Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Hunger Games, Roger Corman Style: Death Race 2000

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2012 at 4:21 PM

Tonight and tomorrow night only, The Belcourt is showing Alex Stapleton's documentary Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, a tribute to indefatigable exploitation pioneer Roger Corman — the brainy schlockmeister whose fast-and-cheap mandate and willingness to gamble on new talent gave invaluable early boosts to the likes of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Joe Dante, Ron Howard, Jack Nicholson and Peter Bogdanovich (many of whom turn up in the film).

One Corman classic due for a second look these days is 1975's Death Race 2000, directed by Paul Bartel from a script by Robert Thom and Charles B. Griffith, three of the funniest and most subversive talents in Corman's stable. The movie's getting renewed attention right now as an ancestor of The Hunger Games, thanks to its plot about a government-sponsored televised tontine in which costumed race-car drivers slaughter pedestrians (and each other) for points.

But the similarities may extend beyond the plot. Back in the day, Bartel and company delivered so successfully on Corman's edict to produce fast, violent junk entertainment that the movie's satirical elements whizzed past pundits and consumers alike without so much as a skidmark. In the year of Jaws and Mandingo, it was the barbed nihilism of Bartel's black comedy that drew denunciations of a new low in movie mayhem.

As the meme of the moment shows, Suzanne Collins' novel worked so well as a ripping adventure that some of its sharper edges (specifically about the powers that be keeping races among the underclass at each other's throats) glided below many readers' notice. As Margaret Renkl was saying recently, it's to Collins' credit that her most scathing ideas — think about Katniss' "presentation" in terms of what it says about her choices and status as a woman — are never stated bluntly. And it's to Death Race 2000's credit that it manages to be both the trashy thrill ride Corman demanded and the souped-up satire Bartel delivered.

Below: a trailer offering a glimpse of Corman's WorldDeath Race 2000 included.

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