Friday, March 21, 2008

My favorite schlocky movie

A number of you have asked what is my favorite schlocky movie? That would have to be the Roger Corman 1975 masterpiece, DEATH RACE 2000. It's your typical low budget exploitation science fiction apocalyptic violent cross country auto race romp. The tagline:

IN THE YEAR 2000 HIT AND RUN DRIVING IS NO LONGER A FELONY. IT'S A NATIONAL SPORT!

I have to love a movie where the Real Don Steele's name is on the one-sheet but Sylvester Stallone's is not. (The above poster hangs in my office.)

The delightful confection of a story is that there is a cross country race in modified Batmobiles and the drivers get additional points for running down pedestrians. (Hey, don't laugh. It's still a better premise than the last RAMBO.)

Here is a sample.

Warning: Not for the squeamish -- and by that I mean anyone who can't bear to watch really bad cheesy special effects.

26 comments:

Megalion said...

Isn't that Grand Theft Auto?

jbryant said...

Cool movie, but I never understood why the easiest targets (toddlers, old folks) were worth the most points.

As you may know, the remake is coming to theatres this September. On the plus side, it's got Jason Statham, Joan Allen and Ian McShane, but I'm guessing the old school "charm" of the original will be obliterated by CGI. But one never knows.

Grant said...

Megalion: Funny you should say that. There was a video game inspired by the movie where you could run over stick figures. And it was controversial at the time. Looking at the graphics over on wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_Race ) , I find it hard to believe there were serious protests. The more things change, the more they stay the same I guess.

Jake said...

Not for the squeamish you say. Looks like this is one film I will not be watching.

Griff said...

Ken: The one-sheet image displayed on your page clearly features Stallone's name -- every original release poster I've ever seen for the picture gives at least some billing to Sly (as well as The Real Don Steele). [When Corman reissued the film after Stallone's success with ROCKY, the name was given a bit more prominence, of course.]

While Roger Corman is the producer of DEATH RACE (and for that matter, Corman also then owned the studio, New World Pictures), I would respectfully point out that much of the film's wacky attitude and offbeat-even-for-1975 humor derives from the contributions of co-screenwriter Charles B. Griffith (author of the original LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) and director Paul Bartel.

Part of the idea behind the film was to compete with/complement/rip-off the concept of the sports-as-violent-metaphor ROLLERBALL, an ambitious Summer '75 release. It fared pretty well at this, becoming New World's biggest hit to that time, and Norman Jewison couldn't have been pleased when a number of reviews of his leaden ROLLERBALL cited (and praised) the loopy DEATH RACE as superior discourse on the metaphor.

I can't imagine watching ROLLERBALL again, but I do own a disc of DEATH RACE 2000.

Teddy said...

Thanks for the reminder of this excellent schlockfest, Ken. I remember, as a kid in the late 70s, when our family got HBO. Death Race was one of the few movies that played. I watched it over and over again. When my mom wasn't home, that is.

Joshua James said...

Love that film (I'd heard folks have be trying to remake it for a long time) . . . and how can you hate a movie with Fred Grandy and Sly Stallone and David Carridine?

Love it.

A. Buck Short said...

Mr. L:
Say what you will about Corman / Stallone, I try to never ever miss a Joyce Jameson picture. I also found the Death Race script far ahead of its time in predicting the impossibility of completing a local TV newscast without at least once employing the word “toddler.”

That said, what’s going on here? You know the rules. There are already 7 comments, and not one has been about, uh….me. So here goes.

Hard as it may be to believe, I’ve never seen any of the Cannonball Run cross country auto race pics, much less the original Cannonball (starring 2 Carradines, no waiting). But at one point, we did know Larry and Freddy Opert, the owners of a New Jersey Formula 1 race car dealership, who drove in the second of the Cannonball Baker Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Dashes, that were the bases for Brock Yates’ Car and Driver articles and the subsequent series of films.

I don’t know about the movies, but hearing accounts of the actual race years before the films came out – and I think even before the magazine coverage – had us not only rolling on the floor but incredulous. It never occurred to me that you could whiz across country, accumulating speeding ticket after speeding ticket, and the authorities just let you keep on going.

Larry’s team came in 3rd, in a Cadillac DeVille sedan, completing the trip from New York to some motel in Redondo Beach in something like only 36 or 37 hrs. – less than an hr. behind pro drivers Brock Yates and Dan Gurney in their Ferrari. The funniest part was the vehicle Larry and his partner were driving got into the race by answering an ad from a gentleman needing to pay a driver to deliver his new Cadillac from NYC to LA. To avoid suspicion, they had to sit on their butts in LA for two extra days before turning the car in.

I can’t remember most of the stories, but bits and pieces included a couple of guys named Kovaleski and Nimceski demanding the “pole” position and an RV motorhome finishing in less than two-and-a-half days. Also a group in a van who had counted on not having to stop for gas arrested for illegally transporting fuel across state lines without a permit, and another team that wouldn’t have been stopped at all if one hadn’t mistakenly assumed the other had paid the clerk at a Gas ‘n Go.

a. buck short said...

And, hey MCEWAN , regarding you apologia yesterday to Charity/Lost (and what a name for a series that would be),this from the Samaritan Sarcasm Hotline:

In the words of the late great George Miller upon hearing the AAA (asian-american- anchor) close her newscast with, "Goodnight, I'm Sasha Foo."
"Awwwwww, don't be so hard on yourself."

Seonaid said...

