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Death Race 2000/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< Death Race 2000

Despite a handful of knockoffs and a modern retread, Paul Bartel's witty and sensational cross-country car race still remains fresh and vital after all these years, spotlighting the low-budget charm and intelligent social criticism of Roger Corman and his stock film crew. With modest funds and a wealth of imagination, this rag-tag bunch managed to create a film that is both exciting and thought provoking, depicting a world infatuated with violence, ruled by a distant tyrant, and unknowingly stripped of personal freedom.

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Set in the not-so-distant future of the year 2000, this story focuses on racing hero Frankenstein (David Carradine), a rebuilt and restructured sports icon famous for his death defying driving tactics and his well-hidden visage (his face is cloaked in a thick mask of leather). The race he participates in awards points for murdered pedestrians and Frankenstein considers their deaths only a step closer to his own athletic excellence. His competitors are equally as blood thirsty; Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov) drives a vehicle resembling a bull with horns and Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone) has a ride accompanied with two large and deadly tommy guns. These racers kill at will, brutally crushing and rolling over pedestrians, the elderly, and poorly guarded race officials. This behavior is shamelessly promoted by the media, the fans, and Mr. President himself (who is a shadowy, distant figure perpetually enveloped in rich fog), showing the moral degradation of this supposedly advanced society. The winner of this inhumane contest is the survivor with the most points, best time, and quickest wit, since a team of renegade protesters are littering the track with the intention of "disqualifying" the racers and permanently ending this bloody spectacle.

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Although it may sound deadly serious from its description, director Bartel loads the film with dark humor and over-the-top violence. Machine Gun Joe is the most humorous of all the characters, reflecting stereotypes of macho American athletes obsessed with their image, fan worship, and personal legacy. Sylvester Stallone (pre-Rocky fame) makes Joe into a seething, aggressive monster, and scenes where he roughs up his co-pilot or rolls over a pedestrian's head are hysterically over-blown and demented. This exaggerated attitude adds a certain playfulness to the proceedings, making the statement about media manipulation and apathy go down a bit smoother. Satires can often be weighed down by their own self-seriousness, but these liberal doses of laughter make the whole operation even more enjoyable. Highly Recommended!

Reviewed by Mdeapo

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