Top Trailers: DEATH RACE 2000 (1975)

New World Pictures productions generally avoided wasting time. Roger Corman preferred to have productions around the 80 minute mark when he could: not only did shorter films cost less but the prints also took up less space and thus cost less to ship. The same “hit ’em quick” philosophy also applied to the company’s trailers: they often focused on packing as many thrills as possible into a brief running time. As a result, the best ones hits with a concentrated power that could leave you slackjawed before the clock reached its one-minute mark.

A fun example is the trailer for Death Race 2000. The film is a perfect example of the New World Pictures house style firing on all cylinders. It was cranked out to capitalize on major studio release Rollerball and the result mixed ’70s dystopian sci-fi with drive-in sex and violence plus a dash of cynical, often subversive wit. Director Paul Bartel struggled with Corman over its tone and amount of exploitable content but the end result managed to deliver the goods and do so with an offbeat, outsider sensibility. Thus, the lucky folks at the drive-ins got the best of both worlds.

And totally in fitting with the New World style, it’s got a trailer that runs a lean and mean 54 seconds.  The first 15 seconds lay out the most exploitable elements of its premise in a direct style. It starts with a matte painting shot, perhaps the most expensive effect in the film, as the narrator hits the ground running to fill us in on what’s happening: the America of the future is a “vast speedway” to watch the country’s top drivers race each other from coast to coast. Cut to David Carradine as the masked hero Frankenstein as he tells us “This is a death race.”  That’s quickly followed by a car crashing and burning as the narrator warns us that drivers must “finish first or not finish at all.” The title card is naturally superimposed over that burning wreck.

The trailer doesn’t let up after that point. The next 20 seconds are designed to sell the viewer on the film’s car action quotient and piles up the mayhem in fast-cut style. The narrator breathlessly informs the audience that the cars are weapons and every pedestrian is a potential point as we see cars mow down hapless bit players, including a fisherman who tries running into a nearby creek for cover. As the voiceover continues to rhapsodize about this “cross-country road wreck,” we see the drivers are willing to score points off each other. Not only do they try to run each other off the road, some even leap from one car to another to take out the opposition.

The final 20 second stretch of trailer sells the film’s core assets, its marquee-value actor and the interesting character he plays. David Carradine, fresh off three successful years of the Kung Fu television series, gets a title card over a stretch devoted to extolling the virtues of his character, Frankenstein. He refers to himself as “the best driver in the world” and the narrator backs him up by revealing he was created by top surgeons to drive the fastest car ever. As we’re informed that nothing will stop him, we see saboteurs trying to take him out with roadside explosives and bombs dropped by a jet chasing him from the air. Those bits represent the biggest stunts in the film and are shown off to impressive effect as a deal-closer here.  The title is superimposed over one last slo-mo flash of a car catching air, bringing everything to a close.

In short, this is a pulse-pounder of a trailer. Due to its brevity, it can’t encompass all the quirks and texture of Death Race 2000 but that’s not its purpose. What it is designed to do is deliver a barrage of action, anchored by Carradine’s charisma, that is guaranteed to get the uninitiated interested in watching. It’s classic drive-in salesmanship, done with speed and economy. In other words: the classic New World style in less than 60 seconds.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of Death Race 2000, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.