Directed by Paul Bartel, 1975
Pros: surprisingly still applicable social commentary
Cons: some gore, some nudity
In a dystopian future USA, the masses love this deadly transcontinental race whose scoring system is determined by what innocents the drivers kill along the way. But on its 20th anniversary, a small group of revolutionaries want to end it for good.
This was my first time seeing this movie and I was surprised by how much I liked it and how much the social commentary still applies.
One of the five racers talks about the master race and her symbol is the nazi flag. When Machine Gun Joe is introduced to jeers from Frankenstein’s fans, he takes out a machine gun and shoots into the air. No one bats an eye. Similarly, when the ‘wrong’ targets are hit in a few instances, people just laugh off the unexpected violence as being simply part of the race.
The movie addresses all of this, and while it doesn’t beat you over the head with the moralistic ramifications, they are clear in the visuals and reporter dialogue.
I was surprised that the revolutionary subplot brought not only some tension into the race, but also some worldbuilding, showing that not everyone’s happy with how things have turned out. The world isn’t very fleshed out, but that works to the film’s advantage, as you’re allowed to imagine what could have allowed things to get this bad. And given the plot, more back story would have just slowed the pace.
There’s some gore, though less than I expected given the scoring system. There’s also some nudity, which I’m not a fan of.
The racing scenes appear to be sped up footage, which makes them appear kind of cheesy at times. Beyond that there are some explosions, but not much in the way of special effects.
I understand why Frankenstein wore a mask, but the cape seemed an odd choice for a racer. I suspect it’s part of the satire, that a caped crusader who’s murdering innocents is the new hero of the USA.
David Carradine is fantastic as Frankenstein. He’s very taciturn and you’re not sure what he wants beyond winning the race. I didn’t realize Sylvester Stallone was in this, so seeing him as the main antagonist was a pleasant surprise. I appreciated that two of the five drivers were women, and three of the navigators were as well. Unfortunately* I don’t think there were any people of colour in the film at all.
I’m not sure I believe things would turn out the way they do here at the end (I suspect there would be more pushback from other people in power), but I can see why this film’s become a cult hit.
This definitely isn’t a film for everyone. But if you like dystopian worlds, this one’s pretty well done.
*While I say it’s unfortunate, given the storyline of people randomly killing others, maybe it’s best that all the victims were as white as the drivers.