DEATHSPORT
U.S.A. | 1978
Directed by Allan Arkush & Henry Suso
Starring
David Carradine
Claudia Jennings
Richard Lynch
Color
| 82 Min. | R
Format: DVD

Double Feature Disc / R1 - NTSC

Shout! Factory
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Review by
Brian Lindsey


Film:6
DVD:8
This is a movie in which almost half the running time is spent on motorcycle chases yet the words "bike" and/or "motorcycle" are never used. Instead the vehicles are called "death machines". That's because they're dirtbikes tricked out with spray-painted aluminum fairings that fire disintegration rays. When zipping through tunnels, the motorcy— (ahem) "death machines" sound exactly like Star Wars Imperial TIE fighters on an attack run. (And I mean exactly.)
    Also, a bearded, long-haired David Carradine spends the first 30 minutes jumping around in a loincloth wielding a futuristic (i.e., cheap plastic) crystal sword, like he's starring in Jesus Christ, Hunter from the Future. There's some gratuitous nude dancing — fortunately not by Carradine — and a gaggle of pop-eyed Killers from Space-style mutants make an appearance. Lots of stuff blows up, most of it for no discernible reason. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead plays guitar on the synthesizer-heavy soundtrack.
    Welcome to Deathsport.
    Hoping to emulate the success of 1975's Death Race 2000, producer Roger Corman envisioned it as an action-packed "sci-fi samurai biker" film. What he got was a ridiculously slapdash mess of a movie, one so embarrassingly bad that it enters the realm of unintentional comedy. Deathsport would've made perfect cannon fodder for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew, and should prove just as efficacious to your own do-it-yourself MST3K home party. (Inebriant-enhanced, of course!)
    It's the year 3000 A.D., a millenium after the Great Neutron War devastated the entire planet. Carradine plays Kaz Oshay, member of a mystical warrior cult known as the Range Guides — a bit like the Jedi Knights — who shepherd travelers across the wasteland between cities. At movie's start he's minding his own business, riding along on his horse, when he's ambushed by the silver jumpsuited henchmen of Ankar Moor (veteran B-movie heavy Richard Lynch) and captured. Ankar Moor's troops also attack a caravan of travelers led by another Guide, foxy blonde warrior-woman Deneer (Claudia Jennings); she, too, is taken prisoner. The captives are transported to Helix, a city-state ruled with an iron fist by the tyrannical dictator Zirpola. (Sounds more like a Mexican beer or a cough remedy than the name of an evil overlord, doesn't it?) A former Guide who turned traitor to become Zirpola's right-hand man, Ankar Moor really hates Kaz and wants him dead but for the moment must be content with merely torturing him. Lord Zirpola (David McLean) has decreed that Kaz and Deneer compete in Deathsport, a gladiatorial combat spectacle that pits condemned prisoners against Helix soldiers on motorcy— uh, "death machines". The Guides, however, turn the tables on their captors and manage to escape during the games. (Since the Deathsport tournament is held outside the city walls, this proves fairly easy for them to do.) An enraged Ankar Moor assembles his goons and rides off into the wasteland in hot pursuit.
    While the brief outline above may suggest that the film makes at least a modicum of sense, rest assured that it does not. The script is really terrible. Amusingly bad dialog aside, it's rather obvious just how poorly thought out this thing was — the rules and parameters of the titular contest are never explained, leaving the audience clueless as to what it is they’re supposedly watching. (Basically Deathsport is like motocross with landmines, the riders shooting ray guns at each other... or something like that.) That's why the actual tournament sequence is all of five minutes long, the remainder of the pic being your basic chase scenario culminating in the inevitable mano a mano duel between hero and bad guy. Acting ranges from adequate to awful; Lynch (The Premonition) puts in the most effort of anyone in the cast — still unable to rise above the clichéd, often laughable villain he's playing — while Carradine is content to show up, hit his marks and cash a check. (He at least seems to be a little more enthused in the action scenes, for which he did most of his own stunts.) '70s exploitation goddess Claudia Jennings (Gator Bait) looks fetching in and out of her minimal costume, which is the entire reason for her presence. Additional skin is provided by bodacious brunette Valerie Rae Clark (Caligula) as a slave girl who gyrates naked for Lord Zirpola in his 'Electric Nudie Revue' — perhaps the movie's biggest 'WTF?' moment (and something I'll leave for you to discover on your own).

Part of Shout! Factory's excellent Roger Corman Cult Classics collection, Deathsport is paired with the post-apocalyptic BattleTruck (AKA Warlords of the 21st Century, 1982) on a budget-priced double feature DVD. Deathsport is given an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer taken from different prints a few of the scenes appear to have come from an inferior source but in the main looks rather good. (There's a bit of minor damage in spots and some ugly green emulsion lines make an intrusive appearance during the nude scenes; otherwise it’s fine.) The mono audio mix is quite serviceable, without any issues of note.
    There's a surprising array of extras on deck for such an inexpensive disc (currently selling in the $10 - $13 range). Deathsport gets a sizable image gallery, radio/TV spots, the ridiculously pompous theatrical trailer ("It's a future war on wheels fought astride high-powered death machines with blasters and laser guns!") and an audio commentary with co-director Allan Arkush and editor Larry Bock. Their interesting discussion underscores just what a clusterfuck the making of Deathsport truly was... Lensed in four weeks after only two weeks of pre-production, original director Henry Suso quit midway through because he couldn't work with Carradine, who was constantly smoking pot all during the shoot. To some degree it's a miracle the film turned out as well as it did. (NOTE: My DVD rating of "8" factors in the disc's value as a double feature.) 8/30/10
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