Death Race 2000
1998 Amazon
No doubt about it, Death Race 2000 is one of the greatest B-movies ever made. A crown jewel in the career of B-movie king Roger Corman, it's a sublime example of exploitative filmmaking from a time when Corman's low-budget quickies were about to be swept aside by the blockbuster success of Jaws and Star Wars, and all of its outrageous ingredients combined to create a schlock-movie masterpiece. Liberally infused with director Paul Bartel's macabre sense of humor, Corman's mandatory formula for success (R-rated violence and nudity, served up at least once every 15 minutes) is zanily applied to a near-future scenario (similar to Rollerball, also released in 1975) in which a fascist empire appeases its oppressed citizens with "Death Race 2000," an automotive spectacle in which five costumed racers drive wacky race cars cross-country from New York to "New Los Angeles," scoring points with hit-and-run killings awarded on a sliding scale, with highest points for hitting children and the elderly! In addition to "Calamity Jane" (played by former Andy Warhol acolyte Mary Woronov), "Matilda the Hun" (Roberta Collins), and "Nero the Hero" (Martin Kove), the hottest contestants are "Machine Gun" Joe Viturbo (Sylvester Stallone, on the verge of Rocky stardom) and the reigning champion "Frankenstein" (David Carradine), whose "Death Race" prowess has reached near-mythic proportions.

Filmed for $300,000 on desert-road and freeway locations throughout California's San Fernando Valley, Death Race 2000 packs more entertainment into 78 minutes than most movies can muster in two hours or more. Although it originated as a serious short story by Ib Melchior (best known as the writer-director of The Angry Red Planet), Corman took a cue from Dr. Strangelove and gave the material a satirical spin, resulting in non-graphic road-kills that are more hilarious than horrific, especially with the play-by-play race commentary by legendary disc jockey "The Real Don Steele," whose priceless performance (along with Carradine's deadpan drollery) turns Death Race 2000 into a low-comedy classic. The deadly car bodies were designed by Dean Jeffries (who also customized the "Monkeemobile") and fitted onto Volkswagen chassis, and Bartel's ingenious use of a meager budget epitomized the Corman aesthetic, reaping impressive box-office profits on its way to becoming one of the most beloved cult classics of all time. --Jeff Shannon Tags