Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Death Race 2000 (1975)

It is the distant future, the Year Two-thousand. The US is an autocratic state with an alleged enemy in France, and a nation has an obsession with the Death Race, a coast-to-coast rally where pedestrians, zealots, onlookers and even one's pit crew are fair game for vehicular carnage and point-scoring along the way. Race favourite is the shady Frankenstein, a patchwork man in black who is close friend with Mister Pesident, and wants to get closer still...

I've been thinking about watching this movie for years on curiosity value alone, and now I have - job done. And do you know what? I really enjoyed it!

I'm sure that a lot of this is down to timing. Twenty years ago I'd likely have taken this film in as a dated piece of seventies tat, much as I did Rollerball or The Omega Man. Ten years ago I'd have been a little more forgiving, but now, with my extracurricular activities involving kitbashing model cars into Mad Max-styled vehicles of pedestrian destruction, its time seems finally annointed. What a movie. Also, teenage me was an idiot. I might be edging towards the actual 100 points in Death Race's arcane scoring system, but I'd like to think I know the value of a decent Roger Corman movie.
But teenaged me was also a comic reader, and in particular a 2000AD reader. The DNA of 2000AD is all through this movie - future dystopias? Check. Ultraviolence and amoral heroes? Check. It's long been said that the initial look of Judge Dredd was based on the image of Frankenstein on the movie's poster; how satisfying then for a fan of the comic and films to see Dredd's spiritual godfather beating several layers of unholy crap out of Sylvester Stallone - Awesome! I swear that this is more a comic brought to life courtesy of Corman than the likes of Fantastic Four or Battle Beyond the Stars, and it seems fitting that the comic sequel was the work of 2000AD's Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill, when their previous creation Marshall Law bears more than a passing resemblance to David Carradine's Frankenstein. 
There's just a real anti-authoritarian, gonzo vibe throughout that transcends the occasional performances, the low low budget, and the small cast. in places it is outlandishly violent, but it is by and large he violence of cartoons, and it shares the gleeful twisted humour of Mills and Wagner's best works. The themed cars and outlandish identities (Nerothe Hero, Machine Gun Joe, Matilda the Hun) are fun, the design work a little bonkers - especially Stallone's gangster suit pinstriped helmet, and although the cast is perhaps a little too white-bread, it serves its female characters pretty well, and I must admit I felt quite sorry for Calamity Jane's lonely three-point-tun into oblivion when her time came. Plus, not knowing the twist in the story meant that I was quite taken in by Frankenstein's concluding gambit.
Time's been rather kind to this film, making the movie's more outlandish plot points almost self-fulfilling in real life, from the Fox-style cynical TV coverage, the vilification of France as the enemy of 'Amurrikkin freedom', and even the President accusing a foreign power of sabotaging the telephone network has to be the Seventies equivalent of cyber-terrorism.
So yeah, a big thunbs up from me, and a nice wee birthday present for me over the weekend as I contemplate getting closer to the age when I too might be wheeled wheezing out into the street in front of a hospital, perhaps to meet my maker under the wheels of an oncoming novelty cat-shaped death machine or something. In the mean-time I rather fancy catching this again, perhaps in a double-bill with Rollerball.

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