Film Review: Death Race 2000 (1975)

Also known as: Frankensteins Todesrennen (Austria)
Release Date: April 27th, 1975
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Robert Thom, Charles Griffith
Based on: The Racer by Ib Melchior
Music by: Paul Chihara
Cast: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Sand McCallum, Louisa Moritz, Don Steele, Mary Woronov, Roberta Collins, Martin Kove, Joyce Jameson, Paul Bartel

New World Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“As the cars roar into Pennsylvania, the cradle of liberty, it seems apparent that our citizens are staying off the streets, which may make scoring particularly difficult, even with this year’s rule changes. To recap those revisions: women are still worth 10 points more than men in all age brackets, but teenagers now rack up 40 points, and toddlers under 12 now rate a big 70 points. The big score: anyone, any sex, over 75 years old has been upped to 100 points.” – Harold

When Roger Corman stepped away from directing to start New World Pictures, it really opened the door for young filmmakers to usher in a new era of outside-the-box indie pictures. Paul Bartel was one of the premier guys to come out of the Corman camp and while he made a few really good films, none of them had as big of an impact on me as the super stylish and insane Death Race 2000.

The film is about a transcontinental race from New York City to Los Angeles, a race where the drivers earn points for killing human targets. The more offensive the target, the higher the points. So babies and old people are prime meat for the sadistic drivers and their high octane killing machines.

The movie takes place in a not-too-distant future where society has kind of evolved similar to those more modern Purge movies. America is a fascist state and this grand motor race is patriotic. Those who die, as victims of the drivers, are considered heroes and their sacrifices usually come with rewards for their loved ones.

Within this severely screwed up America is a group of rebels who are trying to end the race and overthrow the sick and twisted president in an effort to reestablish an America that is closer to what the Founding Fathers fought for. There is a lot of political and social commentary sprinkled in throughout the film and it almost exists as a response to the American government’s expansion into the world and its quest for occupation and control. It makes sense that this was made at the tail end of the Vietnam War.

The film stars David Carradine as Frankenstein, the most elite of all the racers. He is a literal living legend but he has his own ideas on the race and his government’s politics, which play out subtly as the film progresses, leading to a big rebellious crescendo at the end.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by a very young Sylvester Stallone, who was a year away from Rocky fame, as well as Paul Bartel’s favorite collaborator, Mary Woronov. We also get Roberta Collins, who spent a large part of her career in exploitation films, a young Martin Kove, a decade before becoming the iconic John Kreese from The Karate Kid films, Joyce Jameson, who was a part of a lot of Corman’s ’60s horror productions, Don Steele, a charismatic and over the top shock jock from the ’70s, as well as two beautiful ladies: Simone Griffeth and Louisa Moritz, both of whom play navigators to the two top drivers. Paul Bartel even has a small cameo as Frankenstein’s doctor when the iconic racer is first introduced in the film.

One thing that makes this picture work so well, is that it is a tongue in cheek critique on the government and society but it doesn’t beat you over the head because of how ridiculous and stylized everything in the film is. Every character is more or less a caricature, every car has some sort of bizarre and hokey gimmick and things are so over the top and goofy that you don’t find yourself buried in serious subject matter. And maybe the political statements are sort of lost in this circus of a film but the sentiment seems pretty clear, even if it’s not fine tuned enough to be specific.

Bartel would follow this up with another action car picture for Roger Corman called Cannonball. That one also starred David Carradine and is enjoyable but it doesn’t stick out in quite the same way Death Race 2000 does.

This would also spawn a horrible remake that had even worse sequels. Eventually, a true sequel to this was made called Death Race 2050. I haven’t seen that one yet but I plan to give it a watch in the very near future.

Film Review: Deathstalker III: The Warriors From Hell (1988)

Also known as: Deathstalker III: Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell (full title), Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell (alternate)
Release Date: 1988 (Mexico)
Directed by: Alfonso Corona
Written by: Howard R. Cohen
Music by: Israel Torres, Alejandro Rulfo
Cast: John Allen Nelson, Carla Herd, Thom Christopher, Terri Treas

Concorde-New Horizons, New Classics, Triana Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Potatoes are what we eat!” – Khorsa

I have never seen a Deathstalker movie that I have liked, so finding one that was featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is no surprise. And really, this is probably the worst film out of the four.

The movie starts with an evil barbarian horde pillaging a village because that’s how all these kinds of movies start. People die, a hero rises from the ashes and has to crush the evil. However, the evil is some short, scrawny, bald guy that wears giant furs and looks like the host of some swingers party that no one wants to be at. He’s like the guy that tried to bang his secretary to get revenge on his wife who is “disinterested in sex”, except the secretary wouldn’t touch him and quit her job and the dude just planted evidence to look like he had an affair because no one wants him: his wife, his secretary, the bears at the gay biker bar, no one.

