In my teens I watched a lot of bad movies. It was the early eighties, and our family had just got our first VCR. It was a betamax, but in those days video shops stocked movies in three flavours – VHS, Beta, V2000 – so we weren’t stuck for dodgy old horror movies or low-low-budget sci-fi flicks to triple bill on our Saturday afternoons. And I suppose like many teenagers of the time we gorged ourselves on all that nonsense. It’s possible that, despite the 18 certificates, we managed to see quite a few movies of inappropriate content for our tender years, and the purge of the Video Nasty era would soon rob us of the chance, but there was always one movie that I wanted to see, that over the years I even managed to convince myself that I did see at least part of, a movie that was fantastical, a little bit naughty and super violent.
That movie was Death Race 2000.
I know. Stop laughing.
See, I’m now very doubtful that I ever did get to see any of it. Perhaps a clip of it over the years on some movie-related TV show, but maybe not even that. And I’m kinda glad. Because I watched it last night, and I know I wouldn’t have appreciated its full glory back then. Yes, you get to see someone’s head being run over. Yes, there’s a whole bunch of soft-focus nudity (and I don’t think I ever really appreciated the word “gratuitous” until now). But, dude, it’s Wacky Races with the addition of points for running over pedestrians. And it’s absolutely hilarious.
From David Carradine’s itchy-uncomfortable performance as much-repaired, indestructible, uber-racer “Frankenstein” to Sly Stallone’s actually finding the right level of movie for his scenery-chomping. From the unconvincingly modded cars which looked so cool on the video cover artwork (and you always knew that the hand painted video covers were the worst films, didn’t you?) but in reality were maybe one step down from the buggies the Banana Splits used to drive. From the old trick of speeding up the driving scenes to the inappropriate use of cleavage it’s every inch a winner.
It’s a gonzo seventies classic, up there with Shock Treatment, Phantom Of The Paradise, Escape From New York, Harold And Maude – although not as good as any of those really, but it certainly has its moments.
The soundtrack comes over like a weird hodgepodge of found clips from other movies and the results of the big jam party held by the Edgar Winter Group, Herbie Hancock and someone like Chicago.
When the resistance try to sabotage the race, the president continually and for no apparent reason blames the French.
While the racers pass by the local hospital the staff take advantage and declare it Euthanasia Day, lining the more terminally decrepit patients up in the road like skittles.
The attempts by the resistance to do for the racers are about as inventive as Wile E Coyote – complete with detour sign and fake tunnel entrance placed at the edge of a cliff.
And it was produced by Roger Corman.
Seriously, if you love stupid seventies movies. Find this one and enjoy.
“She was a great, dear friend of mine and I shall remember her forever howling down that freeway in the sky, knocking over… the angels.”