In San Francisco, they say there are only two types of pedestrians on city streets -- the quick and the dead. Death Race 2000, a 1975 drive-in mayhemmer directed by Paul Bartel for Roger Corman's New World Pictures, takes that proposition to its gag-laden extreme. In the then-impossibly-far-off year 2000, teams of drivers in outrageous hot rods make a Cannonball Run-style race across America. Along the way, they score points by killing pedestrians. King of the road is one Frankenstein (played by David Carradine, after Kung Fu and before Bound for Glory), a mute brute in S&M black leather bodysuit and mask. His main rival, apart from such contestants as Matilda the Hun and Calamity Jane, is Machine Gun Joe Viterbo, portrayed by the young Sylvester Stallone. Their duel climaxes, satisfyingly, in a fight in which Carradine batters Stallone to a pulp, but the front story is more satirical: A band of revolutionaries intent on toppling the sinister Mr. President is trying to bump off the Death Race drivers even as the drivers mow down unwary citizens. Meanwhile, calling the action is Top 40 radio DJ The Real Don Steele, his voice dripping with sadistic glee. It is to laugh, sickly.
Steve Seid, video curator at the Pacific Film Archive, where Death Race 2000 screens tonight (Wednesday, March 30, 7:30), obviously appreciates the finer points of the late Bartel's sports-show parody (Bartel made Eating Raoul), but Seid is probably more interested in it as one of the first movie-to-video-game properties. At least two early games were modeled on the film, notably a controversial 1976 product called Death Race. "It almost created the prototypical narrative for one of those games," opines Seid, "where you're driving in a desolate environment and you can knock over anyone who gets in your way." That particular game came under fire for its graphic violence, but that was 1976, and a lot of game blood has been spilled since then. Seid's "Games People Play II" series continues at the PFA with the documentary Machinima on April 6 and David Cronenberg's eXistenZ on April 20. Go to BAMPFA.berkeley.edu for more info.
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