it left me a bit…underwhelmed.
I know there’s supposed to be a satirical message behind the black comedy of Death Race 2000. What I get from it is that Americans love violence. Wait, that’s not right. Let me re-think that sentence. Okay, I got it: Americans love violence that is as long as the violence isn’t happening to them. We love violence whether it’s NASCAR and the possibility of a fiery crash; we watch the WWE and its choreographed gladiators inflicting mock pain on each other. UFC and MMA are still going strong. It’s not just the competition that’s violent. Walk to up to any tried and true football fan and tell them their team sucks and see what happens. They even wear jerseys with “Fuck All INSERT FAVORITE TEAM HERE Haters”.
In 1975 Death Race 2000 was supposed to be a prophetic glance into the future of America. Living in 2013, I have good reason to believe that Death Race 2o0o fulfills a prophecy that has come true here and now.
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.
The car in which President Frankenstein and Annie drive away in 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.
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.
The role of Frankenstein was originally offered to Peter Fonda, who considered the movie too ridiculous for words.
Explaining why he took the Frankenstein role, David Carradine says, “I started that picture two weeks after I walked off the ‘Kung Fu’ 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.”
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