Roger Corman Cult Classics: Deathsport / BattleTruck Allan Arkush, Nicholas Niciphor / Harley Cokeliss

Roger Corman Cult Classics: Deathsport / BattleTruck Allan Arkush, Nicholas Niciphor / Harley Cokeliss
"I don't think there's any doubt that this is a very bad movie. And bad movies don't start out as bad movies. They start as, 'everybody's working hard and…' sometimes they go bad." This cheerful admission from Deathsport (1978) co-director Allan Arkush pretty much sets the tone for his very entertaining, very bullshit-free audio commentary. On the voiceover narration: "It basically explains everything that the movie doesn't." On the acting: "Oh, by the way, this guy here with the ray gun; I've heard people say this may be the worst performance anyone has ever given." On the reviews: "Here's some of the reviews: 'This movie is too serious. This movie stinks because it's too serious. It's not funny like other Corman stuff; it's a drag.'" With even the worst directors generally turning self-congratulatory in their DVD commentaries, such merciless candour is disarming. One reason why Arkush's commentary is so unusually satisfying is because it tells a story: after the success of Death Race 2000, Roger Corman commissioned another dystopian future car crash picture starring David Carradine, hiring a director (Nicholas Niciphor, aka Henry Suso) who never saw the original film and clashed endlessly with Carradine. Arkush (a New World Pictures trailer editor and Hollywood Boulevard co-director) was brought in to salvage the mess by shooting new action scenes. To put it diplomatically, Arkush isn't exactly mistaken in his appraisal. Any movie that opens with David Carradine in a loincloth being chased around rural California ― I mean, "the year 3000"―– by some guys in shiny silver tracksuits has no right to be as solemn as Deathsport. With the cardboard characters speaking in a heightened, faux-formal tone, sans contractions, no emotional investment is possible, and one is left craving some of the anarchic comedy that made Death Race 2000 an exploitation classic. Still, the film boasts some surprisingly striking visual moments (like Carradine being tortured under green strobe lights), plenty of '70s cheese (did I mention the silver suits?) and a whole lot of cars that catch fire and go boom, all of which makes it decent Bad Movie Night fodder. This "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" DVD also includes 1982's BattleTruck (onscreen title: Warlords of the 21st Century), a New Zealand production that Corman distributed in America, and its muddy, overcast milieu is quite unlike the sunny California of most of New World's output. It's also surprisingly dour, with an aggressively uncharismatic cast and little of the camp value that occasionally redeems Deathsport. However, it does have the title BattleTruck, which, true to the advertising, is very big, very badass and causes a very big explosion during the money-shot scene where it falls of a cliff. Silver linings, right? (Shout! Factory)