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The Mass Media

Ask Bobby #12
September 25, 2023

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things: A Review of Movies Your Mother Will Hate

Death Race 20001975″In the Year 2000 hit and run isn’t a felony: It’s the national sport.”Rated R – 78 min.

There’s non-stop action and excitement in this 1975 Rodger Corman-produced schlock classic about, you guessed it, a race: to the death! Well, now that we’ve got the plot out of the way, we can move on to the juicer bits of this movie, like the interesting little factoid that this film is one of our pal Sly Stallone’s (of Rambo 1 through 3, and Rocky 1 through 86 fame) first onscreen appearance. Nothing really jumpstarts your action/drama career like having a lead role in a movie where you score 100 points for hitting the elderly and 70 points for hitting children under twelve while driving a bad-assed and souped-up sports car. This alone (if not the title alone) should provide that Death Race 2000 was destined to live forever in sleaze-cult infamy. But producer Rodger Corman seemed to have a special knack (read: sick perversion) for this brand of low-brow, high-octane cinema, also directing and/or producing other such low-budget non-classics as Not of This Earth, A Bucket of Blood, The Intruder, and Rock ‘N’ Roll High School. If you have any amount of class you may have missed much of his catalogue, but Death Race should not be one of them.

Set in the far off distant future of the year 2000, Death Race shows us the brighter side of the United States when caught in the firm grip of a totalitarian dictatorship. A place where, merely for the entertainment and satisfaction of the American public’s bloodlust, the United States, under the rule of the charming and conveniently named Mr. President, has sponsored this yearly cross-country road race of utter mayhem and total destruction. Mr. President, who does his governing abroad from his summer palace in Peking, proudly promises that the race will “uphold the American tradition of no-holds-barred” as five contestants brutally compete for the coveted title of champion. Luckily, as this movie shows, the future will still manage to uphold our values of gender equality as both male and female racers compete head-to-head against each other: Calamity Jane Kelly, the cowgirl temptress in her bull-themed car; Matilda the Hun, who, given the 70s’ significantly lax stance on political correctness, rides in a Nazi-style sports car and is flanked by her navigator, Herman “the German” Fox; Nero the Hero, the vanity-obsessed Greek-god-themed contestant; Machinegun Joe Viterbo, preformed by Stallone, who, not known for his range as an actor, plays a stereotypical Italian thug in a double-machine-gun mounted roadster; and lastly, the crowd favorite, Frankenstein, who has been specially bread and mechanically engineered to compete in the race.

Everyone is happy: the racers get to race, the spectators get a government-sanctioned massacre, and the local hospitals can save money by scheduling a Euthanasia Day at their geriatrics departments. But a resistance has developed. Lead by frigid old hag, Thomasina Paine, the resistance group aims to end the barbaric tradition by sabotage, thus restoring democracy. Her niece, Anne, somehow manages to sneak into the race as Frankenstein’s navigator. However, even after several attempts, she never is able to successfully outsmart him; Frankenstein manages to get by on his quick wits and impenetrable charm and there develops between the two a definite sexual tension-beyond what’s expected of the standard driver/navigator relationship. Anne later learns that Frankenstein has his own political agenda for winning the race. Somewhat inexplicably (beyond the obvious pun), he has concealed under his black glove-covered hand a prosthesis with a hand grenade built into it. Only the winner of the race gets to shake the hand of Mr. President, at which point Frankenstein will make the ultimate sacrifice by ending the race and restoring democracy once and for all.

I know what you paid to see is cars driving off cliffs and heads getting run over, and Death Race has plenty of that too. But don’t confuse this film as simply being some macho Road Warrior predecessor. It’s supposed to be a comedy and is surprisingly accessible; you may just have to leave any pretense whatsoever outside of the theater. If you fail to see any redeeming amount of wit in lines like Matilda the Hun’s comment to a reporter, “You can expect a victory by a member of the master race… a woman,” then, well, I’m surprised you even made it this far into my article.

About the Contributor
Denez McAdoo served as the following positions at The Mass Media for the following years: Arts Editor: Spring 2005; Fall 2005 Editor-in-Chief: Spring 2006; 2006-2007