Smile Politely

R.I.P., Death Race‘s Frankenstein

As you probably already know, David Carradine, most notable recently as the eponymous character of the Kill Bill films, died tragically last week in his hotel in Bangkok. In honor of his memory, I finally got around to watching the cult classic Death Race 2000 (1975), starring Carradine and a young Sylvester Stallone. I’m also going to try to make it through this entire article without making a joke referencing a certain SNL skit.

Death Race 2000 is a crude B dystopic B movie from the 70s about a transcontinental race in which the superstar participants earn points by killing civilians. Carradine plays the aptly-named star driver Frankenstein, who has been in so many accidents over his career that he is mostly machine, a cyborb that, for some reason, wears only leather. (This includes a leather cape and leather briefs under his leather pants, which I can’t imagine trying to get on.) Come to think of it, he’s dressed rather like Danger Diabolik.

In the course of this race Frankenstein becomes entangled in a growing resistance movement to the autocratic U.S. government that sponsors the race and uses it as a propaganda tool for their preferred definition of the “American way of life.” Think Running Man in cars with a low budget. And like Running Man, it’s got clever enough moments but is mostly a self-consciously campy, casually gory and exploitative action film.

Along the way, the ridiculous things we’re asked to believe include citizens who would stand around on public streets on the day of nationally televised and hugely popular race whose purpose is to kill them and the lanky Carradine beating the crap out of rival Sly Stallone. The characters are based on crass stereotypes (Stallone as Italian gangster character Machine Gun Joe Viterbo), and the women in the film can’t seem to keep their shirts on. But, like any B movie worth its salt, Death Race 2000 has a good sense of humor about itself, and so does the not-entirely-convincing performance of Carradine. It’s an immensely fun film, short enough that it’s impossible to get sick of, and good for a long, hearty larf.

New Releases From the Box

Friday the 13th

I’m relatively open to remakes and especially horror remakes. The Hills Have Eyes (2006) is one of my favorite Hollywood horror films of the last several years, and Dawn of the Dead (2003) was a competent, if not remarkable, update of George Romero’s classic. So when I say that the remake of Friday the 13th is one of the worst horror films I have ever seen, don’t think it’s because I’m a snob or a purist or dismissive of horror films in general. This movie is bad. I mean, bad.

The moment I knew I would have to start drinking to make it through Friday the 13th came about five minutes through the film, when one member of a doomed quartet of teenagers looking for marijuana in the woods tells another to relax. He responds in an emphatic manner indicative of nothing but overacting, “I am relaxed! You know why I’m relaxed?! Because when we find this weed and sell it, I’m going to be rich! And do you know what rich people do?! They relax! So you relax!”

And there it began. The film moves along from that point between about four different sets, it seems, as we watch a bunch of attractive and, if they’re women, naked people get murdered by Jason in completely predictable ways, all while spouting this kind of nonsensical dialogue that’s supposed to count as banter or comic relief. You have to have a very high tolerance for bad movies to even consider enjoying any part of this film — it’s so bad that Michael Bay’s credit as Executive Producer is a blemish on his record.

Next Week on From the Box

Next week, acclaimed animated documentary Waltz with Bashir is released and reviewed and I hopefully get a chance to watch the Criterion Collection’s fancy re-release of The Seventh Seal. Are the new subtitles on Ingmar Bergman’s classic noticeably improved? Will Waltz with Bashir make me forget the image its title evokes in my head, that of the doctor from Deep Space Nine dancing? Find out next week on From the Box.

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