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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 distant future (at the time) of the year 2000, a new national sport is declared. A group of specifically selected professional race car drivers are recruited to take part in a race...with a twist - instead of seeing who can make it to the finish line first, the competitors are required to score points by running over as many people as possible, with different levels of points allocated to different age groups (guess which type gets the second-highest addition to your score...). The competitor 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:

  • 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.
  • Artificial Limbs: Frankenstein has supposedly been in so many wrecks, he's more machine now, than man.
  • Asshole Victim: The fallen drivers of the Transcontinental Road Race will not be missed. Especially Nero, who dies when he's killed by the exploding baby he tried to run over.
  • Ax-Crazy: Joe Viterbo, nicknamed "Machine Gun Joe". The dude fires his machine gun at the audience for booing him.
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  • B-Movie: Low budget and shot on a short schedule like all Corman flicks, and using mostly unknowns.
  • Baby Boomers: A bomb disguised as a baby (with other members of La Résistance pretending to be a family on a picnic for bait) is what kills Nero.
  • 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 Villainous Breakdown lane at the final leg of the race by running over his own pit crew when they bad-mouth him. He also constantly mistreats his navigator, from insulting to attempting to beat the crap out of her (which is stopped by Frankenstein).
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: As if he wasn't enough of a murderous psycho jerk on screen, at one point Pander mentions that Machine Gun Joe used to kill animals by running them over with his tricycle when he was young.
  • Berserk Button: Machine Gun Joe is 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Catch-Phrase:
    • Grace Pander speaks of everyone as a "dear friend of mine."
    • And Junior's "All right, all right, all riiiight!"
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: The French are the government's scapegoats for the disruptions in the race La Résistance are responsible for.
  • Cool Car: All of them, and they're all heavily armed too.
  • Creator Cameo: Paul Bartel appears as Frankenstein's doctor.
  • Double Entendre: Used at least once.
    Matilda the Hun: Whoever named your car The Bull, was only half right!
  • Epic Race: The eponymous Death Race-from one coast to the other, with the winner being (apparently) whoever has the highest kill score and/or arrives first... or survives.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Frankenstein passes up some easy points by swerving out of the way to avoid running over some defenseless old folks.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: When the Resistance car chasing Frankenstein rolls over, it immediately explodes into flames for no apparent reason.
  • 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". Why decry the Resistance's attacks as being done by the French sounds weird, although the implication is that it may be used to declare war on them later).
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Fictional Political Party: Frankenstein runs over "The Deacon of the Bipartisan Party" for 50 points. 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.
  • Fight Scene: You'd never guess, but Kwai Chang Caine can kick Rocky's ass.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: When La Résistance take over the government, they're implied to be no better than the ones they replaced.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Used at least once.
    Jane Kelly: I hope your Buzz Bomb has more juice in its warhead this year.
  • Gorn: The gorier bits are only on screen for a brief moment before cutting over to Junior. 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 his black eye.
  • 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 female fan of Frankenstein offers herself up as a road victim. 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.
  • Irony: At one point, the caretakers of a geriatric home put out several old people on the road so that the racers run over them. Frankenstein decides to run over the caretakers instead. Junior also becomes the last kill of the movie... run over by Frankenstein because he's protesting the abolition of the Death Race.
  • Karmic Death: The staff at the old folks home who wheel their tenants out onto the road so Frankenstein will run them over, only for Frankenstein to go off the road and run them over instead.
  • La Résistance: The Resistance in this case is trying to replace Frankenstein with a body double to get close to kill the President. They are also trying to get the race shut down with threats and the assassination of several racers.
  • 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).
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Frankenstein and "Machine Gun" Joe Viterbo. And rightfully so.
  • 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 the President having a summer house in Moscow and another in Peking.
  • 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: Frankenstein spares some crippled old tenants at a retirement home who've been wheeled out onto the raod for him to squash. Instead he runs over the caretakers who left them there.
  • 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.
  • Rare Vehicles: The yellow car with the hinged roof that Frankenstein and Anne drive off in at the end of the film is a Sterling Nova, a very rare American kit car. Notable for its ridiculously cool looks and ridiculous design that does away with traditional doors.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, if you will.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Trope 2000: It is right there on the title.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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. The giant knife, on the other hand...
  • Weddings for Everyone: Frankenstein and Annie, at the very end.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Machine Gun Joe hit his navigator for talking about Frankenstein.


Example of: