Death Race 2000 Blu-ray / DVD Review
Directed by Paul Bartel
Written by Robert Thom and Charles B. Griffith
1975, No region coding (NTSC), 78 minutes, rated R
Blu-ray and DVD released on June 22nd, 2010
David Carradine as Frankenstein
Sylvester Stallone as Machine Gun Joe Viterbo
Mary Woronov as Calamity Jane
Simone Griffeth as Annie Smith
Roberta Collins as Matilda the Hun
Martin Kove as Nero the Hero
The future has never looked better as the Transcontinental Death Race returns with legendary drivers “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo, Calamity Jane, Matilda the Hun and Nero the Hero all trying to unseat returning champion and racing legend Frankenstein. The stakes are higher this year amidst the rumors of terrorists threatening to disrupt the race with roadside bombs and other attacks. The race starts with an announcement from the President of the World, assuring the people that he loves them and will continue to give them exactly what they want.
If Frankenstein (David Carradine) is seriously going for an unprecedented fourth victory, he is going to have to push both his car and his horribly disfigured body to the limit, as he is getting some serious competition this year. Machine Gun Joe (Sylvester Stallone) draws first blood when he takes out a roadside construction worker, while Nero the Hero (Martin Kove) is the first to fall out of the race. Sports fans should keep an eye out for Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov) as her cattle-themed car tears up the roads despite the best efforts of Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins). With all of this excitement in the air it is no wonder that fans across America race out to support these heroes of the road.
Hit-and-run driving has become the national sport, and innocent pedestrians are the ticket to scoring points in this race. Drivers are encouraged to kill as many men, women and children as possible along the way to the finish line. Doctors line up elderly patients on the day of the race, known to area hospitals as “Euthanasia Day,” while obsessed fans willingly sacrifice themselves so that their favorite drivers may gain a higher score.
Death Race 2000 is a fantastic satire on America’s obsession with fast cars and graphic violence. Roger Corman has produced several “car movies” over the years, but here changes the formula and brings a fresh spin to an established genre. Robert Thom (Bloody Mama) and Charles B. Smith (Bucket of Blood) expanded the original story “The Racer” by Ib Melchior (Planet of the Vampires) and created an over-the-top morality play that challenges the limits of bad taste in pop culture.
The cast features David Carradine (Kung Fu), Sylvester Stallone (Nighthawks), Mary Woronov (House of the Devil), Martin Kove (The Karate Kid), Roberta Collins (Caged Heat), and Simone Griffeth (Sixteen) as the drivers who have captured the hearts of millions as they wreak havoc and mayhem across America. Super DJ “The Real Don Steel” is a one-man Greek chorus as the enthusiastic announcer for the race, much as he was the voice of the people in Roger Corman’s Rock ‘N’ Roll High School.
Director Paul Bartel (Lust in the Dust) delivers the type of picture that drive-in theatres were made for with this fast-paced crowd pleaser. The humor is pitch-black and the cast is pitch-perfect with their customized cars and bizarre dialogue. Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (Silence of the Lambs) brings a style to this film that makes it look like it was shot last year, particularly impressive given the low-budget limitations over 30 years ago!
Death Race 2000 is a film that is easily recommended, as there is something special in just how unapologetic it can be in providing quality entertainment while delivering a strong social commentary on the popularity of violence. A bit heavy-handed at times, but the ride is ultimately one that merits repeat viewing.
Video and Audio:
The DVD is a remarkable upgrade to all previous versions of the film, presenting the picture in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a beautiful anamorphic transfer that highlights all of the effort that went into making the film. There are a few instances of print damage, to be certain, but the colors are strong and black levels are solid without any noticeable compression issues. This restored edition is the best the film has ever looked in standard definition.
The Blu-ray appears on a single-layered BD25 disc using the AVC MPEG-4 codec and is nothing short of stunning. There is an improvement of picture quality and fine detail over the standard-def release, and yet the additional visibility of grain and print damage are not distracting in the least. Color saturation is quite strong and flesh tones remain natural, while blacks are rich and solid throughout.
Like the recent Shout Factory release of Rock ’N’ Roll High School, Dolby Digital 2.0 is the only audio option provided for the feature. The original mix is a bit tinny, but true to the origins, and a forced 5.1 matrix would feel artificial and distracting.
Shout Factory continues to impress with their salute to the Roger Corman classics by including all of the supplements from previous releases and creating new materials for this Ultimate edition. The special features are identical on both the DVD and the Blu-ray release.
There are two commentaries. The first is a holdover from an earlier release and features Roger Corman with actress Mary Woronov. The track is very entertaining as two old friends enjoy a few hours together and reflect on the production 30 years on. Corman is especially sharp with the details of the making of the film and provides exact dollar amounts for the cars and other set pieces. The man is an unbelievable mine of information and every bit a gentleman when complimenting Woronov’s work on the picture. The second track features assistant director Lewis Teague (Alligator) and editor Tina Hirsch (Gremlins), who provide a more technical look back at the film. Very informative, but not as entertaining as the Corman track, this discussion is worth a listen for additional details of working for the legendary producer.
“David on Death Race” is a welcome treat, but unfortunately only runs a few brief minutes. While recording an interview for the movie Sundown, David Carradine shared a few thoughts on Death Race 2000, and this outtake has been included as an unexpected bonus for fans of the acting legend.
“Playing the Game” is a short featurette that is standard EPK material. It is nice to see many of the participants, but the piece is a bit light on substance, due in large part to the limited 12-minute running time.
“Leonard Maltin interviews Roger Corman” is a short interview carried over from an earlier release that is pretty self-explanatory. Corman shares his thoughts and memories of the film.
“Designing Dystopia” is a nice piece that focuses on the art direction, locations and the construction of the cars.
“Ready to Wear” features an informative interview with costume designer Jane Ruhm, who takes no small pleasure in pointing out how silly some of her work on the film was.
“Start Your Engines” studies the original source material with author Ib Melchior, who readily admits to enjoying the film adaptation more than his story.
“Killer Score” focuses on composer Paul Chihara as he discusses the eclectic music.
There are several promotional galleries featuring poster art and production stills.
Trailers and TV spots are included; the trailer is also presented with a commentary from fellow director John Landis, who appears in the film as an actor and stunt man.
A 12-page booklet is included in the package and features essays, additional photos, international artwork and a dedication to members of the production who have passed away.
Click a cover to purchase.