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Film / Death Race 2000

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Oooohhh...that'll knacker the suspension...

Death Race 2000 is a 1975 action movie directed by Paul Bartel, produced by the king of B-movies himself, Roger Corman. It's based off the short story The Racer by Ib Melchior.

In a dystopian society in the "near future" of the year 2000, humanity is distracted from their problems by a Blood Sport called the Death Race. More of a demolition derby with Audience Participation than an actual race, drivers traverse city streets engaged in Vehicular Combat while they try to run down as many civilians as they can. Each person they kill gives them points, and the more helpless the victim, the higher the point value. The surviving racer with the highest score wins.

Although Roger Ebert gave this movie zero stars when he reviewed it, the campy style, over-the-top mayhem and fantastic actors (David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone for starters) have made this movie into one of the definitive examples of a Cult Classic.

It received a remake in 2008, which went for the Darker and Edgier option and set itself up as a semi-prequel, a Spiritual Successor with The Asylum's Mockbuster Death Racers, which retained the dark comedy, and then finally in 2017 an official Corman-produced sequel, Death Race 2050.

Also notable for inspiring the controversial Carmageddon series.

Examples within the film:

  • Absurdly Ineffective Barricade: At one point, two rebels create a road blockade to for the racers to crash into. Not only does Matilda drive straight through it, but she hits the rebels from behind.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: German-Americans in this case. Matilda The Hun is announced as being from Milwaukee, a city known for its German heritage. She's an open Neo-Nazi, but it may just be for show.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Frankenstein, according to the race hype. When he takes off his outfit, it's revealed he has no prosthetics at all.
  • Anti-Climactic Unmasking: Frankenstein warns his new navigator not to take off his mask as he's a grotesque horror from all his racing injuries and reconstructive surgery. She insists on doing so, only to find an unmarked David Carradine; even the burn scars around the eyeholes are fake. Turns out the seemingly indestructible Frankenstein is actually a Legacy Character whom the government replaces whenever he's killed or too injured to continue racing.
  • Artificial Limbs: Frankenstein has been in so many wrecks, he's more machine now, than man. This is just propaganda however to hide that he's a Legacy Character. However his arm has been replaced, ostensibly by a mechanical arm that can shift gears in less than 1/20th of a second. Actually there's a bomb implanted in it, set to go off when Mr President shakes hands with the winner.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • The fallen drivers of the Transcontinental Road Race will not be missed. Especially Nero and Cleopatra, who die when they try to run over a baby, only to find it was a dummy packed with explosives.
    • The nurses at the old folks retirement home, who try to dump their charges out on the road for Frankenstein to run over. He spares the seniors and splatters the nurses.
    • Three greasers play a Game of Chicken by standing out in the road, then jumping down a manhole as Calamity Jane approaches. However the first two pull the manhole cover shut before the third has a chance to jump in. As the smirking survivors peek out at the departing Calamity, Machine Gun Joe races up from behind and runs them over.
    • Mr. President is run over by Frankenstein and is completely unmourned. Hell, Frankenstein is elected as his replacement.
  • Ax-Crazy: Joe Viterbo, nicknamed "Machine Gun Joe the Terrible" fires his Thompson submachine gun at the audience for booing him, and runs over his own pit crew later on.
  • Badass Cape: Frankenstein along with his full cover black outfit cuts a really intimidating figure.
  • Bad Boss: Machine Gun Joe demonstrates how deep he's gone down the mental breakdown lane at the final leg of the race by running over his own pit crew when they bad-mouth him. He also constantly insults his navigator—admittedly she's portrayed as a Dumb Blonde but this happens even when she's right.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: As if he wasn't enough of a murderous psycho jerk on screen, at one point Pander mentions that when Machine Gun Joe was young, Joe had a pet snake that he used to run over with his tricycle.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Frankenstein loses his grenade arm that he was going to use to blow up Mr President. He appears to be going to knife him instead, only to be shot by Thomasina Paine in revenge for (apparently) killing her granddaughter. Only Annie is wearing Frankenstein's outfit (fortunately it's Only a Flesh Wound) and Frankenstein is hiding in his car which he then drives into the podium, killing Mr President.
  • Battle Couple: Invoked, as sleeping with a famous Badass Driver is regarded as a perk of the job for a navigator. Exactly how attached they are emotionally tends to vary.
