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Deathsport
(197)

Director: Alan Arkush & Nicolas Nicphor  
Cast:
David Carradine, Claudia Jennings, Richard Lynch


Special guest review!

By Matthew Conn

 

Once in a while, you go to the local superstore to browse the five dollar DVD rack and come away with a gem of a B-movie. This time it was Deathsport. And if you ask me, it was five bucks well spent.

One way it caught my eye was the bold red letters across the top of the DVD that read "Roger Corman Presents". Any B-movie fan knows Corman (and if you don't, check out his films). He has given us some real classics, such as Deathrace 2000 and Battle Beyond The Stars, a sci-fi remake of the classic The Seven Samurai. This one almost fits in that class. If only it didn't smack of a cheap take on a very popular space drama released one year prior. Corman produced this gem, letting Allan Arkush and Nicholas Niciphor (using the name Henry Suso) direct. Frances Doel and Niciphor wrote the screen play.
The film is set in a future after a great war. The city-state of Helix City has devised its newest military technology yet, the motorcycle. Yes, the dirt bike will be the most deadly military advance in a time of blasters and force fields. Of course, these bikes are outfitted with aluminium boxes that explode when the driver falls off. The bikes are called "Death Machines". The troops must have given it this lovely moniker since every person who rides one (with the exception of the starring characters, of course) is guaranteed to die in a ball of fiery doom or vaporized while doing doughnuts in the desert. Using these "Death Machines", they plan to invade the city of Tritia and conquer its people.

David Carradine stars as "Kaz Oshay", often said so quickly I thought his name was "Kassoshae" until the end credits rolled. He is a "range guide" which is a blend of wilderness scout, mystic, and those robed types from the aforementioned space drama. Oh yeah. The outfits, the cryptic (and very corny) lingo, they even have large plastic swords that make a very synthesized swoosh sound. There is also a reference to "the Consciousness" that all guides share.

His quite attractive co-star is Claudia Jennings. She plays another "range guide" named Deneer that teams up with Kaz to escape the "Deathsport". She serves as the extremely loose love interest for the film. Kaz and Deneer seem to have no problem in "getting down to business" later in the film though they hardly know each other. The protagonist is played by none other than Richard Lynch. He is one of those actors who people know on sight, but can't remember their name. It's a shame too; this guy has a catalog of films and television appearances that numbers into the hundreds. Star Trek fans will remember him as "Arctus Baran" in the Next Generation two-part episode "Gambit". This time around, he plays Ankar Moor, a black clad, third person referring lackey to Lord Zirpola, the leader of Helix City. He sounds like Bob Dole trying to be evil, often using first person and third person pronouns in the same sentence. Ankar Moor was once a "guide" but he betrayed "the Consciousness" and murdered Kaz's mother who was a legendary "guide". Boy, this film just sounds more and more familiar, doesn't it?

The plot is very shabby. Not only is the "Deathsport" more of a sub-plot to the film, but no one plot really takes command over where this movie is going. There is no true plot, more like a string of sub-plots that start, stop, and end more abruptly than my relationships do. I counted about nine separate plots in this film; some are nothing more than time filler, since there is no need to even expound on the plot point brought up. Why make a big scene about someone going insane if they die fifteen minutes later in a manner not related to their growing insanity? The story also could have been much more interesting if the writers were not so adamant about lifting ideas out of that other movie I keep referring to. Action sequences are typical low budget affairs with the exception of explosions, most of which are done in painfully slow-motion, but look spectacular. Jennings stunt double is obviously a man in a really bad wig.

The title implies that the movie would be about this "Deathsport" that everyone keeps alluding to. The conversations about it make it sound similar to a Roman gladiator match, where enemies of the state are sent to kill each other off. The actual "Deathsport" is a large dirt bike course a-la Thunderdome. Large force field towers prevent the combatants from escaping. They then give the highly guarded, hard to manufacture, expensive "Death Machines" to these enemies of the state so that they can use them on each other. You read that right. After all of the complaining Lord Zirpola does over losing some "Death Machines" to capture Kaz and the other "guides", he decides to let his enemies use them in the "Deathsport". He wants to convince the people that riding a "Death Machine" will make you as powerful as a "guide". And these babies are loaded, blasters, exploding boxes, and all. So, it is not hard to imagine what happens, but I don't want to spoil it for you. Suffice to say, the whole "Deathsport" sequence only lasts about ten minutes at the most.

The one scene that really tickles me is toward the end of the film. A huge motorcycle chase scene, complete with sounds effects from you-know-where, plenty of explosions and crashes, plus several reaction shots of Carradine looking more like he is thinking about what's for dinner than trying to elude his enemies. This is really laughable because in scenes from the beginning of the movie, he is really getting into his part. I guess he was concentrating hard to keep that "Death Machine" from exploding.

Speaking of laughable, there is a sub-plot concerning a young girl "guide"-in-training who has been captured by mutants. That may not sound bad until someone mentions that they are cannibals. We really never see how they are mutated until the rescue attempt later in the film. They have pop eyes! I swear! That and they mumble and grunt instead of speaking. They look like the lost love children of Marty Feldman and Bette Davis.

Although some would disagree, I say the scenes in Lord Zirpola's private stripper torture chamber are the best. No, really. What man on all of Terra would not love to have private nude dancers running around a room of eight foot tube lights suspended from the ceiling that can apparently inflict great pain when activated? And we get treated to this not once, but twice! The first subject of this "torture" is Deneer, who has a few other nude scenes as well. Later, a nameless dancer played by Valerie Rae Clark gyrates away before getting some of the same. Claudia definitely has the looks secured (I think she was a Playboy Playmate, hubba hubba), but Valerie really gets into the stripper swing of things.

I found it a wonderfully pitiful film. It has the potential to be a really great film, but poor writing and lack of plot development ruined it. Carradine's performance waxes and wanes throughout the movie. Jennings is very well made up for someone who lives in the wilderness. I guess beauty salons and makeup factories survived the war, or maybe it's one of those "guide" things. Lynch is definitely not at his best, but his character is so laughably lame, I can't say I blame him. The dialogue was very poor, the plot was MIA. These things aside or maybe because of them, I liked watching this movie. I highly recommend it for those true B-movie fans. If you are not so much into B-films, watch it with a good friend and heckle the crap out of it. My friend and I were rolling with laughter the whole time we watched it. If you don't fall into one of these categories, you might be better off watching Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Or, if you missed my reference to the other film, pick up a copy of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, then watch this one. You may see just how much they were inspired by the 1977 smash hit.

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See also: Neon City, Omega Doom, Robot Jox

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