Genre: Action Running Time: 1 hr. 20 min.
Release Date: April 27th, 1975 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Paul Bartel Actors: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Mary Woronov, Martin Kove, Louisa Moritz, Joyce Jameson, Roberta Collins
t the hospital, reporter Grace Pander (Joyce Jameson) awaits the rise of Frankenstein (David Carradine) from a state of suspended animation, induced to aid in recovering from recent limb transplants (he formerly lost numerous appendages to his particularly hazardous career choice). He’s assigned a new navigator, Annie Smith (Simone Griffeth), who is also a trained nurse – a useful trade for an upcoming competition of brutality and chaos. Frankenstein is one of five brave racers who will risk their lives at the 20th annual transcontinental road race, a major sporting event in which points are awarded as drivers careen across the remnants of the United States. The more death and destruction they cause, the higher their scores move – and the more enjoyment raving audiences will soak up. In three days hence, a new American champion will be crowned.
The other four contestants are Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone), a particularly despised, incessantly belligerent opponent, with his ditzy blonde copilot Myra (Louisa Moritz); cowgirl Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov), driving a car with bull horns; the swastika-adorned Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins); and Nero the Hero (Martin Kove), a Roman-themed rider complete with a navigator called Cleopatra (Leslie McRay). The President of the United Provinces of America (Sandy McCallum) initiates the race: a no-holds-barred event designed to entertain the masses since the World Crash of ’79. If the competition wasn’t enough, Annie is secretly a member of an underground anti-race resistance, led by her grandmother Thomasina Paine (Harriet Medin), fighting to abolish the detestable games.
The setup is extremely sarcastic, with overenthusiastic media members gleefully describing the bloodshed on the streets as racers trek from the East to the West. Right at the start, Machine Gun Joe wipes out a construction worker, goring him with his giant, jagged sword hood ornamentation, while others proceed to crush and trample anyone accidentally caught out on the roadways – or daredevils wishing to taunt the participants. Cruelly but sardonically, reporters detail the scoring system, which awards 10 bonus points for every female killed, 70 points for toddlers under 12 years of age, and a whopping 100 points for seniors over 75. In a notably over-the-top moment, doctors wheel out groups of elderly patients for “Euthanasia Day” at the geriatric hospital.
As a satire, there’s ephemeral commentary on freedom, the oppression of corrupt regimes (where even celebrities and high profile citizens can come under fire), the manipulation of the media, the phoniness of TV personalities, the barbarism of sporting events, and the immoderate ferociousness of fanatical fans. Additionally, the nature of the primary antihero not-too-subtly undervaluing his profession, and the expectations for vividly annihilative vehicular manslaughter, demonstrate a fleeting theme of the awareness of morality. But these underlying notions are all mostly lost to the overwhelming components of an archetypal B-movie: senseless violence, bloody gore, gratuitous sex and nudity, high-speed pursuits, explosive wrecks, and tumultuous fistfights. There’s even classical music for extra contrast, bad puns, and humor of the seemingly unintentional kind. Of course, a lack of premium stars and a shoestring budget are equally contributing factors, with the main source of science-fiction visuals stemming from futuristic matte paintings that are anything but realistic. In the end, director Paul Bartel (“Private Parts,” “Cannonball!”) stretches all of his limited resources into an unexpectedly amusing bit of schlock that, not surprisingly, would become a cult hit.
– Mike Massie