Film Review: Death Race 2050 (2017)

Release Date: January 9th, 2017 (Turkey premiere)
Directed by: G. J. Echternkamp
Written by: G. J. Echternkamp, Matt Yamashita
Based on: Death Race 2000 by Robert Thom, Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Gunter Brown, Cindy Brown
Cast: Manu Bennett, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller, Burt Grinstead, Folake Olowofoyeku, Anessa Ramsey, Yancy Butler

Universal 1440 Entertainment, New Horizons Pictures, Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Europe, Asia, cancer; we kicked ’em all in the ass! The only thing that can kill an American is another American!” – The Chairman

There is a drastic difference of opinion on this film based off of critics and non-critics. The film has a 3.7 out of 10 on IMDb yet it has 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. According to Google, however, 55 percent of people have said they like this movie.

I think that the really low rating on IMDb is due to the fact that the average person doesn’t understand the context of this film and what it is supposed to be. Looking at it at face value with no knowledge of its lineage probably makes it too confusing, zany and bizarre to make a whole lot of sense. And I don’t think that this film should have to rely on knowledge of its source material to work, it should be able to stand on its own. But since I do know the source material very well, I see this much more positively than the average bear. I think that the professional critical consensus is high because the critics understand what this is.

The point is, this is supposed to be cheap looking, insane, shoddy and really f’n weird. It is both a remake and an homage to the 1975 film Death Race 2000. This was made to be a more accurate remake to the original film than that awful Jason Statham movie was, which itself birthed some awful sequels.

I was initially unsure of what this was because going into it, I didn’t know whether or not it was a sequel, a remake or what. But it is a remake that is updated to take in some things that reflect how technology has evolved since the 1975 original. There are now VR experiences, camera drones, a drone car and a bunch of other new stuff. Still, this is as true to the original as you can get.

But maybe it is too true and that sort of hurts this film. It takes some liberties here and there but it is generally the same film and since it isn’t anywhere near as good as the cult classic Death Race 2000, it almost makes this film’s existence kind of pointless. I think it would have been better to actually just go with a straight up sequel.

I did like the cast for the most part. It is hard to replace the great cast of the original, which boasted the talents of David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Martin Kove and Mary Woronov. However, Manu Bennett played Frankenstein in this film and I loved him as Deathstroke on CW’s Arrow. Malcolm McDowell plays the Chairman, who is essentially the President. The rest of the cast is made up of virtual unknowns but Anessa Ramsey stole every scene she was in as Tammy the Terrorist. Additionally, I love, love, loved the character of Minerva, played by Folake Olowofoyeku.

Death Race 2050 was a good homage to Death Race 2000 and it was fun for fans of the original but without any knowledge of that 1975 film, I could see where this would just baffle and confuse people. It isn’t the type of film that works nowadays and the political and social commentary would just be over the heads of most.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000 and some of the modern grindhouse revival films: Turbo KidHobo with a ShotgunKung Fury, etc.

Film Review: Chopping Mall (1986)

Also known as: Killbots (Belgium/original US theatrical title), Robot Assassins (Spain), Shopping (France/West Germany), Supermarket Horror (Italy), Terror In Park Plaza (Portugal), R.O.B.O.T. (working title)
Release Date: March 21st, 1986
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Jim Wynorski, Steve Mitchell
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, John Terlesky, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Suzee Slater, Nick Segal, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Dick Miller, Gerrit Graham

Concorde Pictures, 77 Minutes, 95 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Let’s send these fuckers a Rambo-gram.” – Rick

Chopping Mall is an unknown film that has grown a good cult following over the years. I saw it on VHS but not until the early ’90s. I’m not sure if it was readily available or distributed in the mid-’80s when it was originally released. It certainly didn’t play in a theater or drive-in near me because Southwest Florida in the ’80s was devoid of any real culture. Well, it still mostly is, thirty years later.

One cool thing about Chopping Mall is that its opening scene stars Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov as the Blands from Bartel’s 1982 movie Eating Raoul. It makes this a sort of crossover film. But then, Dick Miller also pops up as one of the many Walter Paisleys he’s played over the years. In any event, this had a lot of nods to the Roger Corman camp of talent but since his wife Julie was the producer, that makes sense.

The film also has a small role for Gerrit Graham, who popped up in horror movies a lot in the ’80s and ’90s. He even played the husband of Mary Woronov in TerrorVision. And then you also have Barbara Crampton of Re-Animator fame, as well as Kelli Maroney from Night of the Comet.

The premise of this film sees a bunch teens decide to camp out in the local mall overnight, as some of them work at the furniture store where there are beds. You know, so the teens can do that sex stuff that always sets off the monsters in an ’80s splatter picture. What the teens don’t know is that the mall has three robot security guards who have gone on the fritz. This is like Short Circuit if there were three Johnny 5s and they all had a thirst for teenage blood.

This is a really short film but it is full of action, solid practical effects, cheesy non-practical effects, bad acting, hokey ’80s dialogue and breasts. There is also a fantastic head explosion that is Scanners level awesome.

I love Chopping Mall and even though it has that cult following I mentioned, most people have no idea that this crazy gem of a movie even exists.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Night of the CometTerrorVisionThe StuffNight of the Creeps

Film Review: Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

Release Date: February 10th, 1957
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Richard Garland, Pamela Duncan, Russell Johnson

Allied Artists, 62 Minutes

Review:

“You are about to land in a lonely zone of terror… on an uncharted atoll in the Pacific! You are part of The Second Scientific Expedition dispatched to this mysterious bit of Coral reef and volcanic rock. The first group has disappeared without a trace! Your job is to find out why! There have been rumors about this strange atoll… frightening rumors about happenings way out beyond the laws of nature…” – opening crawl

Readers of Cinespiria know that I am a big fan of Roger Corman and his work. He made his mark in Hollywood in spite of the big studio system trying to strong arm independent filmmakers for years. He bucked that system, found a way to produce films quickly and cheaply and even if they aren’t of the quality of what are considered classic masterpieces, they are certainly a lot more fun than most of the Oscar winners of that era.

Attack of the Crab Monsters is a short, quickie shot for $70,000 with a script by regular Corman collaborator Charles B. Griffith. It was probably also shot in like a week or two because that was Corman’s modus operandi.

The film is a scant 62 minutes but it is action packed and loaded with suspense. The monster is exactly what the film’s title implies, crabs. Except these aren’t pubic lice or those little crustaceans that pinch your toes at the beach. No… these are giant, massive crabs that have superior intelligence! They also have the ability to speak telepathically using the voices of their victims. So this leads to some clever crab trickery in trapping some unsuspecting hero, trying to save a missing comrade. C’mon, how is this movie not friggin’ awesome?! How?!

Attack of the Crab Monsters is a stupid but fun movie. Sure, early bits are slow, like when people aren’t getting attacked by giant psychic crabs, but the good bits make up for the slower pace that exists before the monsters make their presence known.

This is a typical ’50s Corman picture. If you’ve seen enough of these, you know what that means. I’m actually surprised that this was never lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It would be a great film to feature on that show.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Giant Claws a.k.a. Island Claws, another giant crab movie.

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, Leslie McRae

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.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any Paul Bartel directed film but most notable Cannonball!

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).”

Rating: 1/10
Pairs well with: I guess the other Deathstalker films but this will be the worst part of the pairing.

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.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other Billy Dee Williams pictures from the era: The Take and Hit!

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