Sunday, June 21, 2009
Deathsport (1978) review
David Carradine (Kaz Oshay), Richard Lynch (Ankar Moor), Claudia Jennings (Deneer), David MCLean (Lord Zirpola), Jesse Vint (Polna)
Directed by Allan Arkush & Henry Suso (& an uncredited Roger Corman)
***WARNING! This review contains pics of nudity***
In a post apocalyptic wasteland, the tyrannical Statesmen use 'Death Machines', weapons laden motorcycles, to conquer the meek and frightened civilians too weak to fight against them and to lay claim to any and all fuel supplies. A group of mystical sword wielding warriors, the nomadic Range Guides, are the only ones strong enough to wage war against the sadistic Statesmen. In an effort to wipe out their enemies, the ambitiously evil Ankar Moor captures his nemesis, Kaz Oshay and a powerful female warrior, Deneer and forces them to fight in the gladiatorial combat of deathsport. Escaping the villains grasp, Kaz and Deneer are pursued across the landscape by the Statesmen and their Death Machines.
Allan Arkush co-directed this neolithic, yet enjoyable exploitation junk when original director Henry Suso lost control of his temper and the production. Corman also took over the film at one point. Arkush performed directorial duties on two other well known Corman cult films, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (1976) and ROCK & ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979). He would then go on to an extremely prolific career in directing television shows. Since DEATHRACE 2000 (1975) had made so much money for Corman (New World's biggest hit at the time), he envisioned a similar movie only this time without all the black comedy that was one of the keys to the success of the Paul Bartel classic.
With DEATHSPORT, the entire affair is taken deadly serious. Regardless, it's still lovable no budget trash with or without the dark humor. It never pretends to be a good movie. It only exists to entertain in as much as its meager budget will allow. The film has all the ingredients of the best of Corman's New World productions. It may not be in the same league as say BIG BAD MAMA (1974), CAGED HEAT (1974), or even its predecessor, but DEATHSPORT (1978) has plenty of violence, nudity and gratuitous explosions to satisfy those who can turn their brain off for 84 minutes.
David Carradine stars as Kaz Oshay, a sage like swordsman who's hunted by Ankar Moor. Throughout the film you learn the two share a history together as the villainous Ankar had previously slain Kaz's mother. Carradine plays the role with indifference. At times, it's almost as if he doesn't know what his purpose is in the film. But then, it may have been intentional on his part. He's definitely sloppy in the action scenes particularly the sword fights. Considering the slapdash nature of the production, there probably wasn't sufficient time to create decent fight scenes. The makers cover this up with quick cuts and fast editing in an attempt to make the fighters look impressive.
Carradine is notable for his role as Caine in the KUNG FU (1972-1975) television series. He followed a similar career trajectory to his father, John Carradine appearing in several hundred movies and tv programs. David featured in a number of Corman pictures such as BOXCAR BERTHA (1972) directed by Scorcese, the cult classic, DEATHRACE 2000 (1975), CANNONBALL! (1976), a co-production between Corman and Shaw Brothers, THUNDER & LIGHTNING (1977) and THE WARRIOR & THE SORCERESS (1982). Carradine also co-starred (and was very good) in the Larry Cohen monster movie, Q (1982). Carradine continued appearing in dozens of low budget action and horror films for years before coming back into the limelight in recent years.
Sadly, his life would end in a freak accident within a Bangkok, Thailand hotel on June 3rd of 2009. Carradine was found hanged inside his wardrobe in what was initially reported as a suicide. Soon after it was stated that he had apparently attempted auto erotic asphyxiation as a cord was tied around both his neck and his extremities. A tragic, yet bizarre end to a man who had a long career in Hollywood.
Richard Lynch is at his best when he's playing the bad guy and even though he's given little of consequence in the dialog department, he, like Carradine, delivers his redundant and hopelessly silly lines with the utmost conviction and seriousness. If it weren't for the copious nudity from the late Claudia Jennings, Lynch would easily have owned the film. Lynch made a career out of playing antagonists and he's so good at it. I don't recall if he has ever played a good guy role, but I can't imagine him as anything but the heavy. His role as a Cajun alligator hunter in the awful ALLIGATOR 2: THE MUTATION (1991) wasn't all that villainous as I recall. Oh, wait, there was also his recent cameo as a principal in Rob Zombie's horrible vision of HALLOWEEN (2008).
