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Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Roger Corman tried to create a sequel to his moderately successful Death Race 2000 (’75) with Deathsport (DS) The setting was also in the dystopian post-apocalyptic future and featured gladiatorial-style combat via vehicles. This time, however, it was dirt bikes. David Carradine stars, Claudia Jennings co-stars. A dozen or so Yamaha dirt bikes, dressed up with welded aluminum faces also co-star as the over-hyped “death machines”. DS had several writers and several directors, and it shows. SEE many things explode. HEAR the stars speak in psuedo-zen aphorisms. MARVEL at mighty dirt bikes! But, be patient.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A thousand years after the neutron wars, the world is divided up into city states. Between them lies desert wastes call The Range. Kaz Oshay (Carradine) is a Range Guide — a sort of High Plains Drifer cum Jedi knight. Deneer (Jennings) is a female Range Guide. The ruler of the city state of Helix has his men capture Kaz and Deneer so he can have men on his much-vaunted Death Machines (dirt bikes) kill the Guides in gladiatorial combat. This, to prove to the people of Helix that he has a super weapon so they can win a war against another city state, Tritan. Lord Zirpola also has a brain tumor and is going off the rails. After much pointless footage, the dirt bike battle begins, but Kaz and Deneer not only prevail, they escape. Ankar Moor, Zirpola’s dressed-in-black lieutenant, purses them with still more dirt bikes. After a long chase with lots of dash-cam footage from the dirt bike’s POV, there are some battles and skirmishes. Kaz and Deneer detour to save a little girl taken by mutants. While Deneer and the girl press on to the city of Tritan, Kaz and Ankor have their much-hyped duel with glass swords. Ankor loses his head. Deneer comes to Kaz with some horses, they ride off into the sunset. The End,

Why is this movie fun?
If one is fond of seeing fireball special effects, and things blowing up, DS will be an entertaining film. Quite a few times, things blow up for no apparent good reason. The dialogue is unintentionally funny.

Cultural Connection
Nightmare to Fantasy — As lame a movie as DS is, it is still one of the early examples the shift in how the culture viewed the nuclear apocalypse. Instead of being seen as a terrible fate, the apocalypse would wipe away the old world (which prior generations controlled) and usher in a new blank slate in which the young, buff and beautiful could live idyllic lives. Fantasy notions of stone age, or medieval life could mix with technology. This proved to be a popular formula for films in the 80s (think Mad Max and variants), as the late Boomers, eary-GenXers could fantasize about romantic simplicity, yet still have their techno-toys.

Conan and the Dirt Bike — As befitting the fantasy mix of old and new, the hero (Carradine) runs around in a fur-hooded cape (for warmth?) and a loin cloth. He carries a big glass sword (a “whistler”), and gets to woo the beautiful blond in a leather bikini (and a matching glass sword). YET, he also gets to tear up the desert on a dirt bike, doing jumps and tricks AND see lots of stuff blow up. DS is a Chex Party Mix of adolescent male fantasies.

Film Fads — There must have been something in the water in the late 70s. This is the third film — almost in a row — in which there were (1) many fireball explosions filmed from multiple angles and played back numerous times, and (2) rolling rubber heads. Did someone publish a study in the mid 70s that said audiences wanted to see rubber heads rolling around? Melting Man, Fury and now DS all had rubber heads rolling around.

Fireball Fun — Roger George is credited with the pyrotechnics. He and the aluminum welder appear to have gotten the bulk of the budget. Watch for how many dirt bikes blow up and go sailing into the air. Watch for the chase through the fuel factory. It is a pointless scene as far as the plot goes, but it allows George the opportunity to burn many things and stage several explosions. The multiple oil barrels set must have been a favorite.

Weapons of Mass Indifference — Perhaps the writer and/or directors had a fascination for dirt bikes which transcended reality. How else to explain mere dirt bikes as supposedly terrifying and war-winning “Death Machines”? The dozen or so Yamaha bikes were dressed up with some welded aluminum face plates and some add-on tubes. They were overdubbed to make sounds like Imperial tie-fighters so they did not sound like a pack of angry chainsaws. But, as a terror weapon, the dirt bike fails miserably. If a rock or a patch of sand can stop your Death Machine, how terrible is it, really? Audiences were unimpressed too.

Type 2 Sequel — Roger Corman produced DS, and appears to have been trying to find out just how cheaply a film could be produced. DS is fashioned as a sequel to Death Race 2000, though not as a Type 1 sequel. The storyline or characters of DS do not continue that of DR2K. Instead, DS is a repeat of the formula in a new place, with new characters and subtle tweaks. It is another motorized sport-to-the-death imposed by a tyrant in a post-apocalyptic world.

If You Can’t Be Good, Get Naked — Corman must have seen that DS was turning out to be a milk toast film. In a flagrant attempt to boost ticket sales he inserts two scenes of full-frontal nudity. The first is with Jennings. (the torture by string lights scene). He repeats this, for little good reason, with a second young woman who dances erotically for Lord Zirpola. Corman knew his flim was no good, so his only hope was to include naked women. Even that was not sufficient to save DS.

No Third Film — Plans were, for there to be a third film in the “Death” series — DeathWorld. This third film was abandoned when DS turned out to be a box-office dud. Perhaps one could justify a third film on the grounds that it simply had to be better, but this logic may not have wooed funding.

Bottom line? DS is a very poor film. The writing is insipid. The directing testifies that all three directors did not quite know what sort of film they were making. Carradine is bland as Conan the Dirt Biker. Jennings is okay. Lynch is at least a melodramatic villain (in his Goth black with studs). There are fans of the post-apocalyptic fantasy world genre. They might be amused with DS as an early example. Other viewers may find boredom or annoyance in lieu of amusement.

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