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Anyone who’s been coming here for a while knows I love Roger Corman’s productions and am certainly guilty of having my guilty pleasures. But, Deathsport, a movie I actually saw in a theater in 1978 is not one of them. Sometimes bad is just bad and based on the fact that both Corman and Allan (Rock ‘N’ Roll High School) Arkush both tried to save this turkey and failed, is proof of that.
Made as a loose follow-up to Death Race 2000, the film takes place far in the future where the world has been ravaged by war and people either live in walled cities or wander the wasteland led and guarded by the Jedi-like Range Guides and their crystal swords called Whistlers. When the city of Helix plans to go to war against the neighboring city of Tritan, their leader Lord Zirpola (David McLean) plans to sway the populace to his cause by staging gladiatorial games pitting captured Range Guides against their new weapon, the Death Machines which are merely motorcycles covered in aluminum siding and fitted with laser canons. He and his head thug, ex-Guide Ankar Moor (legendary movie bad guy Richard Lynch) make the mistake of picking Guides Kaz Oshay (David Carradine) and the sexy Deneer (Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings) as fodder for the games. A daring escape, boring chases and endless explosions ensue. And did I mention that Ankar Moor killed Kaz’s mother years earlier?
Initially directed and co-written (with Donald E. Stewart) by Nicholas Niciphor, the film is a mess and even the intervention of Corman and Arkush couldn’t save it with the reported addition of numerous explosions and nudity. For starters, the film has a completely convoluted and silly story filled with large plot holes and lapses of logic, even for an exploitation sci-fi flick. It’s also dreadfully slow paced, for an 80+ minute movie and that’s even with it’s second half being one long chase sequence. The action is badly staged, fights badly choreographed, the FX are terrible, the sets and the costumes look cheap and bad, even for a lesser Roger Corman production and there is very little blood or gore to at least satisfy on an exploitation violence level. It could have used Death Race 2000’s over the top gore and sense of humor, or at least acknowledged it’s badness and had some fun with it. But director Niciphor takes this nonsense deathly serious and it makes his incompetent handling of it, all the more obvious. It’s basically a mess and not in a good way. And to add insult to injury, the film’s score by musician Andy Stein apparently featured guitar work by the legendary Jerry Garcia…not sure how Garcia got involved in this train-wreck!
Star David Carradine, who made quite a living in films like this, looks like he would rather be elsewhere. Jennings is certainly pretty and has a nice body, that gets shown off frequently, but she is no actress and it’s only Richard Lynch who somehow retains his dignity by giving the role his all and adding weight to his extremely silly dialog. A sign of a true pro and an under-appreciated actor. Frequent Corman actor Jesse Vint also looks embarrassed in a minor role and the rest of the supporting cast go from barely adequate to awful.
So, what else is there to say. There is very little to recommend here except for some Claudia Jennings’ nudity and watching a pro like Lynch giving it his all in a terrible movie. If endless explosions are enough to satisfy, you might get some extra mileage out of it, but it’s basically just a bad movie that is even too bad to enjoy as ‘so bad, it’s good.’ Check it out if you are curious, but even with the nostalgia of having actually seen this in a theater in 1978, I can’t bring myself to cut it much slack…No surprise, Corman still made a little money on it, with it’s “If you liked Star Wars, you’ll love Deathsport” tag line, which just goes to show you what a genius the man is.
PERSONAL TRIVIA: I saw this flick at an interesting little venue called The Galaxy Theater in North Bergen N.J. Interesting as it was a tiny movie theater built into an apartment complex called the Galaxy Apartments. As a teen I though the concept of an apartment building with it’s own movie theater was really cool, but it never caught on. While the Galaxy apartments are still there, the theater closed long ago.
Rated 2 (out of 4) actors trying not to look silly. Epic fail.