Sometimes, when I’m not around to entertain her with my sheer awesomeness, Mekaela watches movies without me. These are usually movies I have little to no interest in, and if they end up being particularly crazy and/or dumb, I’m liable to get Puppet Recaps, as I did with Now You See Me and Machete Kills. (Okay, they’re mostly Stuffed Animal Recaps. I don’t own a lot of actual puppets, only the Wile E. Coyote one. Regardless, they’re very amusing. I’d record one for you guys sometime, if I thought my sister would let me.)
But sometimes a movie comes along that is so spectacularly insane, it cannot merely be recapped with plushy toys. It must be shared with your fellow sibling. It must be a bonding experience for the both of you. Or so Mekaela claimed when she told me I needed to watch Death Race 2000.
For my part, I argued that Touch of Evil had been sitting on our living room floor for over a week, and maybe it was time to give that a try, since there are grave, grave Battlefield Earth level of horrifying consequences if I don’t finish watching my noir films by the end of the year. Problem was, we were being super classy with our choice of chili dogs for dinner that night, and, well. You just can’t be watching some critically acclaimed, black and white film noir when you’re eating chili dogs, right? Chili dogs are a meal best accompanied by ludicrous plots, terrible fashion, and unrepentant violence.
All in all, Death Race 2000 felt like the most valid choice.
This review comes with SPOILERS. There was really no way around that.
It’s another dystopian future. In this one, the big celebrities are the drivers of a cross-country road race where each driver is awarded points for the amount of pedestrians they manage to kill along the way. But angry rebels might put an end to this (ludicrous) madness by killing off the drivers before they can cross the finish line.
1. Oh my God. Everything. Just EVERYTHING in this movie.
It’s hard to know where to begin. My poor, bewildered mind is pulling me in too many directions. I think . . . yes, I think I need to start with costuming. Never mind the women’s costumes. (We’ll get back to women in a little bit. Boy, will we.) And never mind any of the truly awful things Machine Gun Joe (Sylvester Stallone) wears. (The bright pink tie with the brown and white striped coat collar is hard to ignore, but let’s be strong, let’s persevere.)
We must discuss Mr. Frankenstein (David Carradine) and his outfit of choice.
I don’t even know what this is. It’s like bad BDSM gear. It’s like Batman meets a scuba diver. And what in seven hells does a race car driver need with a cape, anyway? It’s not like Frankenstein’s monster had a cape. In neither book nor film did the Creature ever run around in a giant black cape going, “I am the night!” Not to mention, the mask? Okay, what’s with this mask? It’s essentially a balaclava made out of what appears to be cheap plastic . . . and is, apparently, irresistible when matched with a pair of tight black undies. Seriously, Frankie’s already taken off his Mask of Sexiness, but goes ahead and puts it back on after he strips down, all like, “Wanna dance, hot stuff?”
I nearly did an actual spit-take at this scene. Mekaela totally laughed at me, the fiend.
2. But the fashion in the future is always terrible, right? We’ve seen A Clockwork Orange. We’ve seen The Road Warrior. Let’s switch gears now to talk about something else, like the women of Death Race 2000, and the rampant sexism throughout this film, sexism that is just so overtly ridiculous that I mostly couldn’t stop laughing at it. (Probably the wrong reaction, I know — but laughter seems to be my default to everything. It’s that or tears, I guess.)
See, this movie was made in the 70’s, and you know what that means: tits. So many tits. I especially like the Spa Day scene where our two topless female drivers start a cat fight on national television, about two seconds away from hair-pulling before a reporter breaks it up. Because yes. That’s absolutely something I’ve seen all the time at the local massage parlor. Girl’s locker room, too. Basically anywhere girls strip down, really, you can expect ALL the topless battles.
And then, of course, there’s this scene.
Let me just offer you a small selection of dialogue from this scene:
No.1. Fan: “My name is Lori, Mr. Frankenstein. I’m head of Chapter 7 of the St. Louis Lovers of Frankenstein. I was chosen from over a hundred girls to –”
Mr. Frankenstein: “To offer me your body? Is that it? You wanna make love to me because I drive a monster and wear this costume?”
No.1 Fan: “No, Mr. Frankenstein. That wouldn’t be fair to your navigator. It’s taken her years of hard work to earn that privilege.”
Holy. God. There just — there aren’t words.
Well. There may be words. Because, seriously, Frankenstein — that costume does not make women want to offer you their body. I normally don’t like to speak for all women, but I actually feel pretty confident on this one. The thing you are wearing is the opposite of a sexy outfit. If you’re still confused, please go back and review the previous note.
Also, I’d love to know what kind of hard work navigators do in order to earn the privilege of sleeping with their drivers. Actually, maybe I wouldn’t. The best thing I can say about this is that not all the drivers are men, so we actually get to have some women in positions of sexual dominance. (Of course, they both die. To be fair, though, almost everyone in the race does.) Believe it or not, my first reaction to the first few minutes of this film went something like this: Hey, cool, there are women in this race! Admittedly, one of them is a Nazi, but still. Feminism, yay?
