Sometimes a bad film can be all you wish for, even though it sucks harder than a steer’s backside in a vacuum. I recently enjoyed the forgotten ‘classic’ Deathsport, a post apocalyptic piece of nonsense produced in 1978. Independent studio New World Pictures intended it as a continuing of the success of Death Race 2000, which also starred David Carradine as the male lead. The acclaim of that picture made people briefly belief that “death” in the movie title would guarantee profits, no matter what it looked like.
During shooting that believe disappeared as quickly as dodos on Mauritius. In the story the world has gone sour after some neutron wars, with a large wasteland and only a couple of remaining city states as a result. Between those cities David Carradine survives as Kaz Oshey, a Range Guide that can help people cross the desert. He can best be described as the shrimplike version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian, wearing nothing but a loincloth and a cape. Oshey’s muscles might not show on his exterior but at least his sword (why use a sword in a world that has lasers?) is larger than that of Conan. And it is obviously made of plastic. But it is actually not a sword anyway. It is called a whistler, because of the funny noises it makes while in use. It made me realise that a lightsaber should have been dubbed a buzzer.
In the meantime Oshey gets caught and is condemned to… Deathsport. That should have set the stage for some fun, but actually it is nothing more than Carradine and his female counterpart Deneer (Claudia Jennings) dodging some poorly tweaked motorcycles called Death Machines. They shoot lasers, thus they are deadly. Or something along those lines. Oshey escapes and has to outrun his nemesis Ankar Moor, while fighting off some mutants with ping pong balls for eyes. It has to be noted that this film probably has some of the worst costuming ever and the same goes for the acting. It does provide us with the occasional female nudity though (but not in a vacuum), which is good for the exploitational purposes this film tries but fails to achieve.
The hilarities of the above can be explained a bit by mentioning that Deathsport is a Roger Corman production. Now there’s a name that should ring a bell with avid B-film lovers. Corman is known for an immense deal of cheaply made but profitable pictures, like Death Race 2000. Under his supervision filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese or Joe Dante rose to fame. Not everything he touches turns into gold though, as this film is the (barely) living proof of, but the man has a solid career over all. When the producer saw where this film was going he hired starting director Allan Arkush to help his collueage Nicholas Niciphor, but the damage had already been done.
Arkush still looks back on this picture as his greatest flop, but he should not be so hard on himself. Yes, it is awful, but that doesn’t mean it is awful. The term comes in different gradations and this type of awful is definitely a synonym of entertaining. I mean, the story gives room for a higher consciousness that only Range Guides can tap into, which is smartly called ‘The Consciousness”. Ankar Moor, the antagonist, was once a follower of this force (uhm, why does this word sound so familiar in this context?), but he betrayed it to step over to the evil side. Film characters use swords, ahem, whistlers, while lasers can erase people dead in a jiffy. I was constantly waiting for Ankar Moor to reveal himself as Oshey’s father, but sadly that never happened.
Furthermore, the Death Machines really are poorly altered Yamahas with some aluminium fronts. It made them far too heavy to do stunts with, but they tried anyway. Apparently it was only possible to jump the bikes over ramps and that is all the stunting we get. Nevertheless the Death Machines play a huge part of the film and many a shot we see a bunch of them passing through the screen. That goes pared with a rich sound effect that can only be described as the sound Roadrunner makes after saying Meep Meep! And a lot of Death Machines blow up well, too.
Although the film might be a bit repetitional on the long stretch, there is never a dull moment. From cannibalistic mutants to dirt bike death games to sword, erh, lightsaber, erh, whistler (!) fights: a fan of awful post apocalyptic films will definetly be entertained.