Death Race 2000  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Death Race 2000 is a 1975 American action film directed by Paul Bartel, and starring David Carradine, Simone Griffeth and Sylvester Stallone. The film takes place in a dystopian American society in the year 2000, where the murderous Transcontinental Road Race has become a form of national entertainment. The screenplay is based on the short story "The Racer" by Ib Melchior.


After the "World Crash of '79", massive civil unrest and economic ruin occurs. The United States government restructured into a totalitarian regime under martial law. To pacify the population, the government has organized the Transcontinental Road Race, where a group of drivers race across the country in their high-powered cars, infamous for violence, gore, and innocent pedestrians being struck for bonus points.

In the year 2000, the five drivers in the 20th annual race, who all adhere to professional wrestling-style personas and drive appropriately themed cars, include Frankenstein, the mysterious black-garbed champion and national hero; Machine Gun Joe, a Chicago tough-guy gangster; Calamity Jane, a cowgirl; Matilda the Hun, a neo-Nazi; and Nero the Hero, a Roman gladiator. Each drives with a navigator of the opposite sex, who also implicitly functions as a love interest. The race is covered on national TV by a news team headed by the boisterous and comical Junior Bruce, seductive matron Grace Pander, and laconic commentator Harold (a parody of Howard Cosell). The game has sadistic rules, where killing babies and physically challenged people will give the player extra points. Machine Gun Joe is the main opposition to Frankenstein.

A resistance group led by Thomasina Paine, a descendant of 1770s American Revolutionary Thomas Paine, plans to rebel against Mr. President's regime by sabotaging the race, killing most of the drivers, and taking Frankenstein hostage as leverage against the President. The group is assisted by Paine's great-granddaughter Annie, Frankenstein's latest navigator. She plans to lure him into an ambush to be replaced by a double. Despite a pirated national broadcast made by Ms. Paine herself, the resistance's disruption of the race is covered up by the government and instead blamed on the French, who are also blamed for ruining the country's economy and telephone system.

At first, the Resistance's plan works. Nero is killed when he runs over a booby-trapped doll planted by the Resistance, which he mistakes for a real baby and proceeds to run it over to gain points. Matilda drives off a cliff while following a fake detour set up by the Resistance. Calamity Jane, who witnessed Matilda's death, inadvertently drives over a land mine trying to leave the area. This leaves only Frankenstein and Machine Gun Joe in the race.

As Frankenstein nonchalantly survives every attempt made on his life during the race, Annie comes to discover that the Frankenstein she knows is anything but a willing government stooge, nor is he the original man. The current Frankenstein is, in fact, one of a number of random wards of the state trained exclusively to race in the identity. "When one is used up, they bring in another", he tells Annie. The current Frankenstein also reveals that he has his own plans: when he wins the race and shakes hands with Mr. President, he will detonate a grenade which has been implanted in his prosthetic right hand (he calls it his "hand grenade"), which he has kept concealed by keeping his glove on at all times (even while undressed). His plan goes awry, however, when Machine Gun Joe attacks and Annie kills him using Frankenstein's "hand" grenade.

Having successfully outmaneuvered both the rival drivers and the Resistance, Frankenstein is declared the winner, although he is wounded and unable to carry out his original grenade attack plan. Annie instead dons Frankenstein's disguise and plans to stab Mr. President while standing in for him on the podium. As the president congratulates "Frankenstein" for his victory, in the process declaring war on the French and appointing Frankenstein leader of the war, Annie is mistakenly shot and wounded by her own grandmother, who is desperate for revenge against Frankenstein for having supposedly killed her during the race (he had actually just drugged her). The real Frankenstein takes advantage of the confusion and rams the President's stage with his car, finally fulfilling his lifelong desire to kill him.

In the epilogue, Annie and Frankenstein marry. Frankenstein, now President, abolishes the race and plans to rebuild the country. However, Junior Bruce starts to protest against it. When unable to find a moral reason to continue the race and desperate to have the race perpetuate, he starts shouting that it is a way of life, to keep America satisfied, to entertain and give the people what they want. Frankenstein, annoyed, runs him over with his car and drives off with Annie to the cheers and applause of the crowd.


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