Format: Amazon Watch Party
Director: probably best we not dwell on it
This is kinda the new bar for our Friday night watch parties. We've sampled many flavors of movie over the year we've been in lockdown (we started off live-tweeting The Shadow on April 10th of 2020!) - and you never know how it's going to go. But I took the advice of Nathaniel C, a guy who really knows his genre stuff, and chose Deathsport (1978) as our feature of the evening.
Do you like motorcycles? Explosions? Exploding motorcycles? Plastic swords? Iffy sci-fi dialogue and boobs? Friends, Deathsport (1978) has all that and more. It may lack plot, character, direction and a steadi-cam harness, but it doubles down on what it does have.
Sometime in the distant future, after a nuclear war of some sort, matte paintings of cities will be ruled by guys who look vaguely like Johnny Cash's ill sibling. The wastelands between will be inhabited by mutants (people with ping-pong balls cut in half and covering their eyes), and "rangers", an idea stolen awkwardly from Tolkein. The city's will have something called "Deathsport", which is like a motorcycle stunt show with murder.
I cannot stress enough that you can get a flashlight that will disintegrate people, horses and doors, but folks seem obsessed with using swords and motorcycles to do their murder. I should mention - the swords are well intentioned - someone made them out of plexiglass and the basic concept is kind of cool. Except they look exactly like plexiglass, and I have to assume they broke a few in production.
With an inevitable dash of pretention, the "rangers" have their own code and manner of dialog that isn't inherently bad. I've seen similar pulled off just fine in all kinds of sci-fi and fantasy, but here - it just isn't working. And so it is very bad, indeed. I don't know if it's the flat line delivery or that we keep seeing Carradine in a diaper and Uggs, but it just feels like no one was sure how it would or should work.
The movie is titled Deathsport, but unlike, say, Deathrace 2000, there's very little Deathsport. Deathsport is a gladiatorial game that David Carrdine and his lady-friend (Claudia Jennings) get thrown into as Rangers, versus city-dwelling Statesmen, who hate the Rangers. They are mercilessly driven near by guys on dirtbikes - here called "Death Machines" - who ensure they are within sword range and very, very combustible. Like, look at them funny or a strong breeze hits them just right, and they're blowing up with 5x the capacity their gas tanks could have mustered. So many explosions, just blasting off everywhere.
I guess there's a story, but it doesn't matter. An argument is made about a lack of fuel and remainin technology, but it doesn't play into the movie - kind of the opposite. Instead, it's Richard Lynch taking his helmet off and chasing Carradine and Jennings across very familiar terrain if you've ever seen anything ever shot outside in Southern California.* There's a slowly maddening head of a city who is just a dick, gets his while taking a moment to torture a nude lady with Christmas lights in PVC pipes. It's a whole thing.
Maybe the most remarkable part of this very remarkable film is the sound, both music and sound effects. I can kind of see why letting a cat run across your synth would seem like a fine idea for a score, and there's all kinds of music that gets inserted in - including sexy sax during a fight scene. But the score is... just really something.
I don't know who did sound design on this, but it was not Ben Burtt. Someone chose a few sounds, did not pay attention to whether they would be awful if you had to hear them every time a motorcycle passed the camera, and then never reviewed their work before releasing the film. It's some absolutely insane/ maddening stuff. Every choice made to suggest the motorcycles do not sound like dirtbikes is a tragic mistake, and may the sound designer find peace, for they were clearly a tormented soul if this was working for them.
Anyway - highly recommended.
The Vasquez Rocks may be the single most filmed location on Earth.