The video got ganked. :-(

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, the "present" my gal at the time took me to for my 18th birthday. She was younger, but looked older. I think she enjoyed the movie more than I did. She eventually became a martial artist. I became a writer. It truly was a turning point.

As sick as it was, I have to believe even the Pope would cheer when the announcer finally ... well, you have to see it.

Thanks for the memory.

charity said...

OT: yeah, a buck short - silly me, i only come here and read what i want, including comments. i didn't know memorization was part of the deal, especially when it comes to reading all posts in regard to "lost" - which i don't watch, so naturally i'd read every single post here in regard to it. uh. no.

but, one question: is this a club? do we have to know ken personally in order to comment, or do we just have to comment that we know ken personally? i really don't join clubs, but, if you guys have a funny handshake, i'm in.

a. buck short said...

I try to check in maybe twice a day, and so far they haven't seen me coming. Most of us know the funny hand shake, and if half of us don't stop using it so frequently, they say we'll go blind. :)

KEN LEVINE said...

No, you don't have to know me personally to lob in comments. Everyone is welcome.

But someday I would like to meet all of you.

John said...

The charm of this movie -- and of most of Corman's movies in general -- is that they didn't take themselves too seriously. They knew their market and didn't try to do anything more than entertain the audience that also got the gag.

My fear is the remake is going either go too far in the obligiatory "message about where our society is headed" direction -- shoehorning it into the plot with no subtilty whatsoever, so that the people involved can say they're doing more than just exploiting sick humor -- or they're going to decide that what the original really, really needed was a ton more fart, piss, barf and poop jokes, because that's what all audiences today demand in their broad comedies (in lieu of actually writing a coherent story for the audience).

Hope it turns out better than that, but if they can't duplicate the Corman style, I won't be surprised.

Anonymous said...

*sigh*

They don't do movie posters like that anymore....



*sigh*

Mary Woronov...

Jeff said...

Mine's in the same genre, with less gore: "Gumball Rally," a cross-country racing movie starring Michael Sarazin, Tim McIntyre and Raul Julia. Great, great stuff.

Paul Duca said...

And as THE GUMBALL RALLY was from a major studio (Warner Bros.) it had Casey Kasem.

"Would you say that Lapchik has a certain joi de vivre?"I'd say he's possessed of a severe case of masochism"

Brock said...

AHHHH@!!!!

BEST MOVIE EVER!!!!

John Pearley Huffman said...

Writing about car movies has become the backbone of my career. Which, of course, leads my mother to worry about my career every day.

It's scary to see how many people have twisted love affairs with this film -- all very similar to my own. Death Race 2000 was the first film I ever saw where I actually understood that what was being presented was satire. And since I watch this movie at least once a year, I'm always shocked at how well it holds up as satire. And, of course, I love the gore.

I visited the set of the upcoming Death Race remake in Canada last year and while I'm bound by a press embargo, I can say that it's very different than Paul Bartel's original. I just hope it can be 1/10th as much ludicrous fun.

TCinLA said...

May I present "The Terror Within", (1989) Roger Corman's biggest financial success ever, with a 600-print national theatrical release, and good reviews from "real" reviewers for your consideration? It even beat "Rainman" in three suburban shopping malls on its opening weekend on a per-screening average. (which was supposed to be its total "theatrical release")

It's also proof that William Goldman was right when he said that the three rules of Hollywood are "Nobody. Knows. Anything." It started life as a way to amortize the cost of a set over two pictures, turned into something a bit more when Roger found at that year's AFM that he couldn't sell a no-name/no-budget picture, so he upped the budget by a factor of six every place it wasn't nailed down (which was guess where?). It was shot on the 18 hottest days of the year in Roger's non-air-conditioned, non-soundproofed studio over by Gold's Gym in Venice.

Hey, even the Academy of Science Fiction and Horror Films (the geekiest filmgeek society in El Lay) liked it. One of the "real" reviewers even commended it for its "underlying pro-choice message."

Those in El Lay can find it at Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee (if you don't know what that is, consider yourself culturally uneducated and deprived). It even shows up on the Sciffy Channel on their "Cult Classics" shows.

And in a 30 year screenwriting career, it's the only thing I wrote that got made that I will plead guilty to in public, since it's the only movie I ever wrote where everything you see on-screen was "on the page."

Of course, the nicest part of the movie was that at that year's Christmas Party, Roger upped the screenplay price by a factor of six, it having proven itself to be "the little movie that could."

Mike Bell said...

I miss The Real Don Steele.

Mike Bell said...

P.S. to a. Buck Short...

As I typed the above comment, our local morning newscaster just said "toddler."

Anonymous said...

In 1979 I was in the 7th grade. Death Race 2000 was shown at our end-of-year class assembly. I'm not sure what movie the powers-that-be in the principal's office THOUGHT they'd ordered -- something with Herbie, maybe? -- but since none of them stuck around to watch the movie, none of them ever found out what their 11 and 12 year old charges were watching, open-mouthed... I will always remember this movie fondly, whether it deserves it or not.

Anonymous said...

Ironically, Megalion, there was a movie called "Grand Theft Auto" starring and directed by Ron Howard in 1977 (a type of road comedy, but you got to hear Richie/Opie say "Damn") .. Anyway, that movie ALSO featured Don Steele as a radio DJ.

Small world.

Dave said...

"Death Race 2000" - perhaps the goriest movie ever to feature a member of Congress (Rep. Fred Grandy) AND The Real Don Steele.

"Tina Delgado is alive.... alive... whoops, I take that back...."