The highly popular and brutally violent Transcontinental Road Race was to have its 20th run, having existed for as long as the Roman Empire-like totalitarian regime that sponsored it after the collapse of the U.S. as we knew it. The machines built with speed and lethality for everyone outside the cockpit -particularly pedestrians, whose deaths tallied up as points- paled in comparison to the characters behind the wheel. Behind the scenes, we have a rag tag bunch of rebels doing their best to sabotage the race and ultimately the regime. The main character is Frankenstein (David Carradine), a masked and rough character winner/survivor of previous races, at the cost of many of his original body parts. He’s considered a national hero and also a friend of the deified Mr. President (Sandy McCallum). This makes him a far more significant target to the rebels. To get close to him, one of the rebels, Annie Paine (Simone Griffeth), relative of the rebels’ leader Thomasina Paine (Harriet Medin), becomes Frankenstein’s latest co-pilot.
During the race, we see Frankenstein’s behavior to be far more benevolent than other racers, choosing not to kill easy and points-rich targets like the elderly. Meanwhile, in the lust for points, one driver got blown to bits by a rebel trap. The government did its best to cover it up, despite that more attacks were made and even a rebel-made nationwide broadcast was aired. During a rest stop, after planting some seeds of discord between his biggest rival’s team, we see that Frankenstein’s body was not a collection of grafted body parts, but a healthy human being hiding behind a mask and cape.
While Frankenstein figured out Annie’s true objectives after a bodged rebel trap, he continued the race with her. The last failed rebel attempt (involving an airplane!) and the death of someone close to Annie finally prompted both of them to be truly open with each other: Frankenstein was just an image promoted by the government; if he dies, another trained driver will take his place. But this Frankenstein also had remorse towards Mr. President, having a hidden hand grenade just for him when he wins the race and shakes Mr. President’s hand.
During the entire race, one of the biggest thorn on Frankenstein’s side was “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone, who for some reason was given top billing in foreign-market movie posters, making him look like a hero), a violent man-child that has always been jealous of Frankenstein’s popularity despite his own gruesome achievements. Having been tricked by Annie in one rest stop and beaten up in a fight by Frankenstein in another have pushed Joe too far. During their duel near the end, Annie was forced to use Frankenstein’s hand grenade against Joe. Having exhausted that possibility, Annie and Frankenstein pull the ol’ switcheroo on Mr. President after crossing the finish line and winning the Transcontinental Road Race (well, everyone else was blown to bits). The plan would’ve worked if Thomasina Paine herself didn’t unknowingly shoot her own kin. Noticing how things weren’t working out, Frankenstein gets back into the driver’s seat and rams the stage where Mr. President was, killing him.
Fast forward to Frankenstein and Annie getting married. Frankenstein is now the President and he seems to get things back to how they were. A reporter/announcer took serious issue to the abolition of the Transcontinental Road Race. Not letting up and not moving out of his way, Frankenstein runs him over to the cheers of the crowd.
I’ve been aware of the cult carsploitation film Death Race 2000 for years, even a little before the recent movies inspired by it, but it was very recently that I decided to watch it. The main reason for my hesitation was that I found the whole “murdering for points” angle unsettling, even with the graphic effects being 42 years old (“dated” special effects don’t throw me off from submerging myself into old movies like some people are cursed to be). I do believe that there is a point where films can get too violent, like in Death Wish 3, and it would quickly stop being, for lack of a better word, entertaining. Much to my surprise, it all worked. It also helps that the movie isn’t too long, barely 1 hour 10 minutes, another surprise.
Aside from violence, the movie is rife with black humor (ex. the “Mercy Hospital” staff being mowed down instead of the wheelchair-bound people they set up) and satire (ex. making a spectacle of everything, like the interview with the first road race victim’s wife in a talk show). By taking this direction instead of a more somber note (like Logan’s Run), this little B-movie’s amount of violence and under-budget feel works (hat tip to Nerdist.com for pointing this out). There’s nudity as well. Just sayin’.
The ending wasn’t in my opinion the best, but not the worst. It doesn’t end abruptly or tragically like other 1970s cult-car movies (*glares with disdain at Dirty Mary & Crazy Larry*). Like many movies (ex. Rollerball), we’re left with a few clues as to what happened in the past that led to the state of affairs portrayed in the movie (energy crises, a period detail seen as ‘70s as the Pet Rock, but a reality that was no joke in the world of the 1970s). No details were given on how Frankenstein ended up being the President. Even with the abolition of the Transcontinental Road Race and all that it stood for didn’t stop Frankenstein from running over one of the most annoying characters in the movie. It’s contradictive behavior but… well… baby steps, right?
Opening pic: http://www.badazzmofo.com