Sunday, January 30, 2011

Deathsport (1978)

In the realm of Post-Apocalyptica, a thousand years in the future, the surviving members of humanity have divided into three groups. Firstly, there are the so-called Statemen. Living in domed or force-fielded city states, they use charming skiffy tech and wear the usual mix of togas and silver Lamé, or, when they are evil, uncomfortable looking uniforms. The wasteland between the cities is mostly populated by mutant cannibals with Ping-Pong eyes, you know, the kind of people nobody likes. Lastly, and most terrifying, is the third group, the Range Guides, violent libertarian hippies utilizing swords made from transparent plastic and laser blasters that look just a wee bit like large flashlights who ride the post-nuclear ranges, sprouting mock-philosophical nonsense wherever they go until their victims had rather been eaten by mutants.

Lord Zirpola (David McLean), the leader of one of the city states entertains his populace with the good old Roman method of arena fights to the death. Everyone seems pretty happy with that, but radioactivity is turning Zirpola's brain to mush and so he decides that the fights will be a good way to convince his populace of the superiority of his new secret weapon - motorcycles with built-in (and of course immobile) lasers with a tendency to explode at the slightest provocation. It seems when your brain's radioactive goo, these things look like the ideal weapon to attack other cities. Zirpola plans to demonstrate his dubious understanding of weapon technology and the tactics of urban combat by setting his superbikes into a fight against some of those obnoxious Range Guides (you know, people he isn't actually planning to attack later on), who are known as right ass-kickers. How else could they get away with their Randian hippiedom?

So Lord Zippy sends his favourite henchman Ankar Moor (Richard Lynch), who just happens to be a renegade Range Guide, into the wastelands to catch him some arena fighters.

Among those caught are Kaz Oshay (David Carradine), a guy who just happens to be the son of a legendary fighter Ankar killed (man, the post-apocalyptic world is full of coincidences), and a gal named Deneer (Claudia Jennings), who just happens to be a former Playboy model. Obviously, there will be more idiotic philosophizing, Claudia Jennings's breasts freed from their chains, too many motorcycle stunts, daring escapes and a "climactic" duel between Kaz and Ankar.

Deathsport sure isn't one of my favourite movies from this phase of Roger Corman's New World Pictures. For large parts of its running time, the film suffers from an air of disinterest nearly as strong as like the odour of weed that hangs over David Carradine. Directors Allan Arkush and Nicholas Niciphor weren't among the better of Corman's stable of young, promising talent and would deservedly both go into careers of directing and producing exceptionally boring TV shows. Here, where you'd expect a product of people young and hungry and creative, they delivered an at times draggy, at best vaguely entertaining mix of silly ideas that doesn't dare to really get into that silliness, but instead just aimlessly trundles along.

Worse, the film's script often takes itself painfully serious, bombarding the audience with stiff noble savage Libertarian dialogue from Carradine, Jennings and Lynch whenever there's no motorcycle exploding. It's not much of a surprise that the script does not seem to know the difference between the profound and the ridiculous, and is incapable of smiling about its own foolishness, as is always the way with really bad philosophy.

It's not all Arkush's and Niciphor's fault, though. Deathsport's three cult movie stalwarts in front of the camera all must have had a very bad week when shooting this. I'm used to Carradine being permanently stoned, but in this case, he doesn't even seem to realize there's a camera running. Jennings, and even the usually scenery-chewing Lynch, also just don't seem to be fully there. That's not much of a surprise given Jennings's life when this was shot, yet it's still not pleasant to watch.

Fortunately, it's not all watching near-cataleptic actors mumbling nonsense that isn't even funny. Deathsport does sporadically feature some decent stunts (although exploding motorcycles only go that far for me), and I don't know any other film where one of the big bads dies by being pulled into his own electrified wind chimes by a random naked dancer. The problem is that Corman's production house at this point in time was churning out so many better, or at worst more entertaining, films than Deathsport is.


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