Deathsport: The Roger Corman Collection
The late 1970s and early '80s was a bit of a boom time for post-apocalyptic sci-fi action movies such as Mad Max, Death Race 2000 and The Warriors showing a dystopian future where the world is run by gangs as there is no government and the rule of law. As a loose sequel to Death Race 2000, Deathsport (both films were produced by Roger Corman) depicts a future where society has crumbled, most of the world is wasteland with only a few city states remaining, and people are either members of the fascistic Statesmen or nomadic Ranger Guides. If you are one of those, then you must be a cannibal, wearing fur, living in a cave and getting dinner by picking someone who happens to wander by, killing and eating them.
Kas Oshay is a normal piece loving Guide, the son of a renowned leader, who runs afoul of the Statesmen who live in the city state of Helix and is locked up to compete in Deathsport. In this future, 1000 years from now, the death penalty has been abolished and replaced with Deathsport, a futuristic version of the Roman games, where prisoners are pitted against one another and members of their army who ride heavily armoured dirt bikes known as Death Machines. Thrown into the vast arena with only swords to defend themselves, Kas proves remarkably adept at hand-to-hand combat and he, and another prisoner called Deneer, manage to kill off the motorcycle mounted forces, all the while avoiding the mines that are scattered around the arena and make their way out and into the countryside with two other prisoners, Doctor Karl and his son Marcus. Unfortunately, Dr Marcus is killed on his way out, but Kas, Deneer and Marcus ride their way to freedom.
This doesn't go down well at all, so Ankir Moor, a tyrannical sadist who killed the former leader of Helix, Lord Zirpola, gathers all the men he can find on rides off after cars and Deneer on their Death Machines.
Deathsport isn't as narratively complex with deep characters and particularly expansive locations or relationships; it is a movie where people wearing pretty daft futuristic clothing spent most of the running time tearing around the desert on dirt bikes getting blown up, shot or falling off because of something else. Whilst all this is going on, they are haring around corners and trying to get as much air of the mud jumps as possible.
This is a quite early on in Deathsport is quite interesting, especially when Kas is being tortured, when he meets up with Deneer, who is also tortured. In this section of the film it helps that Claudia Jennings, a former Playmate, spent much of her torture wearing nothing at all which is far more interesting than men in silver suits on dirt bikes. It's just a shame that the second half isn't as interesting as the first and is just scene after scene of dirt bike flying past the camera lens with the sound of a bullet passing by to emphasise speed. This gets a little tiresome, even with the explosions and ray guns that make people disappear.
Deathsport is perfectly watchable fare but isn't in the same league as films like Mad Max, Escape from New York, The Warriors or even Enzo Castellari's Bronx Warriors films. David Carradine is a decent screen presence and I really was engaged when it came to the final showdown between Kas and Ankir Moor -- a rather classy duel with their funky swords that look to be made of plastic but a more deadly than first appearances suggest. Although I got a bit tired of the bikes whizzing by, Deathsport is worth a look if only for camp nostalgia value.
I can't find any evidence in Deathsport being shot in widescreen and it certainly doesn't look as if the framing is for a widescreen picture so the full frame picture is perfectly adequate and are pretty good quality. The colours are bright and vibrant and detail is reasonably high but the picture doesn't suffer when think that moving quickly and, unfortunately, that's the case for most of the movie. There is a great deal of smearing when a sword or a bike moves through the air and you can see the trace behind the object and numerous occasions.
The Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack is more than adequate for this film as the dialogue is nicely presented and the sound effects are far from the most complex you'll find. Scenes are either of people talking or bikes so you have plenty of engine noises, explosions from mines or rockets and the added on sound of a bullet passing by to give the illusion of speed. This quickly becomes tiresome and by the end of the movie you'll never want to hear it again!
Deathsport is watchable enough and, although the disc has absolutely no extra features -- not even a menu -- if this sort of cheesy 1980s post-apocalyptic movie is your thing, then this may be one to look out for. I imagine it'll have a small audience as it doesn't have that crossover appeal that Mad Max and Escape from New York enjoy.