When I started collecting DVDs in the early 2000s, I recall Empire Magazine giving away free copies of Death Race 2000, back when only mainstream Hollywood titles were subject to the format’s premium treatment. Of course, being somewhat of a film snob at the time, I rejected this offer. However, I was playing a lot of the PC game, Carmageddon, at the time. Little did I know it was heavily influenced by the film.
Now that physical media is more fan-oriented, Roger Corman’s classic has been given a Blu-ray release for the UK market by Signal One Entertainment – a label devoted to back-catalogue classics.
Taking place 24 years ago, in the future, where society has embraced a motorized form of barbarism, the sheer insanity of Death Race 2000 is epitomized when a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone stands up from his driver seat and angrily fires onto a stadium crowd with a Thompson Machine Gun, only to be met with laughter and applause from bloodthirsty spectators. Enter our star, Frankenstein, played by Corman’s go-to antihero, David Carradine, who along with his rival drivers are competing in a cross-country race during which they run down pedestrians to gain points.
While in poor taste, shamelessly cruel and brutal, there’s a lot of imagination poured into Death Race 2000, and it’s relentlessly fun. Much like the pencil-drawn title cards, the film looks like a creative but crude scribble drawn in a teen’s school composition book, much to the horror of their parents and teachers. Corman had a feel for what 70s youth craved to see on the big screen; I can only imagine what it was like to watch Death Race 2000 at a drive-in theatre.
As a casual Word War II buff, I got a kick out of Matilda the Hun’s death machine being moulded after the Messerschmitt Me 262A, the first jet fighter and one of Hitler’s “Wonder Weapons”, fueled by delusion and madness. This design is just one of many examples of clever writing and visualization sprinkled throughout, especially considering fascism leans into our main subplot of overthrowing a dystopian world government.
David Carradine is very one-note as Frankenstein, even though he’s acting like God’s gift, but his costume is a welcome enhancement to an otherwise wooden performance. Stallone, on the other hand, portrays a colourful caricature who’s the polar opposite of the stoic characters he’d later be known for. While the Rocky star is the MVP in this race, the film’s play-by-play commentator, Junior Bruce (Don Steele) personifies a world gone mad.
- Still Gallery
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Interview with Roger Corman’s Assistant Beverley Gray
- Video Essay with Film Historian Mark Searby
Beverly Gray proves to be a wealth of information in her interview with Signal One as she recounts her history as an assistant to Roger Corman and her experiences working on Death Race 2000. As several decades have passed since the film’s release, Gray’s views are unbiased, and she helps set the record straight on the script’s origins, and story idea concepts. Those who are unfamiliar with Corman’s work will benefit from listening to Mark Searby’s brief video essay detailing the producer’s affinity for cost-effective money-making. – by Hannah Lynch
VIDEO AND AUDIO
Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen with a rip-roaring Mono 1.0 PCM track, this 1080p rendering of Death Race 2000 is rather standard. The image is clean but lacks sharpness and colours are a little pale, but these attributes suit the 70s aesthetic. Subtitles are included, and while it is marketed at Region B encoded, I was able to play the disc in a Blu-ray played set to Region A, so there should be no issue in watching this edition anywhere.
DEATH RACE 2000
(1975, director: Paul Bartel)
direct blu-ray screen captures