In fact, The Hunger Games is a much more realized version of this movie and may even help to put into context for the audience our view of the participants in the race as well. We get the idea that these racers here are motivated by winning, but there’s not much else to them other than empty bravado.
Toying with the tricky perspectives of good and evil, Death Race 2000 has us convinced for much of the film that our protagonist is not just morally flawed, but downright immoral and hedonistic. Good or bad, the audience is challenged to not only accept him, but root for him, which can become a difficult task as his worst qualities are played for dark comedy more than they are an unfortunate reality of his world and forced situation. In fact, it never quite feels like his situation is all that forced to begin with.
Carradine does a very good job in the starring role, toeing the line between the confidence of Paul Newman and the action prowess of Steve McQueen, even if he never quite reaches the astronomical heights of either.
Sylvester Stallone, in one of his earliest roles, plays a fellow racer and rival to Frankenstein. Even in the limited space, it’s so very clear that the actor has a unique charisma that will make him the household name that he will soon become just one year later.
For all its flaws, Death Race 2000 is still a very fun, and unique, movie filled with hypnotic futurism, a dissonant musical score, and blatant matte paintings that feature hand-colored animation. Establishing a verisimilitude early on, Bartel utilizes these aesthetics well to define this world, and the limited cast as a way to make the film feel apocalyptic, even if unintentionally. With clever and effective editing, the gore manages to feel more real that it has any right to be, and the exaggerations even happen to seem plausible at times.
Challenging the audience to take part in the spectacle that is Death Race 2000, Corman and Bartel almost say something with their one and only collaboration together. Violence shouldn’t be celebrated—that is, unless you’re watching a Roger Corman picture. Perhaps not quite as deep as it appears to be even without the incongruity behind the scenes, the film succeeds not because of its polemics, but rather due to the very oddity that it exists in the first place.