Death Race 2000 is a 1975 cult action film
directed by Paul Bartel
, and starring David Carradine
, Simone Griffeth
and Sylvester Stallone
. The film takes place in a dystopian American
society in the year 2000, where the murderous Transcontinental Road Race has become a form of national entertainment. The screenplay
is based on the short story
The Racer by Ib Melchior
Roger Corman wanted to make a futuristic action sports film to take advantage of the advance publicity of Rollerball (1975). He optioned a short story by Ib Melchior and hired Robert Thom to adapt it. Director Paul Bartel felt this was unshootable, so Charles B. Griffith rewrote it. Corman wanted Peter Fonda to play the lead but he was unavailable, so David Carradine was cast instead. Carradine was paid 10% of the film's gross - he and Ron Howard were the only stars of Roger Corman productions to ever get a percentage of the gross.
The cars in the Transcontinental Road Race each have a specific theme.
- Nero the Hero - Roman. The car, a Fiat 850 Spider resembles a lion (the historical Nero threw his enemies to the lions). Nero is the first destroyed when he runs over a booby-trapped doll planted by the Resistance, which he mistakes for a real baby. His Navigator is named Cleopatra.
- Matilda the Hun - Nazi. The car, "The Buzz-Bomb" (a modified VW Karmann-Ghia) resembles a V-1 flying bomb. She drives off a cliff while obeying a fake detour set up by the Resistance. Her navigator is 'Herman the German' Boch.
- Calamity Jane - Cowgirl. The car resembles a bull and runs over a matador. Her navigator is named Pete, who is run over by Matilda while fixing Calamity's car. Later she fights off a half-hearted attack by the resistance which is meant to drive her to a car wrecking lot where they have a landmine set to blow her up. Initially thwarting the attack and missing the landmine, Jane drives over it while escaping the area.
- Machine Gun Joe Viterbo - Gangster. The car has a mounted knife and machine guns on his car. He is the last racer to die (killed by Frankenstein's "hand grenade").
- Frankenstein - His car (a Shala Vette by Dick Dean, known as "Gator's Car") resembles a monster with red eyes, scales and teeth. He is the sole survivor of the race.
Many of the cars were re-bodied VWs and a few were sold after the film to museums for more than it cost to make them, according to Roger Corman.
The car seen in the epilogue is a Sterling Nova.
Roger Ebert gave the film zero stars in his review, deriding it as being in "poor taste, unnecessarily gratuitous in both nudity and violence."
The film, however, has long been regarded as a cult hit, and was often viewed as superior to Rollerball, made in the same year; another dystopian science fiction sports film, similarly focusing on the use of sports as an "opiate".