  • Beneath the Mask: A literal version with Frankenstein acting like a terse cold-blooded death machine in public, but when he's alone with his navigator he's a completely different person, which is justified as the real Frankenstein only exists in propaganda.
  • Big Bad: Mr. President, the dictator who organized the bloodsport race.
  • Blatant Lies: Mr President blames the attacks on the French, whom he also blames for ruining the economy and the telephone system. After all, isn't the word sabotage originally French?
  • Berserk Button: Machine Gun Joe hates Frankenstein and everything related to him, especially the fact that Frankenstein is more loved by the audience. He shoots a Tommy Gun at the audience when he's booed at the starting line, runs over a man who was putting a "we welcome Frankenstein" banner at the limits of a city (because they're not putting a banner for him) and chases and runs over another man when he confuses Joe with Frankenstein and says he's a big fan (after finding out that he went down a wrong road and he's gonna lag behind the other racers).
  • Black Comedy:
    • Babies score the second-highest value. The bracket group is referred to as "toddlers under the age of 12," but the graphic used to represent such group is a baby in a diaper.
    • A lot of the punchlines are murder, the scene where Frankenstein runs over all those nurses at the senior living home for instance.
    • The widow of the first score gets a prize package.
  • Blood Sport: The point of the race isn't to cross the finish line, but to kill as many pedestrians and fellow racers as possible.
  • B-Movie: Low budget and shot on a short schedule like all Corman flicks, and using mostly unknowns.
  • Bodycount Competition: As well as time, racers are scored on how many people they kill during the race. Children and invalids score highest (in the original short story the reverse was true—not for moral reasons but because they were too easy to kill).
  • Bread and Circuses: The race is hosted by the government to distract everyone from the dystopia they're living in.
  • Calvinball: Aside from the amounts of points for running over people, the rules of the race or the conditions for victory are never explained, and seem to be changed on a whim.
  • Car Fu: The entire event centers around killing people with cars. Notable is the scene where a man tried to bull fight one of the cars, and the finale when Frankenstein, having lost his explosive hand, kills Mr President by ramming his podium with his car.
  • Catfight: Jane and Matilda very nearly come to blows during the first pit stop sequence, most assuredly for plot reasons. Certainly not because it's a great excuse to have the breasts of two gorgeous and entirely naked ladies bouncing in front of the camera.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Grace Pander speaks of everyone as a "dear friend of mine."
    • And Junior's "All right, all right, all riiiight!"
  • Chase-Scene Obstacle Course: Averted as running over people provides the drama, with only the occasional road sign providing this trope.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: The French are the government's scapegoats for the disruptions in the race La Résistance are responsible for.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Pat Mills and Tony Skinner wrote a sequel comic called Death Race 2020 for Roger Corman's Cosmic Comics that was cancelled after eight issues.
  • Contrived Clumsiness: Frankenstein drops his glove at the start line of the second leg so he has an excuse to delay and let Machine Gun Joe get ahead of him (Joe having been given a fake tip about a shortcut). When he turns the car round to pick up the glove again, he 'accidentally' runs over a race official.
  • Cool Car: All of them, and they're all heavily armed too.
  • Cool Plane: Lt. Fury of the rebels...ahem, the French Air Force is flying a VariViggen when he tries to bomb Frankenstein.
  • Cow Tools: A Jacob's Ladder is somehow necessary to break in on the official broadcasting.
  • Creator Cameo: Paul Bartel appears as Frankenstein's doctor.
  • Deadly Game: The film makes clear from the very beginning that Death Race drivers have a very high chance of being killed, with Frankenstein and "Machine Gun" Joe being the only ones who have survived various accidents that killed almost all of the drivers or rather Joe being the only one who did. The race ends with only Frankenstein and his navigator surviving.
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: The Army of the Resistance breaks in on Pander's program to deliver a demand by Paine that the Transcontinental Road Rape be stopped. The Secret Police claim she was just some nut with a gun who forced her way into the studio and made them broadcast.
  • Double Entendre:
    Matilda the Hun: Whoever named your car The Bull, was only half right!
    Jane Kelly: I hope your Buzz Bomb has more juice in its warhead this year.
    (Navigator Herman "The German" meekly looks down, apparently at his crotch, then away.)
