Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

In 1976 Sylvester Stallone won an Academy Award for ‘Rocky’.  Not that ‘Rocky’ wasn’t a fine piece of American cinema because it certainly was and deserving of all the praise it received back then and still receives now – though somebody might want to inform the citizens of Philadelphia that Rocky Balboa isn’t a real person.  If one more person asks me who I think would win a fight between Muhammad Ali and Rocky Balboa, I think I’m gonna have to choke them.  But one reason I think Stallone received so many accolades for ‘Rocky’ was because of the unconscionable snub he received for his tour de force performance as Machine Gun Joe Viterbo in the now cult classic ‘Death Race 2000’.  Sly was awesome in that flick, let me tell you.  So as I go back and review movies I remember seeing as a kid, ‘Death Race’ stands out because it seemed to fascinate us in grade school to no end. Of course none of us actually saw or even heard of the movie when it came out in 1975, but when Cable TV came to our neighborhood in the early eighties, there was a battle between ‘Urban Cowboy’, ‘Arthur’ and ‘Death Race 2000’ to see which one of these flicks could air the most, with Death Race being aired on something I vaguely remember as Showtime After Dark or something.  But with well over twenty years passing since I’ve last seen this movie, how well does it view in 2007?

Of course by now the story behind ‘Death Race 2000’ has become a legend unto itself.  The year is 2000 A.D. and our great country’s economy has collapsed due to some chicanery caused by the evil French and is now under the fascist totalitarian rule of a man who is only referred to as Mr. President (Sandy McCallum).  The only thing the poor populace has to look forward to each year is the Cross Country Road Race in which five brutal participants in souped up race cars drive across the country and mow

down pedestrians for points.  The favorite is the legendary Frankenstein (David Carradine), so called because so many of his bodily parts are prosthetic replacements and who dresses in all black with a mask and cape, he actually looks like an anorexic Luchador.  Each driver has a navigator to help guide the way for our murderous motorist and Frankenstein’s navigator is willowy blonde Annie Smith (Simone Griffeth) whose legs are so long that she almost looks unnatural – in a good way.  Annie though is actually a plant and works for the resistance led by her great grandmother Thomasina Paine (Harriet Medin) who wants to overthrow Mr. President’s totalitarian government by kidnapping what they believe is his most trusted ally in Frankenstein.  Frankenstein however has his own plans for the government and winning the race is paramount for him to do this, but he must beat the other racers, in particular Machine Gun Joe, to make this most glorious event take place and to bring an end to ‘Minority Privilege’.

Somebody want to tell me what ‘Minority Privilege’ is?  It’s either a fancy term for Affirmative Action which may or may not have been around in 1975, hell if I know, or it represents the privileged few who hold all the wealth from the disenfranchised masses.  I’m not quite sure.  Regardless, Directed by the late Paul Bartel, one thing I didn’t realize watching ‘Death Race 2000’ as a thirteen year old was how subversive it was, which may explain why some nutty Hollywood studio hasn’t remade this thing eight times over already.  As opposed to say the Body Snatcher films which are subtlety subversive, ‘Death Race 2000’ champions out right raw dog anarchy.   David Carradine’s character of Frankenstein (he really did look ridiculous in that costume) reminded me of another anarchist movie from the 70’s ‘The Spook who sat outside by the door’, about an African American man who kowtows to the system to gain access to the CIA and bring the system down from within, which pretty much represents the anti-hero Frankenstein (minus being black) who doesn’t neglect the object of the game, killing innocent motorists, in pursuit of his ultimate goal. 

Of course as a kid I remember plenty of violence, crushed heads, mutilated bodies and naked women, all of which generally speaking is downright tame by today’s standards.  And then there was the big fist fight between Kung Fu and Rocky.  I’d be interested to see who would win that fight for real between the seventy one year old Carradine and swollen sixty-two year old Stallone.  Carradine talks a good game, that’s for sure.

I think over all, mainly because of the sledge hammer political overtones and secondly, a much greater appreciation for what a nude Simone Giffeth’s brings to the table, I actually enjoyed ‘Death Race 2000’ more as an adult than as a kid, and not just because of nostalgia.   A worthy addition to the library of any self respecting anarchist to be sure.

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