Death Racers (2008): Clown Car

Dreck without question, but closet Juggalo Matty would still watch this shambolic Asylum cash-in again. Maybe.

Hitting North American DVD on 16th September 2008, three and a half weeks after Death Race (2008) skidded into U.S. theatres, DEATH RACERS is The Asylum’s BTEC version of Paul W.S. Anderson’s Stath-starring remake of Roger Corman and Paul Bartel’s vintage exploiter, Death Race 2000 (1975) [1]. While slavishly beholden to its inspiration even by The Asylum’s usual ‘mockbuster’ standards, this grungy little programmer is bad but still more preferable than Corman’s own cash-in to the original Death Race, the awful Deathsport (1978). The plot finds a bunch of hardened criminals being forced to partake in a televised destruction derby in a walled off, Escape From New York (1981)-esque prison state called The Red Zone as the most feared felon of them all, The Reaper (wrestling icon Scott ‘Raven’ Levy), threatens to poison the United States’ water supply with designer super-crack. 

There are some fun touches, such as director Roy Knyrim’s loving nods to The Warriors (1979) and dystopian classics like Mad Max (1979) and The Running Man (1987); and scripter Andrew Helm gently ribbing Death Racers’ stars, reviled rap duo/junk culture punchline Insane Clown Posse, by having them entered into the titular race as themselves following their arrest for crimes against music. A lot of the insults that ICP spit — particularly those by the more personable of the two, Violent J — raise a smile despite (or perhaps because of?) their stilted delivery, and a cyborg character revealing he has a massive mechanical penis offers an amusing, Troma-lite moment of grotesquerie.

Given the fact it was shot in a fortnight for chump change, Death Racers also houses some — some — impressive sets, locations, and FX work. The head of SOTA F/X by trade and a friend and longtime creative collaborator of ICP, Knyrim creates an effective citywide prison environ with nothing but an L.A. industrial estate and a handful of good intentions. Knyrim’s reliance on gratuitous mayhem — severed limbs, exploding body parts, fighting, shooting, etc. — is entertaining enough too, albeit often sloppily staged and dramatically vacuous because, well, Death Racers is basically just mindless rubbish.     

The design of each competitor’s car (by Knyrim’s SOTA teammates Kenneth J. Hall and Jerry Macalusco) is disappointingly listless, and, tech-wise, the film looks and sounds terrible. Considering Knyrim and Insane Clown Posse pulled the plug on one of their previous projects, the unreleased horror anthology series The Chronicles of the Dark Carnival (2006), due to concerns about its quality, it’s surprising that Death Racers was deemed fit for public consumption. It’s equally shambolic. David Conley’s ugly photography sports a sickly green and yellow glow and is delivered in a headache-inducing shaky-cam style, and the film’s horrendous audio appears to have been recorded through  a glass tumbler held against a wall. As Violent J later recalled to The AV Club upon the release of his and Shaggy 2 Dope’s comedy western, Big Money Rustlas (2010):

“Death Racers was a terribly shitty movie, you know? I don’t regret that we did it, because doing that movie actually inspired us to get Big Money Rustlas done. A friend of ours who worked in film for a while, he was hired to direct Death Racers, and he asked us. He said, “I’m doing a really low-budget movie, it’s a take-off of Death Race. Would you guys be interested in doing it?” And we thought about it, and then we said, “Man, that’s actually a cool place for ICP to pop up, this ultra low-budget movie.” We thought it might be funny that we did that, for our fans. That you could see us in this cheap fucking movie. We just did it for fun. We knew it was gonna be garbage, but we thought about it and decided to do it. After doing that, we saw what they did on the budget they had. We saw how they would take shortcuts, and cut corners, and not even give a fuck. We would go back to our place and talk about it amongst each other and be like, “Man, we could school them, you know? They’re half-assing everything! Maybe we should do it. Maybe we’re ready to do it. Maybe we got the money together, and the know-how together.” Watching these guys basically fuck around on Death Racers, we could take it serious with Big Money Rustlas. As soon as we got home from L.A. from shooting Death Racers, we had a meeting with our company and said, “It’s time to do Big Money Rustlas.” That’s the good that came out of Death Racers.” [2]

USA ● 2008 ● Action, Sci-Fi ● 92mins

Violent J, Shaggy 2 Dope, Scott ‘Raven’ Levy ● Dir. Roy Knyrim ● Wri. Andrew Helm, story by Roy Knyrim, Patrick Tantalo

[1] Here in the U.K., Death Race premiered at FrightFest on 25th August ‘08 and opened in cinemas on 26th September; Death Racers debuted on disc on 26th January 2009.
[2] Violent J of Insane Clown Posse, interview by Nathan Rabin, The AV Club, 21st September 2010.

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