  • Epic Race: The eponymous Death Race from one coast to the other, graded on a combination of time and points scored for killing bystanders, so you can get to New Los Angeles first but still lose because you haven't killed enough people getting there. That's assuming you survive in the first place.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Frankenstein passes up some easy points by swerving out of the way to avoid running over some defenseless old folks (he runs over the people who placed them on the street instead as payback and for the points). He also admits that when it comes to hitting children It Never Gets Any Easier for him.
  • Event Title: Death Race 2000.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: When the Resistance car chasing Frankenstein rolls over, it immediately explodes into flames for no apparent reason. Justified with Matilda the Hun's car the Buzzbomb which smashes several times going down a cliff and hits the bottom before imitating its namesake.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The President is always "Mr. President" in news reports and announcements; he doesn't seem to have a surname.
  • Evil States of America: It's not unsubtly implied that the United States has invaded multiple other countries around the world (why else would Mr. President have vacation homes in Moscow and Peking?) on top of the Death Race and its use as propaganda (Frankenstein running over nurses to spare some old folks is dismissed as him having a "good old American sense of humor"). The Resistance attacks are blamed on the French, with Mr President implying this will be used as a Pretext for War after the race is over.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: Parodied; when Frankenstein runs over Junior Bruce, his colleague Harold proceeds to solemnly pontificate about Humanity's history of violence as the credits roll.
  • Fictional Political Party: The Bipartisan Party. Apart from both running and sponsoring the titular death race and having religious figures in positions of power in the party, not much is known about this party's platform or political views, but it's possibly a fusion of the Democratic and Republican Parties to judge by its name.
  • Fight Scene: You'd never guess, but Kwai Chang Caine can kick Rocky's ass.
  • Finish Him!: Joe injures the man putting up the sign for Frankenstein and asks his fellow workman if he should add him to his Score. He gets an enthusiastic thumbs down.
  • Food Slap: Joe does this to the member of the Secret Police who insists there are no rebels trying to blow them up.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Frankenstein and Annie marry and become Mr and Mrs President, with Thomasina Paine as Minister of Domestic Security who makes it clear that she will not tolerate rebels.
  • Golden Snitch: Running over children and toddlers grant the racer an additional hundred points to their Score. Frankenstein refuses to run over kids if he can help it (and never has felt confortable doing it if he must) while Nero falls for the Resistance's bait and gets himself blown up with a baby-doll bomb.
  • Gorn: The gorier bits are only on screen for a brief moment before cutting over to Junior enthusing about them. Somehow, the brevity of the gorn increases the impact.
  • Groin Attack:
    • Machine Gun Joe's (and the race's) first pedestrian kill has the bad luck of being stabbed in the groin area by the giant knife in Joe's car, followed by being hit by the speeding car itself.
    • Machine Gun Joe himself has Frankenstein's hand grenade land in his lap.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Machine Gun Joe machine guns the audience at the start, just for booing him. He later kills a man who was hanging up a banner welcoming Frankenstein, and even nails his own pit crew for making fun of the black eye that Frankenstein gave him.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: David Carradine refused to wear leather for the movie, but a fabric that would look like leather on screen was used instead. Because an intimidating racer figure really ought to be in head-to-toe leather.
  • Human Sacrifice: A woman approaches Frankenstein during an overnight stop and says she's been selected for him out of a hundred other women from the local Frankenstein fan club. To his surprise she's not offering herself as a lover, but is waiting for him out on the road the next day as a Score. He obliges.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: Frank tests his navigator's commitment by making her drive for a while, and his suspicions are verified when she "misses" a child.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy:
    • La Résistance seems to always just miss Frankenstein's car, until a lucky shot strikes.
    • Machine Gun Joe firing a machine gun into the audience does not seem to result in anyone getting hurt.
  • Implied Death Threat: When Annie is exposed as a member of the Resistance, Frankenstein tells her to walk around the front of his car to get to her seat, and guns the engine menacingly as she does so.
  • I'm Your Biggest Fan: Joe spends the movie griping how he's The Un-Favourite, then he meets a guy fishing who gives him this trope...only it turns out he's mistaken him for Frankenstein. Joe, already outraged because he's been tricked into taking a dead end, makes a point of chasing him down and adding him to his Score.
  • Irony:
    • The caretakers of a geriatric home put out several old people on the road so that the racers run over them. Frankenstein instead decides to run over the caretakers.
