It isn’t always easy being a nerdgirl. It often happens that people are shocked that I haven’t seen some particular genre film. “What, Suicide Blonde? I can’t believe YOU haven’t seen [insert name of film]!” Over the years I’ve gotten this about movies ranging from Harold and Maude to Caligula.
Most recently, friends were astounded that “YOU haven’t seen Death Race 2000?” So it behooved me to watch the movie.
And I loved every minute of it.
In the not-too-distant future, a fascist American government keeps the populace happy by giving the people what they want. And what they want is a no-holds-barred transcontinental road race in which the winners not only have to drive from New York to New Los Angeles and get there first, but rack up points along the way by running over any pedestrians they can. (Young-to-middle-age men get the fewest points, children under 12 the most, prompting one driver’s navigator to exclaim, “If they scatter, go for the baby!”)
The contestants include the oft-injured and much-reassembled Frankenstein (David Carradine), Italian-American thug Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone), good ol’ gal Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov), and Ilsa-esque Nazi Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins). Each driver is accompanied by a navigator (remember, this is before GPS) to provide driving directions and sexual favors. Frankenstein’s situation is complicated by the fact that his navigator, Annie Smith (Simone Griffith), is the grand-daughter of Thomasina Paine, the leader of a revolutionary group that wants to bring down the government. The group also wants to put a stop to the race, and is willing to do anything – including kill the racers – do to this.
It’s lots of souped-up cars, fast driving, sassy banter, and quick flashes of gore. There’s also a great deal of satire that is surprisingly relevant today: the death race could be taken from any of today’s reality shows; there’s an Oprah-esque reporter who has the widow of the first pedestrian killed on her show mere hours after the man’s death; when the revolutionaries begin their attacks the blame is assigned to the French. It works just as well as it did in 1975 – possibly even better. The only element of the film that is jarringly out-of-date is the fashions (especially the blue eye shadow – yikes!).
The movie is nicely-balanced. The characters and their banter keep the race scenes from becoming tedious. The satire isn’t too heavy-handed. The violence is brief but plentiful, and too cartoonish to be disturbing. It’s the very definition of a popcorn movie.
Extras include a brief but informative interview with producer Roger Corman and trailers for Death Race 2000, The Big Doll House, Grand Theft Auto, and Eat My Dust.