Paul Bartel | 1975 | 84 min | USA
I got a chance to see Death Race 2000 on the big screen this week, not knowing much about the film going in except that it is “awesome” and “totally mind blowing”. The basic plot of the film is that, in a totalitarian future United States, the most popular annual sporting event is a cross country race in which drivers get points not only for arriving faster than their opponents, but for pegging off as many people as they can along the way. Five top notch driving teams assemble, made up of a motley crew of ridiculous characters (Sly Stalone as Italian-stereotype Machine Gun Joe Viterbo is a favourite) and hot babes.
The film provides some pretty satisfying gore as the drivers run down an assortment of victims on the roads, as well as some excellent explosions as part of a sub plot involving an anti-race resistance movement. The good guys and bad guys seem pretty clearly identified at the outset, but as with most good action films, nothing is quite as it seems.
I expected to like the film. What I didn’t expect was that I’d fall in love.
Paying homage to the classic horror character, this indestructible driving champ is first wheeled on screen under a white sheet, where he rests in suspended animation, awaiting the big race. As he lumbers past the reporters, shot from behind in his all black outfit (consisting of a skin-tight leather jumpsuit, satin cape and mask to hide his hideously disfigured face) he is indeed a terrifying sight.
However, as his foxy navigator Annie soon discovers, the mask is just that – a clever ruse hiding the handsome face of a young David Carradine. On their first pit stop, when Frankenstein strips to nothing but a black pair of briefs and his mask, and asks Annie to dance with him in their ultra-modern red & white hotel room, I couldn’t help but lean over to my seat mate and whisper “he’s my ideal man”.
I’m pretty sure that she thought I was joking at the time, but as the film progresses, and the villainous Frankenstein starts to show his softer side, it became clear that I’d chosen wisely. Unsurprisingly, the soft hearted, flaxen haired Annie turns out to be a resistance sympathizer, assigned the dangerous task of capturing the hard-edged man she now finds herself falling in love with. And, perhaps somewhat more surprisingly, Frankenstein turns out to be more complex than he appeared at first glance.
A clever commentary on an all too familiar dystopian future, a stylish action flick and goofy gore-fest, and oh, what a dreamboat.