What a gloriously stupid movie. I mean that. Shitty movie fans know the struggle. We mine the depths of Netflix and Prime, the bargain bins at the big box, the lot purchases on eBay. Most of what we find is slag or chaff. But occasionally, one digs up something precious — a film of such mirthful incompetence that it can liven up a whole day. Such is Deathsport.
From way back in 1978, Deathsport comes to us from the Roger Corman stable. He produced this one, while directing duties were handled by Nicholas Niciphor, and later Allan Arkush (although, if the internet is to be believed, Corman did some uncredited work in the director’s chair, as well). Apparently, the shoot was a bit of a nightmare, with the unexperienced Nicophor trying to wrangle of bunch of drugged out loons. Well, their chaos was our gain.
Deathsport is a post-apocalyptic flick that takes place a thousand years after, get this, the NEUTRON WARS. Earth has been rendered a desert wasteland. Either that, or this civilization that rose from the ashes of the old decided to set up shop in the Sonoran Desert.
The world is divided into secure city states, while outside their walls the wastes are plagued by cannibal mutants. But there are also wandering range guides, who wear a little bit of leather over their private bits and carry three-feet-long crystal swords. They have their own values and traditions passed down to each generation, and when they get into their lore, it turns into the type of silly-speak or broken English common in fantasy or sci-fi stories like this. It was an attempt by Nicophor, who has a screenwriting credit with Donald E. Stewart, to manufacture some mystical depth to the guides, but it was a little much.
David Carradine plays Kaz Oshay, one of those aforementioned guides. It doesn’t take long after the opening credits for Kaz to get into it with some future bikers. Clad in helmets with dark faceplates, shiny silver suits, and riding very conspicuously underpowered motorcycles with doodads welded to them, they are this flick’s anonymous storm troopers. Get used to seeing them, as I’d swear about 60 minutes of this movie’s 82-minute running time is footage of these stunt riders tear-assing around a nature park. Get used to hearing them, as well, as the sound department went all in on the audio effects.
The audio dominates the action sequences, even more than the action. The bikes scream through these scenes, the noise they make a mishmash of the old Hollywood bullet ricochet sound and a jet turbine. When they drive through tunnels, the film uses the TIE fighter sound effect from Star Wars. That shitty little nugget is pure Corman. All of this would be more appealing to the shitty movie fan if the volume was dialed down a bit. Still, the motorcycle stuff is one of the main reasons this is such a fantastic shitty movie.
Another reason is the plot.
One of the secure city states, Tritan, is led by an evil dictator named Lord Zirpola (David McLean), who controls the population by ruthless applications of violence. His second-in-command is the even more vicious Ankar Moor (b-movie legend Richard Lynch).
Lord Zirpola has something of a problem. All those motorcycles riding around the desert aren’t going to fuel themselves, so he wants to invade a nearby, peaceful city state called Helix, and take all their fuel. That sounds interesting, but guess what? That’s not the main plot. The main plot doesn’t have anything so focused.
Rather, the main plot deals with Kaz Oshay, and another guide, Deneer (Claudia Jennings), being captured by Tritan, and them making their escape so they can be chased in more motorcycle scenes. In between there’s more lore, and a decent helping of gratuitous nudity (a Roger Corman specialty). But the meat of this film is the directionless action scenes, where Ankar and his faceless minions try and ride down the fugitives.
The filmmakers made sure to give Kaz and Ankar some history, leading to a satisfying showdown at the end. Then roll credits. All throughout the film, there are hints of a wider plot that never quite comes together. There’s no invasion of Helix, and the Deathsport of the title is little realized, even though it takes up a substantial amount of running time. The thing about the Deathsport is, it’s indistinguishable from any of the other scenes with motorcycles. It was probably culled from the same shots.
I would be remiss if I also did not mention the performance of Will Walker, who played a character that Kaz and Deneer took along for the ride. In a film that had some talent in the way of Carradine, Lynch, and McLean, Walker was a standout in ineptitude. In one early scene, he jumps his cue three times before he finally spits out his line. It’s also the only line he delivers with any sort of energy. It’s a somewhat endearing performance to this shitty movie fan, but I am glad his was a peripheral character.
There is so much in this flick that makes it a great shitty watch. The music is appropriately low-rent, as are all the sets, costumes, and special effects. There are lasers and explosions and motorcycles and sword fights. The nudity is the perfect definition of gratuitous. It was added in during reshoots and could be removed completely without affecting the plot. It also moves along swiftly, which means a viewer will never get bored, unless they really dislike motorcycles.
It also has, quite possibly, the greatest credit I’ve ever noticed given to a crewman — Roger George…Explosives. What a credit. Straight, simple, and to the point. There were explosions in this flick. A whole lot of them. And it was Roger George who made it happen. Mr. George, and everyone else who brought this film to life, I salute you. Deathsport is shitty gold, landing in the Watchability Index at #24, displacing Critters. Check it out.