Death Race 2000 is a 1975 cult action film directed by Paul Bartel, and starring David Carradine, Simone Griffeth and Sylvester Stallone. The film takes place in a dystopian American 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.
In 2000, during the 20th annual race, a resistance group led by Thomasina Paine (Harriet Medin), a descendant of 1770s American Revolutionary Thomas Paine, plans to rebel against Mr. President's regime by sabotaging the race, killing most of the drivers, and taking Frankenstein hostage as leverage against the President. The group is assisted by Paine's great granddaughter Annie (Simone Griffeth), Frankenstein's latest navigator. She plans to lure him into an ambush to be replaced by a double. Despite a pirated national broadcast made by Ms. Paine herself, the resistance's disruption of the race is covered up by the government and instead blamed on the French, who are also blamed for ruining the country's economy and telephone system.
At first, the Resistance's plan works. Nero is killed when he runs over a booby-trapped doll planted by the Resistance, which he mistakes for a real baby and trying to run it over in an attempt to gain points. Matilda drives off a cliff while following a fake detour set up by the Resistance. Calamity Jane drives over a land mine. This leaves only Frankenstein and Machine Gun Joe in the race.
As Frankenstein nonchalantly survives every attempt made on his life during the race, Annie comes to discover that the Frankenstein she knows is anything but a willing government stooge, nor is he the original one. The current Frankenstein is, in fact, one of a number of random wards of the state trained exclusively to race in the role. "When one is used up, they bring in another," he tells Annie. The current Frankenstein also reveals that he has his own plans: when he wins the race and shakes hands with Mr. President, he will detonate a grenade which has been implanted in his prosthetic right hand (he calls it his "hand grenade"), which he has kept concealed by keeping his glove on at all times (even while undressed). His plan goes awry, however, when Machine Gun Joe attacks and Annie kills him using Frankenstein's "hand" grenade.
Having successfully outmaneuvered both the rival drivers and the Resistance, Frankenstein is declared the winner, although he is wounded and unable to carry out his original grenade attack plan. Annie instead dons Frankenstein's disguise and plans to stab Mr. President while standing in for him on the podium. As the president congratulates "Frankenstein" for his victory, in the process declaring war on the French and appointing Frankenstein leader of the war, Annie is mistakenly shot and wounded by her own grandmother, who is desperate for revenge against Frankenstein for having supposedly killed her during the race (he'd actually just drugged her). The real Frankenstein takes advantage of the confusion and rams the President's stage with his car, finally fulfilling his lifelong desire to kill him.
In the epilogue, Annie and Frankenstein marry. Frankenstein, now President, abolishes the race and plans to rebuild the country. However, Junior Bruce starts to protest against it. When unable to find a moral reason to keep the race on, he starts shouting that it is a way of life, to keep America satisfied, to give entertainment and people what they want, now desperate to have the race still on. Frankenstein, annoyed, runs him over with his car.
- David Carradine as Frankenstein
- Simone Griffeth as Annie Smith
- Sylvester Stallone as "Machine-Gun" Joe Viterbo
- Sandy McCallum as "Mr. President"
- Louisa Moritz as Myra
- Don Steele as Junior Bruce
- Mary Woronov as "Calamity" Jane Kelly
- Roberta Collins as Matilda the Hun
- Fred Grandy as "Herman the German" Boch
- Martin Kove as Ray "Nero the Hero" Lonagan
- Joyce Jameson as Grace Pander
- Carle Bensen as Harold
- Leslie McRay as Cleopatra
- Harriet Medin as Thomasina Paine
- Jan Worth as Young Reporter
Roger Corman wanted to make a futuristic action sports film to take advantage of the advance publicity of Rollerball (1975). He optioned a short story by Ib Melchior and hired Robert Thom to adapt it. Director Paul Bartel felt this was unshootable, so Charles B. Griffith rewrote it. Corman wanted Peter Fonda to play the lead, but he was unavailable, so David Carradine was cast instead. Carradine was paid 10% of the film's gross â" he and Ron Howard were the only stars of Roger Corman Productions to ever get a percentage of the gross.
Bartel later recalled "We had terrible script problems; David had to finish his 'Kung Fu' series before starting and we had bad weather. We all worked under terrible pressure. Roger and I had an essential disagreement over comedy. He took out a lot of the comedy scenes. He may have been right and was probably more objective."
According to Variety the film earned $4.8 million in rentals in North America.
Roger Ebert gave the film zero stars in his review, deriding its violence and lamenting its appeal to small children. However, during a review of The Fast and the Furious on At the Movies, Ebert named Death Race 2000 among movies that make a "great tradition of summer drive-in movies" that expose a "summer exploitation mentality in a clever way".
The film has garnered critical acclaim over the years, having a score of "85%" Fresh on the film critics site, Rotten Tomatoes, deeming it fresh.
The film 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".
Shout! Factory released a Deluxe Edition DVD and Blu-ray on June 22, 2010 in region 1/A.
Previous editions were released on DVD and VHS by Buena Vista Home Entertainment and New Concorde, among others.
Comic book series
A sequel comic book titled Death Race 2020 was published in 1995 by Roger Corman's short-lived 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 Marshal Law. The comic book, as the title indicates, took place 20 years after the film and dealt with Frankenstein's return to the race. New racer characters introduced included Von Dutch, The Alcoholic, Happy the Clown, Steppenwolf, Rick Rhesus, and Harry Carrie.
The comic book series lasted eight issues.
Paul W. S. Anderson directed a remake entitled Death Race, which was released August 22, 2008, starring Jason Statham. 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. Two direct-to-DVD prequels titled Death Race 2: Frankenstein Lives and Death Race 3: Inferno starring Luke Goss, Ving Rhames, Tanit Phoenix and Danny Trejo were released on January 18, 2011 and January 18, 2013 respectively.
- The 1982 video game Maze Death Race for Sinclair ZX81 computers (and 1983 for Sinclair ZX Spectrum computers) resembles the film by its cover artwork and title, and car-driving content.
- American Game Cartridges, Inc. released Death Race for the NES in 1990. Seemingly inspired from the movie of the same name.
- The Carmageddon video game series (Carmageddon, Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse Now, Carmageddon 3: TDR 2000 and Carmageddon Reincarnation) all borrow heavily from the plot, characters and car designs in the film.
- Deathtrack was another video game based around car combat. In it, you traveled across the country, blowing up other cars. The obvious similarities between the game and this film suggest that the game was inspired by it.
- At the beginning of the song "Isle of Dead" by Buckethead, a short excerpt from the film can be heard.
- In the 1992 Roger Corman-produced film Munchie Strikes Back, clips from the film (including the helicopter chase) are used as part of a video game called Death Race 2000.
- The Alex Jones Show frequently uses the audio of the scene where Harold explains the scoring system as a bumper. The program also airs similar bumpers which feature clips from other dystopian films such as Soylent Green and They Live.
- The Cars That Ate Paris
- Rollerball (1975 film)
- The Running Man
- Mad Max
- The Road Warrior
- The Blood of Heroes
- The Hunger Games
- Video games
- Death Race (1976 game)
- Roadwar 2000
- Death Rally
- Twisted Metal
- Death Race 2000 at the Internet Movie Database
- Death Race 2000 at the TCM Movie Database
- Death Race 2000 at AllMovie
- Death Race 2000 at Rotten Tomatoes