Death Race 2000 has morals. It has no qualms showing people being obliterated by the maniacal drivers of this cross-country race, but only if they’re older. Just when you think film will reach an all time satirical absurdity and bash the kid playing with a tire in the middle of the street, the car swerves, costing driver Frankenstein (David Carradine) countless points.
Then again, maybe it’s not so much morals as it is a safe zone, ensuring audiences will understand the satire, and not see the film as some low-budget shocker. While it may proudly display that senior citizens are worth 100 points each during the rule explanation, they are avoided on euthanasia day (!), taking out the young doctors and nurses instead.
Death Race does exist to shock, sure. This is a Roger Corman release, the king of the quick buck, and surely what was then extravagant gore drew some ire from movie audiences (and concerned parents when the video game was releases). Controversy sells after all, as does our lust for violence, a bit of an odd point for the film to make when it’s reveling in its own depravity.
In-between its flourishes of hectic racing and bloodshed, the thought behind Death Race elevates it, society now heavily controlled and our leader is simply named “Mr. President” (Sandy McCallum). The flag has been changed to a red and gold standard, a fist replacing the stars in a show of aggression.
There is a layer of rebellion within society, a small group seeking to stop the race and its inhumane nature, and hopefully end the career of the gloriously overdone announcer played by Don Steele. He loves Death Race more than any of the screaming fans, or even the genius who decides he is a matador when challenging one of the cars.
Death Race ends on a positive note, the race forever abolished and the president defeated. However, it’s never very clear whether or not the problems of society are taken care of at their core, Frankenstein wiping out one last person, and if you cheer, are you missing the point of the movie?
The general perception of this Shout Factory release is positive, a clean, simple grain structure well resolved by this AVC encode. Colors, from Don Steele’s extravagant scarf in the opening of the film to the wildly overdone red blood, are pleasantly saturated, and give the film a new lease on life. Frankenstein’s deep green lizard-like paint on his car is wonderful.
As a low budget effort from the mid-70s, there is an inherent softness, the undoubtedly cheap film stock not holding up well over the years. While there’s not much going on in the mid-range, up close there is some notable high-fidelity detail, a series of them at 38-minutes of Frankenstein and Annie (Simone Griffith) especially notable.
Without much of an assist from the black levels, much of the film remains gray. The closest to true black in the entire movie is Frankenstein’s leather track suit, and even that never reaches any level of depth. As a result, dimensionality suffers, leaving the entire transfer bland and lackluster.
Print damage on what is listed as an interpositive film element, the source of this transfer, ranges from barely noticeable specks and minute scratches to severe deterioration. At 46:50, while the child is pushing the wheel down the road, a blue swatch of damage spreads across the frame, turning into a thick layer of blue circles before fading out (and never seen again). That’s the worst case, a one-off error in an otherwise clean source.
Any attention paid to the video was apparently not given to the audio, this Blu-ray saddled with a meager compressed Dolby Digital 2.0 mono effort. Problems are evident from the beginning, the engines revving over the credits sequence terribly distorted and flat. This continues for the rest of the feature.
Dialogue carries that same muffled, meager quality, understood when the characters are driving. Nothing here was ever dubbed over. At a stand still, Stallone is even harder to understand than he usually is, the slightly scratchy quality certainly not helped by any additional compression.
The score, mostly electronic, suffers much the same fate. While it’s maintained amidst the heavy action, clarity is at a premium. Out of all the elements, the score fares the best, although that’s not saying much, especially since the explosions are so ragged too.
Two commentaries begin the excellent set of extras, the first with Roger Corman and Mary Woronov, the second with assistant director Lewis Teague and editor Tina Hirsch. Playing the Game is the base featurette, an 11-minute look at the idea and creation of the film. A snippet of a Leonard Maltin interview with Corman runs nearly six minutes, and another piece by another interviewer is pulled from a 2008 David Carradine interview.
A series of four featurettes focus on different aspects of the film, including the look, the cars, the music, and the costumes. On average, they run about 12-minutes each. A trailer, which includes a commentary from Maltin, is next, followed by some stills.