June 22, 2012

DEATH RACE 2000 / DEATHSPORT: Blood, Bombs & Boobies!

Being that these two films are Roger Corman quickies, It's fitting they'd included as a double-bill, much like most Corman-produced features were back in the 50s, 60s & 70s.

Starring David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Simone Griffeth, Don Steele, Mary Woronov, Fred Grandy. Directed by Paul Bartel. (1975, 79 min)

Remember a Saturday morning cartoon called Wacky Races, which featured such loony characters as Dastardly and Muttley (the dog who snickered every time his master fucked up), the Slag Brothers, Rufus Ruffcut and Penelope Pitstop, competing against each other every week in their outrageous automobiles? Death Race 2000 is just like Wacky Races, only the drivers get additional points for mowing down pedestrians. How can you not love a movie like that?

And how can you not love a movie that features Sylvester Stallone’s only intentionally funny performance as driver/gangster Machine Gun Joe Viturbo?

And how can you not love a movie in which the wife of the first hit-and-run victim is showered with game show prizes?

And how can you not love a movie in which the “treacherous French” are our biggest enemy?

And how can you not love a movie in which David Carradine plans to kill the president with a hand grenade that’s literally a hand grenade?

And how can you not love a movie that is arguably the prime inspiration for the plethora of hit-and-run video games (such as Carmageddon, Grand Theft Auto and Twisted Metal) that had parents screaming for their lawyers?

And finally, how can you not love the fact that me and my little sister (age 12 and 9) were able to see this movie this bounty of blood, boobs and bombs, simply because it was the bottom half of a double-feature (the main movie being the PG-rated Corman quickie, Crazy Mama)?

Right now, you might be saying, "What were your parents thinking?"

I guess they probably didn't know much about the movie. But still, those were the good old days, before parents were enabled to blame their own kids' maladjusted, antisocial behavior on everyone other than themselves.

I guess this makes me an 'old school' parent today, because I still believe I'm the one most qualified to determine what my own children are ready to watch or play, and don't rely on others to make that determination for me. I've let my 8-year-old watch zombie movies, as well as the whole Final Destination series, because I know my own kid well enough to make a informed decision regarding what she's ready to watch. Fancy that.

If you are a parent, and you disagree with me, then you really need to ask yourself how well you know your own kid.

As for the sleazy 70’s relic, Death Race 2000...I’ve tried to get both of my kids to watch it, but both of them grew bored within a few minutes...too fake, too cheap looking and worst of all, too 70s.

Starring David Carradine, Claudia Jennings, Richard Lynch. Directed by Allan Arkush. (1978, 82 min)

Except for the fact that it also stars David Carradine and is produced by Roger Corman, this isn’t really a sequel to Death Race 2000. That’s too bad, because DR2K, even though intended to be just a Rollerball knock-off, made the most of its low budget and ended up being a lot of hilarious, disreputable, tongue-in-cheek fun. Who wouldn’t want a sequel?

I don’t know what went wrong over at New World Pictures (the studio which released both films), but I do remember that, at one time, Deathsport originally was supposed to be a direct sequel. This was announced during an NBC News special focusing on violence in the media, and I distinctly remember one of the producers discussing this film-in-progress, which was to be called Death Sport 2020. But someone obviously fucked up, because what ultimately came out was this idiotic, dirt-cheap sleaze-fest that had the audacity to take itself seriously.

I didn’t know that at the time, however, and was simply jazzed to see a sequel to what-was easily the most disreputable guilty pleasure I’d ever seen at the time. But alas, I was still too young, and it was not playing at the trusty Southgate, where’d I’d become quite adept at sneaking into any R-rated flick that happened to be playing.

Still, I was able to convinced a buddy of mine, Greg, into giving it a go at the Rose Moyer 6-Plex. Sort-of uncharted territory, but still within driving range for my parents.

I’d known Greg for a few years at the time, and was sort-of in awe of the guy. When my family moved into the house next to his when I started 6th grade, he obviously became a friend out of proximity. He was also a year older, pretty popular at school, and a little more worldly with the ladies (at least by middle school standards). I think it is safe to say that, if I hadn’t moved next door, we would never have sought each other out as friends...Greg was a smooth-talking, laid-back athlete, and well-liked by just-about everybody. I, on the other hand, was a bit more awkward, less athletic (even though we both played on the same soccer team for several years), more into movies than girls. I wasn’t exactly a social pariah, but Greg simply knew how to look, talk and act cool.

At the same time, when it was just the two of us, he loved playing with Legos, making silly skits with my tape recorder, drawing cartoons based on our love of MAD Magazine. In other words, despite the persona he projected to others, Greg was a kind-of a closet geek. This was the guy who made me fall in love with Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Name another 12-year-old kid who was into those guys. But all of this was in private, away from the social scrutiny of middle school, where we really didn’t interact much at all. If you were to ask Greg today, he might say differently, but my memory is that I was the friend he didn’t want to admit he had.

Anyway, we did a lot of shit together over the next few years...lots of sleepovers, lots of bike rides, lots of Lego parties, lots of trips to the Southgate Theater (where it was only through his encouragement that I got the nerve to make-out with a girl I’d never met before). In public, Greg was Dean Martin to my Jerry Lewis. He always knew the right thing to say in any social situation; I was the one who threatened to unravel everything with one dumb-ass comment.

It was Greg’s smooth demeanor got us both out of a big scrape when going to see Deathsport.
My parents dropped us off at the Rose Moyer Theater, fairly new at the time (since bulldozed to make room for a strip mall). The plan was simple...pay for a PG movie, then sneak into the R-rated Deathsport. No problem.

Then, while we were sitting there, some employee (not much older than we were), started walking down the aisle, checking theater patrons for tickets.

Fuck...they never did this at the Southgate!

I suddenly panicked, looking to my smooth-talking friend for a way out. To my surprise, he didn’t seem phased at all.

Greg, we’re about to be kicked out of the theater! How can you be so cool about it?

Butterflies welled in my gut as the usher worked his way closer. I’d snuck into movies before, but the closest I’d ever been to actually confronting authority was when I used the word ‘hell’ in a short story I wrote for an English assignment.

When the usher reached us, asking for our ticket stubs, I was ready to piss myself, especially since the guy already looked like he was ready to nail us. I opened my mouth, scrambling for something - anything - that would bail us out.

Instead, Greg looked up at him, shrugged, and said “We don’t have them anymore, but I think they were blue.”

The usher paused, glanced suspiciously at both of us, then moved on.

I’m sure I must have had the ultimate ‘WTF’ expression on my face at that time. But Greg simply looked at me, smiled and pointed to the theater floor, where two blue ticket stubs laid.

Greg didn’t even break a sweat. How cool can you get?

Too bad he didn’t come-to-bat for a better movie, because the best thing about Deathsport was the promotional poster. Unlike the good-humored DR2K, this is a serious film with even cheaper visual effects. One thing that made DR2K so fun was that it knew it was a cheap-ass picture, but made up for it with intentional humor and sheer chutzpah. Yeah, Deathsport has former Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings as a perfect female specimen, but the movie itself was never more than an awesome poster promoting a movie with a $150,000 budget. But it duped me into going, which in-turn forced Greg to tag along and utilize his verbal skills so we could watch this shit.

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