    • La Résistance plans to hold Frankenstein hostage because he's a personal friend of Mr. President. Turns out the real Frankenstein died long ago (if he ever existed at all) and the current one hates Mr. President. This also makes Joe's Always Second Best complex about Frankenstein ironic as well—unknown to him he really is better, because he's survived previous Races whereas past Frankensteins have been killed off.
    • Junior becomes the last kill of the movie... run over by Frankenstein because he's protesting the abolition of the Death Race.
  • La Résistance: The Army of the Resistance led by Thomasina Paine.
  • Legacy Character: Frankenstein is revealed to be one.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Frankenstein has (supposedly) been practically rebuilt from his many horrible crashes.
    • Commentator Grace Pander panders to the audience with grace.
  • Mauve Shirt: Nero, Matilda the Hun, and Calamity Jane (as well as their navigators).
  • Milking the Giant Cow: The Deacon of the Bipartisan Party. Until Frankenstein 'accidentally' kills him, that is.
  • The Mole: Frankenstein's navigator Annie Smith is the granddaughter of Thomasina Paine.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Frankenstein spends the last twenty minutes of the film with his jumpsuit unzipped to his stomach for no readily apparent reason other than to give the audience an eyeful of Carradine's chiseled physique and his Carpet of Virility.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Looking for T&A? Just watch the first pit-stop scene! This movie hasn't got ANYTHING to hide! Strangely, all the male drivers and navigators in this scene received towels to cover themselves from the waist down; the women, on the other hand, get absolutely nothing whatsoever.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Frankenstein and "Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo. And rightfully so.
  • New Neo City: New Los Angeles.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Harold is pretty obviously based on Howard Cosell's style.
  • Oh, My Gods!: Junior's occasional exclamation of "Chrysler!" when something insane happens.
  • One World Order: Implied by Mr. President having a summer house in Moscow and another in Peking. The 'Bipartisan Party' implies the United Provinces of America is a one party state as well.
  • Oppressive States of America: The USA has morphed into the United Provinces of America, with the titular brutal blood sport being a form of Bread and Circuses for what's clearly a fascist state. They're implied to rule the (former?) Soviet Union and China, because Mr President has residences in both countries capitals, while looking to wage new wars (France is blamed in the film for attacks by domestic rebels).
  • Outside Ride: Frankenstein gets his new navigator to adjust the engine while he's driving at speed, just to mess with her a bit.
  • Painted Tunnel, Real Train: The rebels take out Matilda The Hun in this fashion, by putting a detour sign on a perfectly good road, pointing to a fake tunnel set just in front of a real cliff...
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Even though old people score the highest, Frankenstein spares some crippled old tenants at a retirement home who've been wheeled out onto the road for him to squash. Instead he runs over the caretakers who left them there.
    • On discovering that Annie is with the Resistance, Frankenstein lies to the Secret Police about whose decision it was to take the detour that led him into an ambush.
  • The Plan: The Army of the Resistance plan to kidnap Frankenstein and hold him hostage, while an imposter takes his place and delivers their ultimatum to Mr. President. This plan has some flaws, such as Frankenstein being a disposable and easily replaced surrogate, and the difficulty of trying to stop a murderous Badass Driver in the first place, though they hope Annie working as his navigator will help. Lieutenant Fury however thinks it's better to just assassinate the racers.
  • Plunger Detonator: When the Resistance tries to blow up Frankenstein's car using mines, they explode the mines with a plunger detonator.
  • Pretty in Mink: Myra's white mink jacket and helmet.
  • Red Baron:
    • Junior calls Frankenstein "The Indestructible" a couple of times. Considering how many crashes he has (allegedly) survived, he certainly has earned the moniker.
    • "Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo gets called "The Terrible" a couple of times by the announcers. He also deserves it.
  • Road Block: Two members of the Resistance construct a roadblock to sabotage the Transcontinental Road Race, only to have the car race up from the opposite direction and run them over. Later attempts using fire and Stuff Blowing Up don't work any better.
  • Sequel Escalation: If 2000 showcased a borderline Fallen States of America, 2050 shows a truly fallen one, with every single square inch of it a balkanized hellhole.
  • Shirtless Scene: All the men are topless during the massage scene, but the main event is when Frankenstein's navigator takes all his clothing off to examine the supposed damage his body had undergone.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Frankenstein puts a Sleepex pill in Annie's drink before the final attempt to kidnap him. The Resistance assume that he's killed her and go all out to kill him instead.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Soft jazz for a love scene? Makes sense. Soft jazz while careening towards a cliff, not so much.
