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Death Race 2000 is a Cult Science Fiction action film directed by Paul Bartel, and starring David Carradine, Simone Griffeth and Sylvester Stallone. The movie takes place in a dystopian Americanmarker society in the year 2000, where the murderous Transcontinental Road Race has become a form of national entertainment. The screenplay is based on the short story "The Racer" by Ib Melchior.

Plot

In the year 2000 the United Statesmarker has been destroyed by a financial crisis and a military coup. Political parties have collapsed into a single Bipartisan Party, which also fulfills the religious functions of a unified church and state. The resulting fascist police state, the United Provinces, is headed by the cult figure "Mr. President" (Sandy McCallum). The people are kept satisfied through a stream of gory gladiatorial entertainment, which includes the bloody spectacle, the 20th Annual Transcontinental Road Race, depicted as a symbol of American values and way of life. The coast-to-coast, 3 day race is run on public roads, and points are scored not just for speed, but for the number of innocent pedestrians struck and killed.

Frankenstein (David Carradine) is the most celebrated racer and is the government's champion. He is reputed to be part machine, rebuilt after many crashes. He regularly battles with the other teams, particularly "Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone), who hates being second.

During the race, a resistance group led by Thomasina Paine (Harriet Medin), a lineal descendant of Thomas Paine, one of the original American revolutionaries of the 1770s, is attempting to assassinate Frankenstein and replace him with one of their agents. The "Resistance" is assisted by Paine's great granddaughter Annie (Simone Griffeth), Frankenstein's navigator, who is intending to lure him into a planned ambush where he is to be replaced by a double. Disruption of the race by the Resistance is blamed on the Frenchmarker by the state, who are also blamed for ruining the country's economy and telephone system.

It emerges that Frankenstein is not a willing government stooge, nor is there a single Frankenstein. The current Frankenstein is simply one of many people specially trained to race in the role. "When one is used up, they bring in another," he tells Annie. The current Frankenstein also has his own plan to end the tyranny: win the race and shake hands with Mr. President, detonating a grenade which has been implanted in his prosthetic right hand.

Frankenstein successfully outmaneuvers both the rival drivers and the Resistance, and is declared the winner and sole survivor. Wounded and unable to carry out his original grenade attack plan, Annie dons Frankenstein's disguise as she plans to stab the President on the victory podium. Greeting the president as he congratulates Frankenstein and declares war on the French, Annie is mistakenly shot and wounded by her grandmother. Frankenstein finally succeeds in killing the President by ramming the podium with his car.

In an epilogue, Annie and Frankenstein are wedded, and Frankenstein, now President, abolishes the race and the perverse laws of the Provinces, though he does make a point of running over an objecting (and objectionable) reporter (Junior Bruce).

Cast



Cars

The cars in the Transcontinental Road Race each have a specific theme. Each contestant represents the fantasy of a reckless driver.

  • Nero the Hero - Roman. The car (a modified Fiat 850 Spider) resembles a lion complete with teeth (the historical Nero enjoyed throwing his enemies to the lions). Nero is the first to be destroyed when he runs over a booby-trapped doll planted by the Resistance, which he mistakes for a real baby. His Navigator is named after Cleopatra.
  • Matilda the Hun - Nazi. The car (a modified VW Karmann-Ghia) resembles a V-1 flying bomb and has what appears to be a rocket engine. Her car is destroyed after driving off a cliff. Her navigator is named 'Herman the German'
  • Calamity Jane - Cowgirl. The car resembles a bull and runs over a matador early in the film. She is lured to a junkyard and blown up by the Resistance. Her navigator is named Lt.Fury.
  • Machine Gun Joe Viterbo - Gangster. The car has a knife and machine guns mounted on the front. Joe is the last to die (killed by Frankenstein's grenade).
  • Frankenstein - His car (a modified Chevrolet Corvette) resembles a monster with red eyes, scales and teeth. He is the only one who survives the race.


