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Roger Corman on Why DEATH RACE 2050 is the Action Satire for Today

Roger Corman on Why DEATH RACE 2050 is the Action Satire for Today

When it comes to sheer volume of work in the film industry, few can boast as long or as storied a career as Roger Corman, who began as producer and director for the low-budget American International Pictures before striking out on his own in the early ’70s and never looking back. Now at 90, Corman is as savvy as ever, having produced over 400 films and continuing in the fast lane. But out of all his productions, one that has kept in people’s consciousness is his 1975 action/sci-fi satire Death Race 2000. We spoke to Mr. Corman in his Brentwood office about why now is the perfect time for a no-holds-barred remake, Death Race 2050.

“It won some award as the greatest B picture of all time–which makes me the King of the Second-Raters more or less,” Corman remembers of the original Death Race 2008, with his trademark grin. Universal had remade the film in 2008–into the rather dour Death Race–and made two sequels to that, but it wasn’t quite what the original had been. “They took out what to me was very important,” Corman explains, “which was a certain social comment and satire, combined with the killing of the pedestrians; I always advocate for the humor.” After an interview with an Italian journalist about the differences between the two, Corman called up Universal about doing a more faithful adaptation.

Death-Race-2050-Trailer-1

Death Race 2000 has stood the test of time better than a lot of similar Corman movies, though, and it wasn’t all just because of the cool looking cars or the colorful characters. Those were a dime a dozen. “It’s a straight action car racing picture,” he explains. “I’ve done a number of those, including an early one, The Fast and the Furious, the title of which I sold to Universal and they did very well with that title. I know there’s a market for car racing pictures.” He maintains that the mixture of heavy violence done with humor is what made the movie stand out to the vast majority of people. “The first draft was not a comedy,” he said, “but when I put the killing of the pedestrians in, I thought, ‘You know, I really like the idea, but you can’t take this too seriously.’ That’s when on the second draft it all came together, still the action, still the themes, but now we played it for humor. I carried all of that over into Death Race 2050.”

As you can imagine, both movies are incredibly violent. The contestants rack up points on their cross-country race by taking out pedestrians, with adults getting lower points than either children or the elderly. This speaks largely to people wanting to see violence in their spectator sports, something that’s as true now as it was in 1975 as it was in Ancient Rome. Corman says this was the main reason for that addition to the original film. “I started thinking about the role of violence in our culture,” he shared. “Keep the people satisfied by giving them the violence. It takes their minds off the fact that they’re poor people. Through the centuries, from gladiators, to bear baiting, to boxing, to now professional football–which has clearly supplanted baseball as the national sport–and mixed martial arts, and so forth. I thought, ‘Violence has always been part of society.’ It still serves that function. You can be an unemployed guy in Pittsburgh, but if the Pittsburgh Steelers win the championship…” he raises his arms in triumph. “‘I’m a champion.'”

Death Race 3

That was something he wanted to keep the same as the original, but how would it be different with the time adjustment. He knew he wanted to set it 50 years in the future, so how would that society differ? “We all know pretty much about the growing economic differential between the rich and the poor and the growing power of corporations,” Corman exposits about updating the original. “I thought about that, and the name the United Corporations of America came to me. I said, ‘Okay, we are now in the United Corporations of America, and the head of a corporation is the Chairman of the Board. The president becomes the chairman of the corporation.'”

But Corman didn’t know how prescient this idea was, especially with the visual look of the Chairman, played by Malcolm McDowell, and his distinctive hairdo. “It was an idea during the shooting,” Corman said with an impish grin. “It was during the primary presidential campaign. We got the idea of giving the chairman a Donald Trump hairdo. It was just a little joke that we thought we’d throw in. We had no idea that he was going to be President of the United States. We are now able to say we are the first picture to portray Donald Trump as the President of the United States. As a matter of fact, I was talking to somebody and I said, ‘We got a little lucky on that one.’ He said, ‘You’re the first person I’ve talked to who said he got lucky when Trump was elected.'” Corman laughs, “I said, ‘Well, I didn’t think of it that way.’

Death Race 2050 is a hoot, and you can check it out–and about the themes and hairdos Mr. Corman was talking about–on Blu-ray and digital download beginning Tuesday, January 17.

Images: Universal Pictures/New World Pictures


Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He writes the weekly look at weird or obscure films in Schlock & Awe. Follow him on Twitter!

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