19. Death Race 2000 (1975) / Death Race (2008)

Gratuitous boobs or gratuitous explosions?

More than nudity was lost when Death Race 2000 was remade as Death Race in 2008. The latter is nudity-free but waaay more violent. It also has a plot, which changes the viewing experience dramatically.

Death Race 2000 begins at the start of the race. Here are the cars… go. From then on almost nothing makes sense, but we at least get the rules: Contestants speed across the country running over civilians for points. The elderly and toddlers are worth the most.

Why does anyone go outside during the Death Race? This is one of many questions there’s no point asking. We get lots of breasts (racers team with navigators of the opposite sex) but zero coherent answers. The hero, Frankenstein, says he lost both his eyes, and his jaw, and his nose and his cranium. “I’m held together with patches of plastic and steel plates. It’s not a pretty site.” So… why does he look normal without his mask? When Sylvester Stallone, as Machine-Gun Joe, is having dinner, and yelling, why is creamy clam sauce all over his face and hands for the entire long scene? Ever heard of a napkin? Why is…? Why does…? You just stop asking. It’s an hour and 20 minutes of pure camp.

The remake is an hour and 40 minutes, and that extra time buys us plot, camp’s nemesis. In this flick, Frankenstein is framed for his wife’s murder, so he’ll be thrown in jail and forced to death race other inmates. Prickly A-grade tough guy Jason Statham plays Frankenstein, and he beats the absolute crap out of several prison Nazis. His car is a Mustang GT with rotary machine guns, smoke and oil, napalm, 6-inch shielding, and basically more killing power than anything in Mad Max. The production values are over the moon, with a budget of $45 million compared with Death Race 2000’s $300,000.

Money changed the whole point. The Death Race used to be about nudity and ridiculousness. Laughs, basically. Now it’s about rooting for a hero. Fuck that. If I wanted to root for a hero, I’d watch something good.

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