Many of the cars were re-bodied VWs and a few were sold after the film to museums for more than it cost to make them, according to Roger Corman.

Reception

Roger Ebert gave the film zero stars in his review, deriding it as being in poor taste, unnecessarily gratuitous in both nudity and violence.

The movie has long been regarded as a cult hit, and was often viewed as superior to Rollerball, made in the same year; another dystopian science fiction sports film, similarly focusing on the use of sports as an "opiate".

Other Media

A sequel comic book entitled Death Race 2020 was published in 1995 by Roger Corman's Cosmic Comics imprint. It was written by Pat Mills of 2000 AD fame, with art by Kevin O'Neill. The pair had already worked together on several comics including Marshall Law. The comic book, as the title indicates, took place 20 years after the movie and dealt with Frankenstein's return to the race.

This short lived comic series that lasted only eight issues before its supposed cancellation provided Death Race 2000 fans with much more exposition to Frankenstein's chaotic world as well as his upbringing.

Death Race's beginning is best described in Death Race 2020# 4 as written by Pat Mills and Tony Skinner. "...After Clinton and the great depression caused by the United States of Europe (masterminded by the evil French), America was in rapid decline, borrowing money from Mexico and Colombia. The solution, as so often happened, came from Hollywood. Actor-director and film mogul Taran Tula became president. The nation's capitol was moved to tinsel town. The people had long ago lost their faith in politicians and relegion but never in Hollywood. As in previous depressions, the movies always kept them going. Turning cinemas into Temples of Escapism from their misery was an easy and obvious step. And at the heart of every great American movie is the car chase and the gunfight. Taking the relegion onto the streets, giving us the Death Race was the logical conclusion. People wanted to live Hollywood lives. Fantasy lives. (Tula) distilled from pictures the true soul of America. Psychologists who stood against him were herded into death camps. The nuclear family, as the cornerstone of the old way of life, was named evil and corrupt. Finally, America was free of the Waltons. But there were still those who espoused the old corrupt apple pie of life. Arch-director Steveburg stood in defiance of President Tula. Making counter-revolutionary films like the all time kiddie tearjerker, 'The Meaning of Christmas...H.A.A.P.T.O. (Hey, Aliens Are People Too, Okay?)' and the unbelievably cloying 'Home For Thanksgiving.' In a classic 'Night of the Long Knives,' Tula's terror troops (modeled closely on his last film 'The Taking of Hellworld') wiped out Steveburg and his forces as they made a last stand at Legend Castle in Toonland, Florida. As a result of (Tula's) illustrious achievements, America was once again almost a force to be reckoned with the race; the sacred embodiment of the nation's soul.

Death Race 2020# 3 provides Frankenstein's own background as a test tube baby, raised to be a genetically perfect being for driving in the government sanctioned Death Races. The government raised/trained several other test tube babies along with Frankenstein, calling them the League of Frankensteins (though they were all drawn with comical themes different from the Frankenstein image). Frankenstein became romantically involved with one of these L.O.F. members over time, a female tube baby named Spyda. Beginning their desensitization to violence at an early age, scientists slowly developed their affection for murder through a series of progressions. At a very young age, they had them play with kittens and then forced them to run them down with kiddy-cars. At 13, they moved up to running down blind folded puppies. Refusal to kill resulted in painful repercussions. So when they were finally deemed ready for their first test with people, they had no hesitations. Frankenstein and Spyda's first victims were shrinks being held in high-security internment camps as result of the Freedom of the Mind Bill for their outcry against the human brutality of the Death Race.

Death Race 2020# 1 starts off with a number of problems Frankenstein must face after coming into power after assassinating Mr. President in the 1975 movie. Besides struggling to subdue his government programmed need for hit and run, the American people are in upheaval over his decision to abolish the race. This leads to several illegal underground Death Races with most drivers revealed to be other League of Frankensteins members, including Spyda. Doing his best to run the country as seen fit by its own people, Frankenstein decides to hold an open election with his opponent being Arch Deacon Miskin, the First Primate of Hollywood. Supporting Frankenstein during these times of turmoil is his wife, Annie, and his Head of Security, Thomasina Paine (now a living decomposing head floating in a jar).