And then I kept watching the movie.
In case you’re curious, Lori, Frankie’s No.1 Fan, is convinced that she knows everything about Frankenstein, like why he wants to win the race or how he’s afraid of falling in love. Her dreams have convinced her of this, see. Also, astrology. And as point of interest, Lori has not been chosen to play naked patty cake with our fearsome hero. She’s actually been chosen to stand in the street so that our fearsome hero can run over her with his car. For love, you understand. Excuse me while I go vomit.
And we still have to talk about Annie Smith (Simone Griffith).
Annie is Frankenstein’s new navigator — the one who’s earned the privilege of both giving him directions and fucking him in hotel suites. But secretly, she’s working for the rebels. Her grandmother, Thomasina Payne (a direct descendant of Thomas Payne — and don’t even get me fucking started on that), is the leader of the rebel forces, and Annie’s plan is to navigate Frankenstein into a trap where her fellow rebels will abduct him, replace him with a duplicate, and then ransom real Frankenstein to the President? Or something? I don’t know, it’s a spectacularly bad plan.
When this (totally clever) ruse shockingly fails, Frankenstein discovers that Annie is a traitor — but he doesn’t turn her in cause, you know, he has Feelings for her, apparently. She, too, is suffering from a bad case of Love Feels, though Christ knows why. (We’ll come to that.) Annie’s planning skills leave something to be desired. She has an entire night alone with Frankie, giving her a pretty decent chance to kill the guy — but instead, she uses those precious minutes on sexytimes, and only tries to murder him later by driving them both off the road. And only because the Rebels’ Great Crop Duster Assassination Attempt fails. (Oh, okay, it’s probably not actually a crop duster, but that’s what the little plane reminds me of. Because if I haven’t made it clear yet . . . these rebels are THE WORST. I scoff at you, rebels, almost as much as I scoff at the drivers who actually fall victim to your terrible ploys.)
This is my approximation of the following scene:
Annie: “It doesn’t matter what happens to me! You have to die for the good of the country!”
Frankenstein: “Actually, I only want to win the race so I can have the chance to assassinate the President.”
Annie: “But I don’t want you to die!”
You’re killing me, movie. You’re fucking KILLING ME.
3. Do you wanna know the best part about that scene? This is how Frankenstein plans to kill the President.
Yes, kids. That is a grenade built into his robotic hand. It is literally a hand grenade.
This movie is making me weep. And giggle. And then weep some more.
What makes this even better — oh yes, it gets better, this is the movie that keeps on giving — is that Frankenstein’s plan is almost as dumb as any of the ones concocted by the rebels. See, according to Frankenstein, the only person who gets to shake hands with the President is the winner of the big race, so that’s his motivation for winning — so he can suicide-bomb the bastard. The problem is — it’s completely unnecessary. We know it’s unnecessary because Annie is forced to toss Frankenstein’s hand (and attached grenade) into Machine Gun Joe’s car to keep MGJ from killing them. Without his grenade, Frankenstein is forced to improvise, and by improvise, I mean he conceals a small knife in his palm, which he could have just done in the fucking first place.
Of course, you may be thinking, Well, Carlie, if Frankenstein stabs the President, surely his goons will shoot Frankenstein dead, and it’d still be a suicide mission. A-ha, I say, that would make sense, but I think we all know by now that logic wants absolutely nothing to do with this movie. (In fact, I think logic might spit on this movie’s grave.)
Here’s how the assassination actually plays out.
Frankenstein, with tiny knife, goes to stab/shake hands with the President. Just before he can, though, he’s shot! Not by the Future Secret Service, mind you, but by Thomasina Payne, who’s standing in the audience. Thomasina, like her granddaughter, has been waffling the whole movie on whether Frankenstein is good or evil, but now that she thinks ole Frankie has killed Annie, she goes all in on killing him. Why it never seems to occur to her to just shoot the President is beyond me. Because what no one in this movie seems to understand is that you don’t need to be in kissing distance to kill a dude. The rebels could have saved a lot of time and energy if they’d just all fired on the President when he showed up to congratulate the winner.
Now, it turns out that Thomasina hasn’t shot Frankenstein at all. She’s actually shot her granddaughter, who’s dressed up in Frankenstein’s stupid costume. Why? Who cares? Nearly Naked Frankie is actually still in his car, and when Annie fails to stab the President, NNF runs his car into the stage, killing him. And what happens next?
Frankenstein becomes “Mr. President Frankenstein” and marries Annie. Because of course he does.
My brain. My BRAIN.
4. Frankenstein is clearly the hero of the piece from the very beginning, which is unfortunate because he’s also totally an asshole.
Sure, he does some nice things. Like, he chooses not to rack up a huge score by killing all the geriatric patients who have been wheeled out into the road, preferring instead to kill all the heartless nurses and doctors who purposefully left them out there for Euthanasia Day. That’s sweet, I guess. But then there’s this scene.
