Throw Back Thursday Review: Death Race (2008)

Poster for Death RaceIt has taken a bit of time for the concept of Throw Back Thursdays to sink in, aka #tbt but now that it has, thanks to Rich Paschall who gave us another way of looking at this sometimes annoying new trend, the beginning of The Throw Back Thursday Review has started with Death Race (2008).

This lovingly made reimagining of Roger Corman’s classic, and cult favorite, Death Race 2000 (1975), keeps up with the entertainment factor of the original. David Carradine, who starred as Frankenstein in the first film (along with a heavy-set Sylvester Stallone who played Machine Gun Joe as the winning driver’s main adversary) provides the voice of the first “Frank” in this remake as a huge nod and wink to Corman’s camp classic. Roger adores Paul W.S. Anderson (known for Event Horizon and all but one of the Resident Evil films) whom he discovered when the director made his first film Shopping in 1994 with Jude Law, Sadie Frost, Sean Pertwee, Sean Bean, Marianne Faithful and Jason Isaacs.

While Corman’s film dealt with a race taking place out on the road, where members of the public were considered targets by the drivers, the remake (which Anderson says is a prequel to the 1975 film) is a reality TV show brought to the public from inside a high security prison. Overall, the mythos is the same. Frankenstein is the “long-term” winner and crowd pleaser that dies at the beginning of the film. In the original, “Frank” was continually resurrected by faceless drivers as the real one and the subsequent replacements kept getting killed.

In the 2008 version, only one previous Frankenstein exists before Statham’s Jensen Ames puts on the mask. Machine Gun Joe, Statham’s biggest adversary is played by Tyrese Gibson and Ian McShane (Deadwood, Lovejoy) plays Coach; the man in charge of Frank’s pit crew. Joan Hall, the three time Oscar nominated actress from TV’s The Killing, plays Hennessey, the prison governor and the romantic interest in the film is filled by Natalie Martinez (Under the Dome, Secrets and Lies).

Poster for Death Race 2000
Roger Corman’s camp classic…

In this world, Frank must win one more race in order to be given his freedom. In reality the driver would not have gotten pardoned even if he had survived and won his final race. Statham steps in and faces the same opposition from Governor Hennessey who wants high ratings and big payouts for the televised race. Anderson provides action at a good pace and sets up the story well. Statham is brilliant as Jensen Ames/Frankenstein and his supporting cast are all top notch performers who deliver.

The director has admittedly based his “dreadnaught” on the 1981 film Mad Max: The Road Warrior and its petrol truck. Paul is obviously a fan, he even says so in the DVD’s special features, and he also has real respect for Ridley Scott and James Cameron. So much so the cafeteria scene in Death Race borrows a bit from Cameron’s 1986 filmAliens.

In the Cameron film, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) slaps a tray of cornbread out of the synthetic human’s (Bishop, played by Lance Henriksen) hand. Pvt. Frost glances up and says, “I guess she don’t like the cornbread either.” In Anderson’s feature, Ian McShane (Coach) and his pit crew watch Statham’s character get into a fight with Pachenko and members of his gang. As the fight concludes, Coach says, “I guess he didn’t like the oatmeal either.” In both films scenes immediately preceding the acts of violence have another character complaining about the food; Aliens – cornbread, Death Race – oatmeal.

Aliens scene from film
Frost: “I guess she don’t like the cornbread either.”

A very cleverly set up homage to another director and his film. Anderson consistently provides entertaining and action packed films, he can also terrify his audience, Event Horizon for example will give the viewer nightmares. In this 2008 film, he pays respect to Roger Corman’s original dystopian vision and brings his own mark to the world of violence presented in the “future.” I adore the film and its perfect mix of stars.

Speaking of which, Death Race earns a full 5 stars for a number of reasons, but mainly, because I am huge fan of Anderson, Statham, Gibson and McShane. The latter I actually met while working as an extra on Lovejoy in England, what a class act and real star only just surpassed by the chap who played Tinker on the series, Mr. Dudley Sutton, who treated everyone like an old mate.

7 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Event Horizon (1997) A Haunted House in Space

Film poster for Event Horizon. Copyright 1997,...

Helmed by the English director Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, AVP: Alien vs Predator, Death Race) Event Horizon is a nightmare inducing ride through a celestial  haunted house.

Amazingly this ‘space screamer’ was penned by Philip Eisner after he initially ‘pitched’ the idea to the studio money men on a film he referred to as “The Shining in space.” He was given the go ahead, although he had not written one word on a plot. It turned out incredibly well, despite it’s ‘shaky start.’

Blessed with an amazing cast: Laurence FishburneSam NeillKathleen Quinlan,  Joely RichardsonJason Isaacs, and my personal favourite Sean Pertwee and a good multi-written script, the film has no problem selling us the idea of a haunted spaceship. Although, I personally would have loved to see the original 130 minute film before Anderson had to trim twenty minutes of the more spectacular violence out.

The “Reader’s Digest” version of the plot is as follows:

It is 2047.  The crew of the ‘Lewis and Clark’ have been tasked to answer a distress beacon that seems to be coming from another ship, the ‘Event Horizon’ that vanished seven years preciously.  A scientist, Dr Weir, has been tasked to join the crew because he was the man who was behind the technology of the Event Horizon.

The crew find out that the Event Horizon was capable of creating it’s own black hole. This black hole would enable the ship to travel to the furthest reaches of space. Unfortunately, the first time that Event Horizon used the black hole device, the entire ship and it’s crew vanished. The distress beacon indicates that the Event Horizon has re-appeared.

When the crew find the Horizon and board it, they find out that the distress beacon was actually a warning. They also find a ships video log and have to fix it so they can see what happened prior to the ships disappearance. While the crew and Dr Weir are trying to piece together what happened and the status of the Horizon, they all start experiencing things. They soon find out the wherever the Horizon went, the furthest reaches of space was not where it wound up. The ship has returned and brought something terrible with it.

This film can almost literally scare the crap out of you. Taking metaphorical pages from Solaris, Legend of Hell House, and yes, even The Shining the film works incredibly well. Even though there are a few blaring plot holes (and to be fair these seem to be the result of the studio enforced editing of some of the gorier scenes to lower the film rating) and the ‘dating’ of some of the FX, the film still has the ability to creep around in your head long after you’ve watched it.