By Death Race# 3, Frankenstein experiences a total turn of events when Annie is assassinated, and Miskin is elected President in favor of his bi-partisan party and reinstating the Death Race. Out of frustration, Frankenstein destroys what's left of a an angry Thomasina and is then removed from Roadforce One, his mobile capitol of presidency. Now giving into his carnal violent needs the government scientists instilled in him, Frankenstein steals a car and enters the new Death Race with Spyda as his gunner (a compromise to her refusal for being a navigator with the loss of her car in Death Race 2020# 2). The race introduces new drivers to the Death Race universe.

Von Dutch: A famous artist whose fans dig him up and turn him into a bizarre art deco cyborg car as interpreted by a request in his will. His navigators are two female robots.

The Alcoholic: A drunk driving contender whose navigator is his best friend's wife.

Happy the Clown: A John Wayne Gacy-like character who drives a clown car. He prefers his navigators to be hitchhikers he picks up and then leaves mangled and deformed down the road.

Steppenwolf: The most developed driver in the series next to Frankenstein, Steppenwolf is a pracitioner in the dark arts that had replaced politics in Russia. Priest of the satanic Temple of Chernobog, his purpose in the race is to bring America under the power of his Wolf Lord and Rat God. His navigator is Baba Yaga, high priestess of the Cult of the Rat God.

Rick Rhesus: A vampire-like character who may be from the League of Frankensteins as well. His car is actually designed to impale his victims and draw their blood for fuel. His navigator is Beth Bavory.

Harry Carrie: A surprise driver dropped in at the last minute, Carrie is Miskin's last defensive strategy against Frankenstein becoming the race's winner. Carrie's wife had died a groupie to a popular rock star which pushed him to pursue a failed death wish that involved the botched murder of the rock star himself. Taking advantage of his suicidal tendencies, Miskin provided him with a car designed as a bomb.

By Death Race# 5 the race is fully underway and takes the racers along a similar 2-3 day journey across America with pit stops and the same point system as before but with some more details (such as military personal, TV spokes people, etc.). Along the way, the drivers face challenges such as a man who creates a suit they can't kill him in and whether or not to kill a sanctuary of dolphins on a reservation since their handlers argue that dolphins are human too.Through these final issues, Frankenstein regressing into nothing more than a macho driver who just wants money and girls, loosing his depth as a character. Miskin sees Frankenstein's involvement in the race as a threat to the order of America with his fame and popularity escalating him to become bigger than the race itself and seeks his demise. After a few failed attempts, Miskin brings in a suicidal man named Harry Carrie whose involvement in the race will be the end of Frankenstein.

Sadly, the series ends at Death Race# 8 and all this build up is never relieved through any satisfactory conclusion. The last panel is the racers speeding for the finish line in about another couple of hundred miles or so. The readers never see how Miskin was going to use Carrie against Frankenstein, and even a subplot of the hated French trying to destroy the race is never fully realized. It's finally revealed, however, the French are seen as hostile because they oppose the ghastly sportsmanship of the Death Race out of respect for their more classy Grand Prix. The only conclusion in the series was Steppenwolf and his navigator failing to turn America into the next Russia when their Wolf and Rat gods devour them in favor of Frankenstein saving them the annoyance of another thousand temples of nagging worshipers.

The Carmageddon video game series (Carmageddon, Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse Now and Carmageddon 3: TDR 2000) all borrow heavily from the plot, characters and car designs in this movie.

Remakes

Paul W. S. Anderson directed a remake entitled Death Race, starring Jason Statham, which premiered August 22, 2008. The remake began production in late August 2007. Besides Statham, this new version also stars Ian McShane, Joan Allen, and Tyrese Gibson. It also includes a cameo (by voice-over) of David Carradine reprising his role as Frankenstein.

See also



Notes

External links




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