Combustible Celluloid
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With: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Mary Woronov, Roberta Collins, Martin Kove, Louisa Moritz, Don Steele, Joyce Jameson, Carle Bensen, Sandy McCallum
Written by: Robert Thom, Charles B. Griffith, based on a story by Ib Melchior
Directed by: Paul Bartel
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 78
Date: 04/27/1975

Death Race 2000 (1975)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Triumph of the Wheel

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

While on a road trip, anytime anyone makes a joke about running over people for points, it comes from Paul Bartel's Death Race 2000, one of the most outrageous "B" movies ever made. Time has tamed it somewhat, but it's still loads of fun.

In the future, a beloved leader with fascist tendencies runs an annual race in which the drivers must hit and kill pedestrians for points. The racers are elevated to the status of national heroes, such as Machine Gun Joe (Sylvester Stallone) and Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov), but none have reached the stature of mysterious champion Frankenstein (David Carradine), with his black mask and (supposedly) hideously wounded face.

This year, various subversive forces scheme to upset the race and stop it for good, and the script deliberately keeps us on our toes as various characters reveal their true natures and begin to work together. Also an actor, Bartel had a perfect touch for black comedy, always getting close enough to the violence for the sake of humor, but never going too far.

Roger Corman, of course, produced, and the cinematography was by Tak Fujimoto, who would graduate to bigger "B" movies (The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense).

Disney re-released this film in a 2005 Special Edition with a commentary track by Corman and Woronov, a making-of featurette and a trailer. A Blu-Ray followed in 2010.

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