DVD Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: ***** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    David Carradine as FRANKENSTEIN
    Simone Griffeth as ANNIE SMITH
    Sylvester Stallone as MACHINE GUN JOE
    Mary Woronov as CALAMITY JANE
    Roberta Collins as MATILDA THE HUN
    Martin Kove as NERO THE HERO
    Louisa Moritz as MYRA
    Don Steele as JUNIOR BRUCE

    Rated R
    Studio: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

    Directed by: Paul Bartel
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There will always be a special place in my heart for “Death Race 2000.” In my opinion, it is easily the best Roger Corman movie ever made. Much of the credit isn’t necessarily due to Corman, but rather than visionary director Paul Bartel.

Fans of cult films will recognize Bartel as the writer and director of “Eating Raoul,” one of the most hilarious independent films of the 1980s. On the surface, Bartel is a boring, nebbish professorial type. However, he had a razor-sharp wit and a sense of satire that was far ahead of his time. Sadly (and somewhat ironically), Bartel left this realm in the year 2000. The world – and B-movie fans – will miss him.

I was first introduced to “Death Race 2000” at an all-night science fiction marathon while I was in college. I thought it was hilarious. Seated in the dark of a crowded movie house with 800 other people, we had a blast.

“Death Race 2000” is based on a story by Ib Melchoir, but the screenplay that came out found much more comedy than drama. It’s about a transcontinental road race where drivers try to run down everyday citizens along the way. Extra points are given if you run down women and children, and a special bonus is given for any score over age 70.

The legendary driver named Frankenstein (David Carradine) is looking for his next win. His competition include a Nazi-themed driver (Roberta Collins as Matilda the Hun), a western driver (Mary Woronov as Calamity Jane), a gay Roman-themed driver (Martin Kove as Nero the Hero) and a gangster-themed driver (Italian stallion Sylvester Stallone as Machine Gun Joe in one of his early non-pornographic roles).

A band of rebels are trying to overthrow the totalitarian government, which sponsors the race. As part of their plan, they have put a mole into the race, under the nose of Frankenstein himself. However, as things more on, it appears that Frankenstein is more than meets the eye.

In some ways, “Death Race 2000” is the kind of film you almost can’t believe was made. It’s a movie that definitely couldn’t have been made today with our collective sensitivities too high. The whole idea of running people down in a transcontinental road race should have been too distasteful. But anyone who thinks this way doesn’t get the satire that Bartel deftly weaves throughout the film.

Despite the fact this film is steeped in the 70s with outrageous fashion and sexual freedom, it’s possibly more relevant today than it was when it was released in 1975. The real essence of the movie is the hits it gives to the media. The hypocrisies and two-faced, callused nature of the so-called reporters are exposed. One of my personal favorites is Joyce Jameson as a chubby Katie Couric type that refers to every person mentioned as “a dear friend of mine.” It’s priceless!

Of course, who can forget The Real Don Steel as Junior Bruce, the overly enthusiastic announcer who calls the race for the television.

The newly issued DVD comes with a retrospective featuring Corman, Kove, Woronov and writer Charles Griffith. This featurette gives great insight into the making of the film and how things were put together from the ground up on a limited budget. Along with the original theatrical trailer, there’s also a nice audio commentary with Corman and Woronov.

“Death Race 2000” is a must see for so many people – science fiction fans, satirists, action movie buffs, 70s film aficionados and anyone who likes an over-the-top film.

Specifications: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Sound. Widescreen (1.78:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions. English subtitles for the hearing impaired.

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