At the spa, Frankenstein goes up to Joe’s navigator, Myra, and pretends to hit on her, solely to piss off Joe. And hey, Joe’s an asshole. I understand the urge to try and drive the guy crazy. (Rewatching this scene, it appears that Frankenstein is doing this because Joe is talking to Frankie’s navigator, like that bit of sexism makes what’s about to happen any better.) Of course, Joe can’t handle anyone talking to his
property woman, so when she tries to stumble out an explanation, Joe smacks Myra across the face. And while Frankenstein clearly didn’t make Joe an abusive asshole, he also just as clearly knows what Joe’s reaction is going to be. But he did it anyway because turnabout is fair play? For shits and giggles? Seriously, fuck you, Mr. President Frankenstein.
5. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen Sylvester Stallone play a bad guy before. There’s probably a reason for that. Sylvester Stallone makes one of the least intimidating antagonists I’ve ever seen on film.
According to IMDb trivia, Stallone wrote some of his own dialogue. I desperately hope that includes this devastating insult: “You know Myra, some people might think you’re cute. But me, I think you’re one very large baked potato.”
I am dying to call someone a baked potato now. Dying.
6. An important question to be asked, of course, is what car you’d choose to drive if you were competing in the Death Race?
I can’t quite make up my mind between Frankenstein’s and Machine Gun Joe’s, myself. Frankenstein’s is, of course, the more artistic of the two, but there’s something to be said for the simplicity of just attaching machine guns and a giant ass bayonet to the front of your car and going.
7. Of course, the whole plot of Death Race 2000 is ludicrous. Pointing out absurdities in a film like this is kind of like going to a county fair and lamenting the lack of healthy food options. And yet . . . because I just can’t help myself . . .
7A. As a chronic pedestrian, I feel like I should have sympathy for the unsuspecting people who are mowed down by our heartless contestants . . . except that I can’t because this race is, like, a national pastime, right, it’s like the Superbowl x 1000, and I don’t understand what the fuck anyone is doing out there. The rebels, sure. I get the rebels. But the crazy matador guy? The dudes hanging up signs? The little boy ambling about on his own? The fucking construction workers? Look, if your job is forcing you to go outside on Race Day, then they clearly don’t value your life or the work you do there at ALL, and you need to quit. And if you literally cannot get another job that won’t casually offer up your life to the Gods of Entertainment, the very least you can do is not blast your music so loud that you can’t hear giant race cars hurtling down the road to run you over.
In my opinion, everyone deserves to die in this movie. Even Calamity Jane, who I actually kind of like. Even the innocent little boy who Annie can’t bring herself to run over. You know what? She should have. What are you doing, stupid child? Where are your parents? What is wrong with you people?
7B. The fight between Machine Gun Joe and Frankenstein is hysterically bad.
The novelty of seeing Sylvester Stallone get his ass handed to him is slightly marred by just how terrible these punches are. This level of stunt fighting is maybe a half step above the infamous Kirk vs Gorn fight of Star Trek fame. Also, to no one’s surprise at all, Annie stands around in the background uselessly doing nothing the entire time. *sigh*
7C. You know what Annie CAN do well? Twist her body into incredibly awkward positions for sexytimes with Frankenstein. (Can I just say, I never thought I’d actually type the words ‘sexytimes with Frankenstein’ on this blog. Life continues to be its own special little journey, doesn’t it?)
Annie’s body positioning looks so uncomfortable in this one scene that I actually stopped the movie just to see if I could actually mimic the pose. After I failed, Mekaela even gave it a go. Nothing doing. That woman is a pretzel. (It’s just not as funny as baked potato. Dammit.)
7D. The President doesn’t live in the United States anymore. (Well, not until Mr. President Frankenstein takes over. Then he moves his capital back to the US, whilst simultaneously abolishing the race and “restoring minority privilege.”) The President actually chills in some palace in China — which, in the year 2000, apparently looks like Heaven, if Our Lord God Satan succeeded in taking it over, that is.
This movie may have broken my brain, people. The things I do for your entertainment, and for my sister.
I actually had a pretty good time watching this. You know. In a horrified sort of way. I could see this becoming one of my favorite So Bad It’s Good movies. But that might only be because my brain has been — as aforementioned — totally and utterly broken.
God, so many possibilities. Revolution is good, but rebels are stupid? Stay indoors, you crazy assholes? Stupid masks are the new Italian in regards to seducing women? Don’t just blindly trust detour signs — actually look where you’re going before you turn straight over a cliff?
Watching Death Race 2000, I was like, Hey, I’ve actually seen the Robot Chicken parody of this movie . . . but I was shocked to discover that the Nazis actually went out the same way as the Duke Brothers.
So, yes. A tiny bit of common sense while you’re driving around gigantic cliffs. That’s your motto for today.