1978 - 82m.
B-movie fans are going to think I am lame but I generally don't really like movies that are set in a post-apocalypse world. I find that they are all pretty similar and it often seems that the producers didn't want to spend money on costumes or props. The result is usually a bunch of people running around with some run of the mill weapons, a bit of nudity, a desert setting, and a plot that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Deathsport follows the formula religiously and has a number of plot elements that I was forced to revisit after the movie ended just to make sure I understood enough to talk about it. Although there are still some gaps in my comprehension of what happened, I can say for sure that this is not a sequel in any way to Death Race 2000 despite what some people claim. The only similarity is that David Carradine stars in both but there are no cool cars, no compelling characters, and not much going on. The only saving grace is that Claudia Jennings is the female lead and has plenty of screen time both in and out of her toga.
Carradine stars as Kaz Oshay, a "range guide" with a mythical family history who finds himself a prisoner of the evil Lord Zirpola (David McLean) and Ankar Moor (Richard Lynch). While in his cell, Kaz begins to converse with a beautiful prisoner across the corridor named Deneer (Claudia Jennings) and they realize their paths have crossed before. They are joined by Dr. Karl (William Smithers), an employee of Zirpola who has been imprisoned for recognizing the fact that Zirpola is slowly going mad. The three of them are sentenced to "deathsport", a sport of the future that involves a type of motorcycle known as a "death machine". After a failed escape, the three are put in the arena along with the doctor's son Marcus (Will Walker). They find a way to disable the force field that surrounds the field and ride their way to freedom with Ankar Moor and his death machine-riding cronies in hot pursuit. The rest of the flick is filled with a bunch of motorcycle action, some awesome explosions, mutants with ping-pong ball eyes, and the requisite final duel between Kaz and Ankar. There is also some full-frontal nudity from Jennings and Penthouse Pet Valerie Rae Clarke (who you may recognize from Caligula).
As this is a Roger Corman production, it is fairly evident that it was an attempt to cash in on the success of Death Race 2000 but it is lacking the entertaining characters and original premise that made that flick a classic. There is no Machine Gun Joe or Calamity Jane in this movie and even though Lynch is a serviceable villain, he is fairly stock for a low budget post-apocalyptic action movie. The plot is difficult to follow and this is made worse by the psychedelic opening credits, weird electrocution torture scenes that have colored filters over the image, and a grating keyboard score that drones on. Even Carradine is lacking the coolness that he usually exuded in this period of his career. He tries but does not come across like Frankenstein or Kwai Chang Caine. Deathsport is frustating and boring to sit through but is getting an extra half star in the rating solely for Jennings who still remains one of my favourite cult movie actresses all these years after her untimely death at 29. Like Roberta Collins, Jennings had an attitude that let you know that she would take no shit and it seemed like it was part of her personality rather than just an act. If you really want to see this girl in her element, check out the Corman-produced roller derby drama entitled Unholy Rollers (if you can find it).
It should be noted that there were a lot of people involved with Deathsport who went on to leave their mark on the world of cinema. Co-director Allan Arkush made Rock 'n' Roll High School the following year. Stuntman David R. Ellis (R.I.P.) did some of the riding in this flick and went on to become a successful stunt coordinator and director (Final Destination 2). Stunt coordinator Gene Hartline has been involved in numerous genre movies and is still going strong in recent years in big franchises like The Fast and the Furious and Transformers. Brenda Venus who plays Adriann, the mother of the little girl who is taken by the mutants, was having a relationship with famous writer Henry Miller when Deathsport was made. The relationship was well-documented at the time. She was in her early 20's. He was in his mid-80's. You can also look for Jesse Vint (Forbidden World) as one of the Lynch's team and future scream queen Linnea Quigley as a courtesan (in the scene where Zirpola is trying to blow up Carradine and Jennings on the field). Jerry Garcia supposedly plays guitar on the music score but I honestly could not hear any guitar over the synthesizer noise. (Josh Pasnak, 4/15/13)
Directed By: Henry Suso (Nicholas Niciphor), Allan Arkush.
Written By: Henry Suso (Nicholas Niciphor), Donald Stewart.
Starring: David Carradine, Claudia Jennings, Richard Lynch, William Smithers.