The hero is no better. He spends the duration of the film’s 86 minutes trying out different accents, none of which work. He’s also just some pretty boy soap actor from Santa Barbara. All I remember from that show was the opening credits sequence, which made my Auntie Belle smile everyday like a fat kid with a coupon book to Chet’s Burger City.

Deathstalker III is just a long, awful, meaningless, mundane build up to a final showdown between a fur covered mid-life crisis having Saturn car salesman and a pretty boy trying out accents to woo ladies that would be more at home in a Chubbies advertisement than wielding a sword.

I remember actually renting this as a kid because I thought the video box art was incredibly f’n badass! That poster represents the movie in no way whatsoever. The only thing accurate about it is the swords. Yes, they exist in this movie but the hero certainly isn’t some Fabio-esque barbarian book cover model. In fact, the filmmakers should be sued by anyone that ever saw the video box on a shelf and wasted 99 cents on a lie. It’s like buying a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue with Heidi Klum on the cover, only to open it and see that all the other sexy bikini shots are of Rosie O’Donnell and Oprah Winfrey.

This is an appalling movie that must have been a cruel joke by the filmmakers involved. Even though Roger Corman is a producer, albeit uncredited, this is a blight on his name and he’s the King of B-movies.

This is a Z-movie, that’s how bad it is.

Deathstalker III: The Warriors From Hell can’t escape the clutches of the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Film Review: The Final Comedown (1972)

Also known as: Blast! (recut version)
Release Date: April, 1972 (Chicago)
Directed by: Oscar Williams
Written by: Oscar Williams
Music by: Grant Green, Wade Marcus
Cast: Billy Dee Williams, D’Urville Martin, Celia Kaye, Billy Durkin, Raymond St. Jacques

New World Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Billy Dee Williams…Badder than ever!” – tagline

The Final Comedown isn’t very good but it does approach the issue of race relations in post-Civil Rights America in an uncommon way. This isn’t just about urban blacks taking it to the man, this has a deeper philosophical subtext to it and while Billy Dee Williams expresses his character’s concerns, every chance he encounters an ear, the narrative sort of pulls the rug out from under any sort of real solution.

The white man is evil, especially with a badge or a lawmaking pen. The young white liberals in the film try to right the wrongs of their parents and ancestors but even their call for justice and equality is met with an extremely violent end.

I actually liked this film more than the average bear, based off of other reviews I’ve read. Others considered this to be too preachy and to just beat its message over your head, relentlessly. While I don’t disagree with their claims of heavy handedness, within the context of the film, it works.

I thought that Billy Dee Williams was great in this, even if he spent the last half of the film, shot up and bloody, sitting in an alley. The real superstar here was D’Urville Martin. I’ve seen Martin in just about every blaxploitation film he’s ever been a part of and this is the best he’s ever been. Usually, he is a comedic sidekick or a stylish villain type. In this film he gets dramatic and is more real than I’ve ever seen him. From a serious acting standpoint, this is the high point of his short career, as he sadly died way too young.

If you are a fan of blaxploitation pictures, this one is jam packed with action. The second half of the film is essentially a street war between youthful blacks, liberal white kids and the racist police force. It is heavy handed and unapologetic but I don’t have a problem with that. I just wish Billy Dee Williams had more to do in the second half than sitting in an alley, waiting to bleed out.

Ranking the Edgar Allan Poe Films by Roger Corman and Vincent Price

Roger Corman directed Vincent Price in a ton of films. They were regular collaborators, especially during the 1960s. And one thing they loved collaborating on was films based off of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. In fact, they made eight Poe films together.

Here they are, ranked:

1. The Haunted Palace
2. The Masque of the Red Death
3. The Raven
4. The Pit and the Pendulum
5. House of Usher
6. Tales of Terror
7. An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (TV Special)
8. The Tomb of Ligeia

Documentary Review: That Guy Dick Miller (2014)

Release Date: March 7th, 2014 (SXSW)
Directed by: Elijah Drenner
Music by: Jason Brandt
Cast: Dick Miller, Lainie Miller, Gilbert Adler, Allan Arkush, Julie Corman, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Fred Dekker, William Sadler, Robert Picardo, Ernest R. Dickerson, Corey Feldman, Robert Forster, Zach Galligan, Jonathan Haze, Jack Hill, Leonard Maltin, John Sayles, Mary Woronov

Autumn Rose Productions, End Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

If you don’t know who Dick Miller is or at least recognize his face, you were probably born after the year 2000. Even then, if you’ve ever watched a film before that time, you have most likely seen him at one point or a dozen.

