Set in the America of the future, the defending champion of the nationally televised Transcontinental Road Race – where contestants gain points by running over pedestrians – questions the ethics of this sick entertainment which is orchestrated by the President (Sandy McCallum) to control a potentially rebellious society.
The event is staged to pacify the ravenous public’s lust for blood and prevent the overthrow of the totalitarian president.
Paul Bartel’s light-hearted direction keeps this deathly demolition derby on an amusing track, despite the graphic violence, and there are digs at US political apathy and the nation’s obsession with sports.
With its cast of cartoon caricatures – David Carradine is Frankenstein (pictured below left), the reigning champion whose body is made up of replacement parts after years of racing injuries; Sylvester Stallone is “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo (pictured below right), a gangster-styled competitor determined to replace Frankenstein as the crowd’s favourite – this Roger Corman production is a lot more entertaining than its more serious and expensive contemporary, Rollerball (1975).
Other competitors include “Calamity” Jane Kelly (Mary Woronov), who works a Western-outlaw motif; Herman “The German” Boch (Fred Grandy), the league’s resident ersatz Nazi; and Ray “Nero the Hero” Lonagan (Martin Kove), a vainglorious putz with a Roman Empire shtick.
Each racer is paired with a navigator, so most of the film comprises standoffs in which teams try to beat each other’s racing times and score points by nailing innocent victims.
The sight of Sylvester Stallone ‘pretending’ to be beaten up by a skeletal David Carradine is one of the highlights.
“Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo
Calamity Jane Kelly
Herman “The German” Boch
Mathilda the Hun
Ray “Nero the Hero” Lonagan