Friday, August 20, 2010

Deathsport / Battle Truck (1978/1982, Allan Arkush & Nicholas Niciphor/Harley Cokeliss)

Here we have yet another new release from Shout! Factory's Roger Corman Cult Classics line.  This time, we are greeted with a double feature of futuristic action films.  I was excited when this title was announced because I had been looking for an affordable copy of the previous, out of print versions of Deathsport for awhile, to no avail.  I had heard that Deathsport was the official sequel to the brilliant Death Race 2000 , which instantly made me excited.  Battle Truck however, I had never even heard of but figured it was probably worth a watch, based on the cast and its association with Corman.

Deathsport is the story of Kaz Oshay (David Carradine), a futuristic Range Guide (whatever the hell that is) who is captured by the evil ruler Lord Zirpola (David McLean) and imprisoned to be subjected to Deathsport, which has replaced the death penalty.  Deathsport is where the accused must survive a minefield on a motorcycle.  Oh, did I mention this film takes place in the year 3000?  Anyway, Kaz meets up with Deneer (Claudia Jennings) and as they try to escape, they are pestered by Ankar Moor (Richard Lynch), who has a secret bond with Kaz.

Battle Truck is another futuristic, sci-fi tale taking place after "the oil wars" where gas becomes impossible to find.  A small militia, lead by Colonel Straker (James Wainwright), who travels around in a gigantic armored truck (hence the film's title), finds a huge diesel reserve.  Straker's daughter Corlie (Annie McEnroe) refuses to go along with her father's evil ways and runs away.  She is found by desert loner Hunter (Michael Beck) and is brought to the nearby Clearwater Farm, a democratic community who accepts her as one of their own.  Corlie is soon kidnapped by her father and is then  pursued by Hunter to destroy the evil army and save Corlie.

Surprisingly, I didn't really like Deathsport.  In fact, there were a few scenes that I found unintentionally hilarious and cringe-worthy.  The story was hard to follow and the characters weren't very developed.  The use of matte paintings as backgrounds has NEVER been more obvious than in this film and the acting left much to be desired.  Even Carradine, who I usually love, was sleepwalking through the film.  There were a couple of positives about the film, a) Richard Lynch who is so eerily handsome and ugly at the same time and always dastardly and b) the scene with a naked Claudia Jennings stuck in the torture chamber surrounded by what looked like electrified stripper pole wind chimes.  The film's transfer was decent with the far more weathered "uncut" scenes added back in to make for the most uncut version available, something I don't love, but prefer over a cut version.  Oh and if you are looking for a sequel to Death Race 2000, check out Cannonball!, a film directed by Paul Bartel (Death Race 2000) and starring David Carradine (review coming soon).

Battle Truck on the other hand was awesome.  A very watchable, entertaining and surprisingly well made film (despite what I'm guessing was a super low budget).  The story and characters had some uncharacteristic (for a Corman film) depth, the acting was top notch all around and the action scenes, scenery, futuristic vehicles and costumes were all intricate and refreshing.  Michael (The Warriors) Beck did a great job as Hunter as did Annie McEnroe as the rebellious Corlie.  The rest of the cast were also fun (James Wainwright, John Ratzenberger, Bruno Lawrence) and the stunt motorcycle and vehicle work were amazing (especially the scenes with Hunter riding through the desert on his motorcyle).  Overall a very unexpected gem that deserves to be seen.  Shout! Factory's transfer for this scarce film looks clean and clear and features a director commentary track.

RATING:  4/10 (Deathsport) / 7/10 (Battle Truck)

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