“Yes, murder was invented even before man began to think.”
In 1979 the world was in economic ruins. There was civil unrest and the government needed to do something about it. Martial law was declared and a totalitarian regime was established. The United Providences of America was created. As part of the government’s plan to keep the masses in line a road race called the Transcontinental Road Race was created. Similar to ancient Rome’s Coliseum Games the race promoted blood sport to satisfy the population’s need for an outlet to their anger and thirst for violence.
The rules of the race are few. The drivers earn bonus points depending on how many people they run over and who they run over. Blood and gore are just part of the fun. It is the year 2000 and the 20th year of the race. Five drivers are competing in the race. The drivers include Frankenstein (David Carradine) in his monster car, Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone) from Chicago, cowgirl Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov), neo-Nazi Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins) and the roman gladiator Nero the Hero (Martin Kove).
As for scoring, women are worth 10 points more than men in all age brackets but teenagers are worth 40 points and toddlers under 12 years old 70 points. Any sex over seventy-five years old 100 points.
Thomasina Paine (Harriet Medin) is a descendant of the original American Revolutionary War hero Thomas Paine and is the leader of a resistance group determined to end the totalitarian regime. The regime is being run by a man referred to as Mr. President (Sandy McCalum). Thomasina plans on kidnapping Frankenstein and using him as leverage against Mr. President. Tomasina’s granddaughter Annie Smith (Simone Griffeth) has been planted as Frankenstein’s new navigator. Her job is to lure the unsuspecting Frankenstein into a trap so he can be replaced by a doppelganger.
Although Thomasina’s Army of the Resistance is normally a passive aggressive organization, one of her group, Lt. Fury (Vince Trankina) believes it is time to fight fire with fire. He devises several attacks on the other drivers of the race. Mr. President refuses to admit that there is a resistance movement. The attacks are blamed on the French.
“Death Race 2000” was released in 1975 and was directed by Paul Bartel. Roger Corman was a producer on the film. The movie is labeled as a science fiction/sports film but it is also a dark comedy. The screenplay was based on the Ib Melchior story “The Racer”. Of course with anything Corman does, by the time the final script is completed it resembles little of Melchior’s story.
The critics, for the most part, panned the film but, of course, fans raised it to cult status and to a point where later the critics were touting the movie as part of the great summer drive-in tradition. The film has spawned comic books, video games, remakes and sequels.
Since the cars were not street legal the stunt drivers were hesitant to do the scenes that required filming on public streets so Stallone and Carradine did many of their own stunts. Even Roger Corman did some driving for the film. The track and grandstand scenes were filmed at the Ontario Motor Speedway near LA.
Supposedly, Frankenstein’s monster car and Joe’s machine gun car were reworked Volkswagons. I’ve also heard that Frankenstein’s car was a C-3 Corvette. Matilda’s buzz-bomb was either a Karmann-Ghia or a Studebaker, depending on who you believe. Nero’s Roman Lion was reportedly a Fiat 850 spider chassis, Jane’s Bull car is a Corvair and the White Resistance Army car a Mustang.
There is plenty of blood and gore to go around as well as a few squashed heads and many explosions. The humor is campy and lots of fun. It is a combination of juvenile violence, political satire and a few naked women. All in a fast paced parody. It’s is a Roger Corman classic.