Viking Night: Death Race 2000
By Bruce Hall
April 2, 2013
We were promised three things by the turn of the century. Flying cars, food in pill form, and the Annual Transcontinental Death Race - and none of them happened. No one was more disappointed than yours truly but with time, I eventually came to accept that some things look good on paper because that's where they should stay. Nobody really wants their steak to come out of a bottle, and After 87 million people died on the first day, flying cars would quickly become a thing of the past. But a cross country car rally whose only requirement is that you're a sociopath who can drive a stick?
Hmm. ..that would probably be a bad idea, too. But a movie about that sure would be awesome, wouldn't it?
Or...would it? A Roger Corman production is always an acquired taste not unlike light beer, which also appeals to people with meager standards and even less taste. But at times when there's no other option and being drunk is more important than being satisfied, you reach for what's around. In other words, you're either in a position to accept low budget camp, replete with bad acting and questionable dialogue, or you're not. This is a film shot on a shoestring budget with homemade props, so you don't have to know a lot about film to spot where a lot of corners were cut either for effect or out of necessity. For the first 15 minutes or so, it will literally be hard for you to believe what you're seeing.
I'm not here to convince you that Death Race 2000 is a great film, because it's not. Not even a little. But a film doesn’t have to be great to be worth watching, kind of the way cheap beer tastes a little better when it's free. So it is with Death Race 2000.
And so it is also the year 2000. Since the future almost always sucks in movies, the world economy has crashed, and the United States is ruled by an evangelically insane white man who lives in China. Also the people have turned to televised blood sport for entertainment, because what do you expect out of a post apocalyptic society that’s somehow still prosperous enough to covet television? The biggest event each year is the government sanctioned Transcontinental Death Race, where five psychotic drivers in customized cars race across the country, gaining bonus points for the age and number of pedestrians they mow down on the way.
And it's all under the watchful eye of the tyrannical leader of the Formerly Free World, a devilish looking man known only as Mister President. If you’re wondering what that looks like, imagine The Cannonball Run meets The Hunger Games, filmed for the price of a modest three bedroom house.
This year's field of drivers consists of Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov), whose car and outfit call to mind the legendary frontierswoman. There's Nero the Hero (Martin Cove), who's gone with a budget conscious Roman Emperor theme. Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (yes, it's Sylvester Stallone) dresses like an Italian gangster and is a seasoned veteran of the Death Race. Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins) is a Nazi, which is pretty much what it sounds like. But the star of the show is Frankenstein (David Carradine), the long time champion and a man rumor says has paid a heavy physical price for being America’s most beloved sports personality. Each driver and their navigator will race to the West Coast via waypoints, where they will be wined and dined as they conduct interviews for their eager television audience.
It all has been meticulously arranged, except the part where an insurgent group dedicated to the restoration of a democratic America intervenes. Led by a matronly Betsy Ross look alike named Thomasina Paine (Harriet Medin) and operating out of what appears to be a giant abandoned Erector set, the insurgents set about sabotaging the race. They hijack the television broadcast, threaten the drivers and even manage to plant an operative inside the race itself. As the hours tick by, Mr President's power is threatened, the racers are in danger and the very legend of Frankenstein itself is called into question. And let's not forget that Machine Gun Joe is determined to let no one - government, insurgent or otherwise - keep him from the Winner's Circle.