Dick Miller was in everything from the 1950s through the 1990s. No, seriously, he was. Well, at least it seemed like he was in everything. The man has 180 credits to his name according to IMDb. Growing up in the ’80s, I saw him pop up a few times a year in the coolest movies of the time. The one that will always stand out the most for me was his part in Gremlins, which was the first time I remember seeing him. Every time I saw Mr. Miller after that was always a nice treat.

As I got older and went back and watched older films, especially when I found a love for Roger Corman’s pictures, I started to experience a younger and hip Dick Miller. He started his career in a lot of those early Roger Corman pictures and that association would serve him well, as all the young directors who rose to prominence, who were influenced by Corman, started hiring Miller for their films.

This documentary goes back and shows Miller’s early life, how he made the connection with Corman and how his career blossomed in unseen ways because of it. I love that it goes through his long history in films and interviews a lot of the people who were there alongside him. It also talks to the directors who hired him and have a love for his work.

Dick Miller is a guy that deserves some sort of lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the films he was a part of. He was a mainstay in Hollywood for decades and if he was in a movie it sort of legitimized it as cool. It didn’t matter when he got older either, as he took over the screen in his cameos in a lot of Joe Dante’s pictures.

That Guy Dick Miller is a pretty awesome documentary for fans who grew up watching this guy work. Even if you aren’t familiar with him, this is probably still enjoyable and will give you a solid appreciation for the man and the films he was a part of.

Film Review: She Gods of Shark Reef (1958)

Also known as: Shark Reef (alternate)
Release Date: August, 1958
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Robert Hill, Victor Stoloff
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Bill Cord, Don Durant, Lisa Montell, Jeanne Gerson

Ludwig H. Gerber Productions, American International Pictures, 63 Minutes

Review:

“Chris, Lee your brother, but he not like you.” – Mahia

This is one of two films that Roger Corman filmed over a few weeks period in Hawaii. The other movie being Thunder Over Hawaii. At least he got a free vacation out of it.

I threw this on thinking it would be some sort of awesome Tiki horror picture but there really was no horror in it. It starts as a crime thriller and turns into a Tiki adventure movie.

We have two criminals on the run that end up on a Polynesian island paradise full of hot island girls and a cranky old island lady. For some stupid reason, the young fellas want to get off the island. I mean, really? You end up in a tropical paradise with a dozen hot girls for both dudes and they can basically live with them free of charge as long as they help build a hut or a raft every once in awhile. Seems like a dream scenario to me but these criminal doofuses would rather go back to a reality where they are wanted men and the only action they’ll get is from Bruno in cell block two.

This is a bad movie, even for Roger Corman standards. I love the setting and the vibe of the picture but I’m a sucker for Tiki culture. Other than that, it has no charm and is a real dud. There isn’t even a cheesy Corman monster to make up for the quality of this movie. Some sort of actual Tiki monster would have made this infinitely more amazing.

She Gods of Shark Reef isn’t something I can recommend to anyone, even Corman fans.

All that being said, it does deserve to be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer. So what we have here is a “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

Film Review: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Also known as: Attack of the Blood Leeches (working title)
Release Date: October, 1959
Directed by: Bernard L. Kowalski
Written by: Leo Gordon
Music by: Alexander Laszlo
Cast: Ken Clark, Yvette Vickers, Jan Shepard

Balboa Productions, American International Pictures, 62 Minutes

Review:

“Who do you think your talking too? Don’t touch me? You’re my wife, I’ll touch you anytime I feel like it. Where you going? Where you going?” – Dave Walker

Here we go, another one of those late 50s classics by the Brothers Corman. Roger did not direct this and Gene did not write it but they did produce this for American International. Like a lot of their work from this era, The Giant Leeches was lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This film features giant leeches, just as the title implies. However, they are more like dudes wearing rubber octopus suits because Roger Corman doesn’t care much for that logic stuff. Realism… what’s that? Corman is all about making cool cheap creatures that clobber human beings with their might. But at least they always have a hokey charm and in this film, they vampire the crap out of people with their big sucker faces.

Ultimately, this is a poor ripoff of The Creature From the Black Lagoon. This was just one of a few of those Creature ripoffs that Corman attempted. This one feels the closest, however, due to the outdoor locations, the creatures having a cave where they take their victims, most notable the damsel at the end of the film. Also, the two heroes in diving gear are very familiar looking when comparing this film’s climax to the one in The Creature From the Black Lagoon.

Truthfully, I like these goofy Corman pictures and this one is no different. The creatures work for what this film is and at least they are more fantastical and exciting than what a giant leech would actually look like. However, if these things are supposed to be leeches, couldn’t the heroes just throw salt at them?