Death Race 2000 (1975):

The beginning sports a mock-Metropolis matte painting behind Circus Maximus bleachers to signal a Roger Corman production, yet what of the swastikas in the crowd while "The Star Spangled Banner" swells up? Or Euthanasia Day at the old folks' home? Or the American President sending his love from "his summer palace in Peking?" Nuggets from Charles B. Griffith's screenplay, assisted by co-writer Robert Thom and modulated further by Paul Bartel, steering the outrageousness toward Eating Raoul deadpan elegance. The setting is turn-of-the-millennium dystopia, long after the "world crash of '79," with the fascism and bloodlust of media sports magnified for the howling masses; the annual Transcontinental Death Race is the main event, star drivers hot-rodding across the autocratic United Nations of America and mowing down pedestrians for points on the splatter-score. Another event is Sylvester Stallone's burlesque of loudmouth meathead Machine Gun Joe, one of the raucous headliners; others include the great Mary Woronov as Calamity Jane, Roberta Collins as Matilda the Hun, and Martin Kove as Nero the Hero, eliminated early by motoring over a bomb dressed up as a baby. Woronov's horned machine plays bull to a roadside matador, who ends up gored in the wrong place, needless to say; Don Steele, swathed in cravats, telecasts all the killings with the jingoistic pitch of a Sports Channel broadcaster, and Carl Bensen supplies the obligatory Cosell touch. The champ, however, is Frankenstein, first wheeled from the hospital bed to emerge in leather gear, cape, and mask, removed then by helper Simone Griffeth to reveal David Carradine, himself as lean and witty a piece of pop satire as Bartel's subversive schlock touches. The sport pits people against one another to distract from oppression, but revolutionaries offer resistance, even if the revolt is blamed, in another one of the film's prophecies, on the French. Political despair and macho desensitization are in the baggage smuggled aboard, in the backseat to Roadrunner gags, Tak Fujimoto's limpid lensing of gore and T&A, and the aesthetics of smart trash. With Louisa Moritz, Joyce Jameson, Sandy McCallum, and Harriet Medim.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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