To see Lynch in good form as a memorable bad guy, check out THE SWORD & THE SORCERER (1982; reviewed on this site), INVASION USA (1985), CUT & RUN (1985), THE BARBARIANS (1987), BAD DREAMS (1988) and SCANNER COP (1994) to name a few.
1970 Playboy Playmate of the Year, Claudia Jennings, had been carving herself a niche in the exploitation sweepstakes since the early 70's, but her career as well as her life was horribly cut short on October 3rd, 1979 when she was killed in a head on collision after apparently falling asleep at the wheel. She died shortly after she was pulled from the wreckage. Jennings was in line for both tv shows, WONDER WOMAN and CHARLIE'S ANGELS (to replace Kate Jackson), but lost out on both roles.
Soon after, Jennings became addicted to cocaine and due to her spiraling out of control personal life, Jennings reportedly became difficult to work with on film sets (although her problems on the set of DEATHSPORT were said to be due to the original director, Henry Suso, who reportedly caused lots of heated emotion for the other performers and crew causing him to be released and Corman stepping in to helm some of the film).
The sad fact is that just prior to her fatal car accident, Jennings had turned her life around. Some of her notable performances that she will be remembered for are UNHOLY ROLLERS (1972), TRUCK STOP WOMEN (1974), GATOR BAIT (1974), THE GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE (1976) and MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS (1977). Her last film role was in the lesser known David Cronenberg film, FAST COMPANY (1979).
If you're a fan of mindless violence and things blowing up for absolutely no reason at all, than DEATHSPORT definitely delivers in that department for its 84 minute running time. The bulk of the mash ups don't come till the last half, but there's enough chases, funky sound effects and disintegrator ray blasts to keep you occupied till the gratuitous explosions kick in. And there's cannibal mutants, too, but they don't really do a whole lot and they look a bit silly with their ping ball style eyes that jut out of their sockets and their rags 'n fishnet wardrobe. In a lot of Corman's New World productions, the sound design is familiar to what you would hear on Saturday Morning cartoons back in the day. Here, the sound effects are lifted from STAR WARS (1977).
Bad movie lovers should also get a kick out of the generally cheap look of the production design as well as the blatant goofiness of the whole affair. As mentioned above, STAR WARS was obviously an influence on this picture what with the sound design used here and to an extent, the costumes. Carradine's character, although dressed in a loincloth, wears a hooded cloak and recalls Obi Wan Kenobi. The Range Guides themselves are something of a variation on the Jedis mentioned in the original STAR WARS. The patchwork script often has its characters speak to one another in riddles in what is supposed to amount to tough guy talk, or vaguely poetic passages. There is one element in the script that is right interesting. The female Range Guides are apparently more powerful than the men and are held in higher esteem than their male counterparts.
Like an oldschool kung fu movie, pretty much everything has its own sound effect. The swords (or 'Whistlers' as Kaz refers to them) used by the Guides for example, make an unusual sound when a character swings one around. The souped up dirt bikes...I mean Death Machines, have an assortment of kooky sound effects accompanying them. There is also a plethora of mistakes in the film such as cables and wires visible just before an explosion goes off and the scene inside the mutants cave has one of the creatures set on fire and he intentionally, or accidentally sets another guy on fire who doesn't appear to be wearing fire retardant material. The guy quickly scrambles to the floor and you briefly see the emission of a fire extinguisher putting the man out.
Although the budget was obviously small, the bulk of it had to have went to the pyrotechnics. There's an incredible amount of explosions, and at times, it appears the motor bikes blow up just for the hell of it. Another bizarre scenario is Lord Zirpola's sadomasochistic "torture chamber". In it, he gets off on fully naked beauties dancing to synth music caressing long transparent tubes with Christmas lights running down inside them. At the flick of a switch, the tubes become electrified shocking the holy hell out of whichever poor woman happens to bump into them.The soundtrack is unmemorable and the Grateful Dead's own Jerry Garcia has a credit as having contributed some guitar work. Whether it be from one of his albums, or especially for the film, I don't know.
It's not a perfect movie by any means and it doesn't pretend to be an exercise in intelligent filmmaking. It's a typical Roger Corman drive in flick and it succeeds in a lot of areas, but that doesn't make it a good movie, though. Corman knew how to create lean and sleazy entertainment regardless of how sloppily thrown together the ingredients were. It is fun if viewed in the right frame of mind and there's a lot worse movies out there. DEATHSPORT (1978) is without doubt a bad movie, but one that is content on being good for a few laughs especially to those who appreciate good cheese.
This review is representative of the New Concorde DVD (OOP)