Death Race 2000

Cars Culture

In America the automobile was always an icon of liberty. And from the very earliest days of motoring the American road trip itself is a sort of sacred pilgrimage where technological progress and the freedom of the open road were celebrated. It wasn’t long until Hollywood hammered the image home and road-tripping motors nudged out covered wagons as the carriers of the flame of American self-determination. All the more powerful, then, is the Roger Corman produced exploitation epic that is Death Race 2000. Set in a dystopian millennium where a fascist global government keeps the plebs in order by the spectacle of sacrificial festivals on the coast–to-coast highway, the 1975 movie is an absurdist commentary on America’s automotive obsession and a delightful subversion of the sacred coast-to-coast trip. Featuring performances of the purist vintage of killer kitsch from David Carradine and Sly Stallone, the design and photography is garishly evocative of the comic book futurism popular in the seventies. The twisted chicks in the cast are jarringly sexy, and some of the dialogue is poetry of the campest order. And of course, there are some brilliantly stupid modded cars. In an awful promotion of national stereotypes the murderous Roman ‘Nero the Hero’ drives a machine based on a Fiat 850 Spider, whilst ‘Matilda the Hun’ rocks a Swastika helmet and a Karmann Ghia modded to resemble a doodlebug flying bomb. Star of the show David Carradine’s mutant green mean machine is under the skin of it all a 1973 Corvette. America rules, of course. Looking at the film in mixed company and with the spectre of political correctness stalking us all, the film is at times an uncomfortable watch. Best saved, then, for the late night drive-in, somewhere in Nebraska in 1976.

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