  • Spectator Casualty: The racers earn points for killing unlucky spectators.
  • Stealth Pun: Frankenstein's right hand, which he keeps hidden under a glove for much of the movie, is actually a grenade that he plans on detonating when he shakes hands with the President after the race... or a hand grenade.
  • Space-Filling Empire: Possibly. The US President is stated to be at his "summer palace" in Beijing (called "Peking" in the movie, as was the custom in that era).
  • Take a Moment to Catch Your Death: Calamity Jane takes out a couple of Resistance bikers, realises she's stopped in a kill zone on seeing bullet-holed car wrecks around her, tries to reverse out and runs over a landmine they had planted earlier.
  • Taking You with Me: After the final attempt to kidnap Frankenstein fails, Annie tries to drive them off the road. Frankenstein stops the car and remonstrates her for giving up so easily, and explains what his real mission is.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: "Matilda The Hun" and her navigator pretty much embody this trope for stylistic purposes. Emphasis on the "stylistic"—there are several black spectators cheering in her section.
  • Title by Year: Death Race 2000.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Some thrill-seeking spectators deliberately place themselves In Harm's Way, with predictable results.
  • Tyke-Bomb: Frank tells Annie that he, and all previous Frankensteins, had been raised by the government to play the part of death-race champion.
  • Undercrank: Used for some of the car racing scenes.
  • Un Reboot: Death Race 2050 ignores the Death Race remake and its two prequels.
  • Vehicular Combat: Although for the most part the cars are used to run over people, a couple of scenes on the climax have Frankenstein battling rival cars (one driven by a Resistance driver and the other to take out Machine Gun Joe for good).
  • Wacky Racing: A cross-country rally-style race much like the "Cannonball Run" races, but every car in the race has a theme (monster, gangster, cowgirl, Nazi, etc.) and the rules of the game include extra points for running over pedestrians.
  • Weaponized Car: Every car in the Death Race has a few eccentric little extras. Hilariously, Machine Gun Joe's car is the only one that appears to have actual weapons (tommy guns in this case) attached to it, but they're just for show, probably because firearms would make 'scoring' too easy. The giant knife, on the other hand, gets a couple of very gory kills (including the first one of the whole race, establishing what kind of "scoring" there is) and in the climax Joe deploys an Oil Slick to try to slow down Frankenstein.
  • Weddings for Everyone: Frankenstein and Annie, at the very end.
  • Went to the Great X in the Sky: After Calamity Jane is blown up sky-high in the final act, Grace Pander gives a eulogy that she hopes Calamity Jane will be "racing down the big highway in the sky... running over the angels."
  • We Will Have Euthanasia in the Future: It's Euthanasia Day, and the residents of a geriatrics home are trundled out in their wheelchairs to get run over. Those commemorating it get some Laser-Guided Karma instead.
  • World of Ham: Everyone involved in the Propaganda Machine hams it up, from Mr President on down. Frankenstein's Terse Talker nature makes him seem more sinister in contrast but he's also putting on an act, as he shows Beneath the Mask.
  • Would Hit a Girl:
    • Women score higher than men, and even Frankenstein doesn't hesitate to kill them.
    • Machine Gun Joe tries to chat up Frankenstein's navigator for information. Annie leads him down a dead-end, and the following night he tries to strangle her to death. Fortunately Frankenstein intervenes.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The rules of the Death Race include a bonus of 100 points for killing any children. Nero gets blown up by the Resistance by baiting him with an exploding baby doll (Nero, who is way behind on points, instantly takes the bait), while Frankenstein makes clear that he doesn't finds it easy to run over children (although the implication is that he has, as have the Frankensteins before him). Markedly, Frank orders Annie to run over a kid, but she swerves away at the last second.
  • Wronski Feint: Frankenstein appears to turn a corner around a large rock to escape Fury chasing him in a low-flying aircraft, but it's only an indent in the cliff. Fury tries to follow and goes straight into the cliff.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Frankenstein kills Mr President And There Was Much Rejoicing, with Frankenstein being proclaimed the new Mr President. Although the new ruler of the country makes changes like cancelling the Road Race, pensioning off the Secret Police and moving the capital back to America, it's implied the new regime won't be much different from the old.