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“Death Race 2000” and “Bluebeard” on DVD

“Death Race 2000” and “Bluebeard” on DVD (photo)

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It’s not difficult to let yourself get carried away by full-bore dystopian satires like “Death Race 2000” (1975), for a landfill full of reasons. Two immediately pop into mind: on one hand, unsavory poppycock like Roger Corman and Paul Bartel’s infamous film make plain the simple fact that science fiction, when it’s done properly, isn’t about thrills. It’s about ideas and social speculation, and is therefore a far closer cousin to pure satire than it’s ever been to horror films (the genre with which sci-fi is usually clumped).

You could argue it a dozen ways pro or con, but sorry, without the twisted birth imagery and post-industrial wage-slavery context and equation between commerce and rabid predation, “Alien” (for one example) would be just a horror film and also not worth remembering. With it, it’s a scalpel taken to the thorax of our socioeconomic Manifest Destiny.

Examples are everywhere, and once you grow up, you learn to appreciate dystopias particularly, because they are baldly about the present, and they wield the sharpest blades of any topical fiction. Sadly, they’re a touch out of date — virtual-life entries like “Gamer” and “Surrogates” have unsharpened teeth and tend toward action-movie bathos.

Of recent films, only “WALL-E” had the walnuts to satirize the entire thrust of the American lifestyle, even if it charmed us, too, and made a half-billion dollars in the process. If nobody got angry, chalk it up to the same superhuman self-indulgence powers the Pixar movie skewered.

06222010_Deathrace2000.jpgIn the ’60s and ’70s, things were different — fierce, wicked dystopian scenarios were hot, often popular and remarkably eagle-eyed. (When they’re remade today, as “Rollerball” or “Death Race,” they’re turned into Disney Channel young adult actioners.)

“Death Race 2000” was in its day an inevitable splooge: the future-fascist-state-ruling-by-homicidal-sport idea is at least as old as Elio Petri’s “The 10th Victim” (1965) (which is very much a comedy about televised human hunting, and vulnerable to a humorless remake soon). It’s not a notion that could’ve arrived before television, because no one had seen social control like TV before.

In Bartel’s outrageously silly take (based on a story by genre maven and filmmaker Ib Melchior), America rules the world and remains entranced and juiced only by a televised cross-country race in which the drivers accumulate points by running over pedestrians.

Think for a moment on the statement that makes to filmgoers just a few years after the cessation of fresh war footage broadcast every night from Southeast Asia, and then consider how much closer the film is to “Network” than, say, “Star Wars,” and how much closer today’s televisual fads are edging toward real-life mortal risk in order to nab viewers.

06222010_RobertaCollinsDeathRace2000.jpgGood thing the text resonates, because Bartel is a proudly tasteless oaf, and his movie was crude even by Corman’s standards, tracking David Carradine’s mysterious Frankenstein (dressed, provocatively, in B&D zippered leather) and his broad-comedy competition (including Sylvester Stallone when he could be funny) across desert byways in a set of absurd roadsters clearly inspired by Hanna-Barbera’s “Wacky Races.” (One of the racers, Pam-Grier-prison-movie vet Roberta Collins, is a Nazi covered in swastikas — imagine that today.)

“Death Race 2000” is a poundingly obnoxious film. As the TV host, The Real Don Steele, a famous LA disc jockey, is practically the film’s lead character, braying hyperbolic announcer baloney directly into the camera in a manner that should make us ashamed of advertising media in general. The cheap gore and glib attitude toward road death is its own kind of commentary, of course, as is the Orwellian agitprop-villainization of the French (!).

The race’s victims aren’t forgotten — their widows are trotted out in front of the cameras game-show style and awarded vacation homes. This was us in the Nixon era, and guess what, it still is. In the ’70s, plenty of critics (like Roger Ebert) were dismayed by the movie’s amoral attitude, but today it looks positively ethical.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.