The Film (5/5)
Roger Corman is probably the first director/producer whose name I paid attention to. If the film had Roger in the credits, either as a director or a producer, I knew I was in for a good time. I have seen a lot of his films over the years, from his recent DinoCroc, to his early Attack of the Crab Monsters. However, out of all the films he directed and produced, the award for most fun, and quite possibly the best is the one we have here, the Paul Bartel directed Death Race 2000.
Death Race 2000 is based on the short story The Racer by Ib Melchior. And while the short story itself is a quite serious take on the material, the film is deeply rooted in satire. The film takes the Orwellian concept of a Fascist state, and turns it on it's head, while simultaneously sending up the media, and it's fascination with violence.
Death Race 2000 takes place in an alternate American society, that is run by a fascist dictator Mr. President(Sandy McCallum). The greatest source of entertainment in this timeline is the yearly Transcontinental Death Race, the ultra violent car race where you score points by running over innocent bystanders and a few willing participants who are willing to give their lives in support of their favorite racer.
These racers include the current champion, and crowd favorite Frankenstein played by a post Kung Fu David Carradine and Machine Gun Joe Viterbo played by a young Sylvester Stallone. Also competing in the race are the cowgirl Calamity Jane(Mary Woronov), the Nazi-esque Matilda the Hun(Roberta Collins), and Nero the Hero(Martin Kove), and each will do anything to win.
Having skipped the earlier Death Race 2000 DVD's, this is the first time I have seen the film since video, and the result is excellent. Shout Factory has presented Death Race 2000 in a 1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer preserving the films original theatrical aspect ratio. The transfer for the most part is quite amazing, the clarity of the image is fantastic, and is appropriately bright. There is a tad bit of grain, and a little scratching throughout, but it is barely noticeable, and does not affect viewing in anyway.
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital mono sound mix. The sound throughout is excellent with not noticeable distortion of background noise. The dialogue throughout can be heart perfect, and the sound effects and the music burst from the speakers.
Shout Factory has loaded up Death Race 2000 with an amazing slate of extras. The disc features 2 commentary tracks, the first apparently ported over from the last DVD release features producer Roger Corman, and co-star Mary Woronov. The second track features Death Race 2000 A.D. Lewis Teague sitting in for the deceased Paul Bartel, and the films editor Tina Hirsh.
The disc also features a number of featurettes and interviews. The first is one called Playing The Game, which runs just over 10 minutes, and features interviews with Roger Corman, Mary Woronov, and 2nd unit director Chuck Griffith. This is followed up with an interview with Roger Corman by film critic Leonard Maltin. There is also a short interview with the late Carradine, that discusses Death Race 2000, and other more obscure films from his career. The interview was shot on the set of one of his more recent films, and is a nice short reminder of Carradine and his work.
The above content easily pushes this disc into 5 star territory, however, Shout has seen fit to cram this disc with as much extra content as they could possibly put together. The disc is rounded out by interview an interview with the films art director called Designing Dystopia! A Detailed Look at the Film's Art Direction and Car Design. There is also an interview with Ib Melchior author of The Racer, an interview with the composer for Death Race 2000 Paul Chihara, and a final interview with the films costume designer Jane Ruhm, who discusses the effect of the low budget on her designs for the film. Finally, there is the original theatrical trailer for the film and a version with John Landis' commentary taken from the fantastic TrailersFromHell.com.
One of the greatest cult movies of all-time, in the greatest possible package available. The only thing I could suggest is picking up the Blu-ray if you have a BD player handy, if you're still on DVD, get it anyway. Death Race 2000 is one of the most fun, and action packed films Roger Corman ever produced, and it features a nearly 5 star transfer, and a slate of extras that practically rivals any Criterion release. Shout Factory's DVD of Death Race 2000 is not only highly recommended, it is a necessary addition to any cult movie fan's collection.