Shout Factory | 1975 | 78 mins. | Rated R

Sometimes nicknamed “King of the B-movies” for his output of B-movies (though he himself rejects it), director and film producer Roger Corman has gained both critical and commercial success with a series of low budget films, in a career that has spanned more than half a century. His influence, widely felt throughout the film industry, extends to both actors and directors. Many actors including Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Sally Kirkland, and Sandra Bullock got their first break in a Corman film. Legendary director’s James Cameron, Ron Howard, and Martin Scorsese among others, all worked with him early in their careers.

Death Race 2000It is a further testament to Roger Corman’s reputation amongst cult cinema fans that people often think of films he only produced as “Roger Corman films.” While he has certainly directed a fair amount of memorable projects, he has been even more prolific as a producer with an eye for spotting up-and coming talent, both in front and behind the camera. One such example is 1975’s Death Race 2000. Though directed by Paul Bartel (Eating Rauol), it is most often referred to as a Roger Corman film though he served as producer.

In the year 2000, America is a dystopian society.  The government has collapsed into a single Bipartisan Party, which also fulfills the religious functions of a unified church and state. The country is ruled by the cult figure “Mr. President” (Sandy McCallum). One of the ways he keeps the people happy is through a series of gladiatorial events. The biggest and most popular is the Transcontinental Road Race, where five racers and their navigators make a mad dash to drive across the country while scoring points for hitting innocent bystanders. For example, kill a woman, get 10 points. Kill an elderly person, get 70 points.I always found it a little disturbing that elderly people were worth more points, but maybe that’s because it’s assumed you’re taking them out of some kind of misery. I don’t know.

We meet a mysterious racer known as Frankenstein (played by the slightly odd, yet charismatic David Carradine, fresh off of Kung Fu). He’s won this race in the past, but many of his competitors, including Machine Gun Joe (Sylvester Stallone, pre-Rocky), are out to get him.  Making things even more difficult, a resistance group led by Thomasina Paine (Harriet Medin), is attempting to assassinate Frankenstein and replace him with one of their agents. They want to kill the President in order to wake up their zombified society—people so involved with the race they are willing to sacrifice themselves to their favorite driver so they can gain points.

Since the film runs a tidy 78-minutes, there is little time for a set up or real character development. Death Race 2000 is a movie that hits the ground running. The movie essentially one big race; there are a few stoppages for some gratuitous, yet amusing nudity.

In spite of the nonstop action (the stunts are surprisingly good), violence (some of the deaths are particularly disturbing), and sex the film still manages to deliver a pretty sharp socio-economic message; much of which still holds up today. Made for somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000 Death Race 2000 looks cheap. The special effects are amateurish, the title cards look hand drawn and resemble color pencil sketches (same goes for the laughable matte paintings) and the performances are lacking in spots. From a technical standpoint, Death Race 2000 isn’t a good film. However, the films stunts and biting satire make up for its flaws.

If you’re not a fan of cult films, Death Race 2000 likely won’t interest you. However, for fans of the genre, you won’t want to miss this one.  One of Roger Corman’s best efforts, it will inevitably make its way into your heart as a cult film classic.

Death Race 2000 is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen using the AVC MPEG-4 codec Compared to every version of this film previously released, this Blu-ray is stellar. The image has been cleaned, nearly free of white and black dust specks. There are a few scenes that seem to have been taken from a lower quality dust and grain. Those moments that do remain are few and far between. On the whole, this is a solid presentation, particularly considering the films low budget. A natural, fine haze of grain is found throughout, and the print shows little signs of DNR.

Colors are bold and deep, though a touch faded in spots (mostly in indoor sequences). Black levels are consistent and details are well defined. Shout Factory has done a great job with this title.

The audio is presented in English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. There are no subtitle options. Shout Factory delivers a passable, but tinny stereo mix. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have aged well as it really sounds rather scratchy. Though, I will point out all dialogue is discernable.

Death Race 2000 comes with a solid slate of special features:

  • Commentary Tracks: There are two commentary tracks, a classic track featuring Roger Corman and star Mary Woronov (“Calamity” Jane Kelly). The two allow no dead space and really entertain. Corman seems to remember every detail, and Woronov is able to provide her own fascinating details about working with the actors, Corman and other tidbits. The second track, a new addition, features assistant director Lewis Teague and Editor Tina Hirsch. This track focuses more on the technical side of things; hardcore fans of the film will love all the details. Casual fans should probably just stick with the first commentary.
  • Playing the Game: Looking Back at Death Race 2000 (12 minutes, SD) your standard making-of documentary, that doesn’t really offer too much insight.
  • Designing Dystopia (12 minutes, HD) a quick look at the cars, costumes, and sets.
  • Leonard Maltin Interviews Roger Corman (6 minutes, SD) brief but informative.
  • Ready to Wear: Interview with Costume Designer Jane Ruhm (15 minutes, HD) costume designer Jane Ruhm, points out how ridiculous the costumes are.
  • Start Your Engines: Interview with author Ib Melchior (12 minutes, HD) he apparently feels this movie was much better than his story on which it was based.
  • Killer Score: Interview with composer Paul Chihara (11 minutes, HD) a surprisingly interesting discussion with the films composer.
  • Interview with David Carradine (4 minutes, HD) fans are treated to a brief, but touching interview with the late, great David Carradine.
  • Posters and Stills
  • Trailers and TV Spots

Rounding out the disc, is a great poster and stills gallery, several trailers (including a trailer with commentary by director John Landis), TV spots and a 12-page booklet loaded with essays.

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