Monday, September 13, 2010

DEATHSPORT / BATTLETRUCK

As part of their "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" collection, Shout! Factory has paired two post-Apocalyptic drive-in classics - 1978's DEATHSPORT and 1982's BATTLETRUCK (a/k/a WARLORDS OF THE 21ST CENTURY), on a single double feature DVD.

Possibly the most "perfect" drive-in sci-fi guilty pleasure of the entire 1970s, DEATHSPORT is set "after the Great Neutron Wars," where Jedi-like "Range Guides" roam the wastelands, and fascist "Statesmen" rule walled-off cities and entertain their citizens through Deathsport - which pretty much consists of chasing prisoners around a big arena with armed and armored motorcycles, called "Death Machines." Two Range Guides (David Carradine, CIRCLE OF IRON, DEATH RACE 2000 and Claudia Jennings, FAST COMPANY, GATOR BAIT) are sentenced to death in the game, but escape, and are pursued by a rogue Range Guide in black (Richard Lynch, INVASION U.S.A., THE SWORD & THE SORCERER).

It's not a good movie, by any means, but I actually have a warm spot in my heart (and soft spot in my head, obviously) for Corman and David Carradine's psuedo-follow-up to DEATH RACE 2000. I first saw this movie on the CBS Late Movie, probably around 79 or 80, and hey, as a sci-fi kid, I dug the cool laser guns (I still really like the animated disintegration effects) and shiny plastic swords, not to mention the sexy Claudia Jennings (even if the network cut her nude scenes). When I picked up the New Horizons DVD about ten years ago, I discovered that I still dug the movie as an adult.

Carradine appears to be completely stoned during the entire film (and, from the commentary, he actually was) and the dialogue is stunningly ludicrous/pretentious - but there's some genuinely great motorcycle stuntwork in the movie, tons of huge explosions, and it's fun to see the familiar Vasquez Rocks/Bronson Canyon/Fox Ranch locations once again representing a post-Apocalyptic milieu. I like the whole "Range Guides" concept (including the plastic swords!), the motorcycle Death Machines are admittedly clunky but still kinda cool (and they sound like TIE Fighters!), and unlike DEATH RACE (which is by far the superior movie), DEATHSPORT has ray guns!

Richard Lynch is in his usual fine, fiendish form as the renegade Range Guide Ankar Moor, and, let's be honest, the late B-movie queen Jennings just plain looked incredible naked.

BATTLETRUCK (although the print used on the disc sports its home video alternate title, WARLORDS OF THE 21ST CENTURY) is a MAD MAX/ROAD WARRIOR-inspired post-Apocalyptic Western, shot in New Zealand and starring Michael Beck (THE WARRIORS) and directed by Harley Cokiss (BLACK MOON RISING).

After the "Oil Wars," a band of scavengers led by ex-military man, Colonel Stark (veteran character actor James Wainright) roam the countryside in a heavily-armored and armed 18-wheeler, raiding the ramshackle communities of post-war survivors for food, women and diesel fuel. When Stark's daughter Corlie (Annie McEnroe, HOWLING 2) flees her father's group of marauders, she is rescued by doomsday cowboy Hunter (Beck), a lone wolf warrior who rides a methane-powered motorcycle. Unfortunately, Stark wants his daughter back, and nothing - and no one - will stand in his way, or the way of his mighty battletruck.

Capably directed by Cokliss (who had just come off directing second unit for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK), BATTLETRUCK isn't particularly original, lacks the visceral energy of its inspiration and and maybe takes itself a bit too seriously, but it's entertaining. The cast -which also includes John Ratzenberger (CHEERS, HOUSE II), Bruno Lawrence (THE QUIET EARTH) and Randy Powell (the LOGAN'S RUN television series)- is pretty good, the New Zealand locations are striking, and the action scenes are decent. Beck is a rather bland lead, but Wainright is excellent as the ruthless but human Stark.

All things considered, BATTLETRUCK is one of the better ROAD WARRIOR rip-offs of the 80s.

As to the disc itself: unfortunately, Shout! was apparently unable to get their hands on the complete R-rated cut of DEATHSPORT (although the old New Horizons DVD had it), and used a cut and slightly speckled TV print, with the R-rated sequences edited in from a horribly faded, battered and scratched copy (not, based on my comparison, the print used on the previous DVD, which looked much better). The movie is presented matted, in its proper 1.78:1 theatrical aspect ratio, and is anamorphic. Shout! has assembled a few cool bonus features, including an entertaining commentary track by co-director Alan Arkush and editor Larry Bock, a still gallery, and a handful of trailers and TV spots.

BATTLETRUCK is presented in a 1.33:1, full frame transfer. The print is in decent shape, but there is some specks and scratches evident throughout. The only bonus feature is an informative audio commentary by director Cokliss.

This is the first of Shout's Corman titles that I've been disappointed in, primarily because I was hoping for a DEATHSPORT presentation that was superior to the old DVD I already owned, and I didn't get that. I'm not sure what happened there, but it is a disappointment. That said, the package overall is quite good, and the audio commentaries, in particular, are especially welcome. If you're a fan of these kinds of films, then I do recommend picking up this disc. If you happen to own the earlier, out-of-print DEATHSPORT DVD, though, I'd suggest hanging on to it.

BUY: Death Sport / Battle Truck (Roger Corman's Cult Classics)