Death Race 2050 review, plus interviews with Roger Corman and Manu Bennett

Image provided by: Universal Pictures.

Legendary producer Roger Corman is at it once more with his latest installment in the Death Race franchise, and the timing couldn’t be any more perfect for the psycho thrill ride that is Death Race 2050.

In 1975, Corman presented us with Death Race 2000, an outrageous political satire film where drivers in zany outfits compete against one another in a race where running over pedestrians puts you in the lead.  Filled with crazy situations and often silly monolog, there is an underlying message in this film that is easy to miss; foreshadowing the increasing amount of violence in entertainment and society’s tendency to do stupid things for a brief moment of fame.

There have been several remakes and sequels of Death Race. Death Race, Death Race 2, and Death Race Inferno were all produced by Corman, all of which had a more serious action-thriller tone. While these movies were entertaining, none of them replicated the feel of the original Death Race 2000 film.

In an exclusive interview with Roger Corman, he sheds light on why his remakes failed to capture the original style:

“The original film was scored on three bases: How fast you can drive from NY to LA, running other drivers off the road, and how many pedestrians you can run over. The Universal remakes had removed the running over pedestrians. There are more obvious changes to the structure of the remakes and the style that they were filmed.”

Image credit: Universal Pictures

“In 2015, someone asked me the same question. It had me start thinking about the original Death Race film. Around the same time, I had been complimented by George Miller, the director of Mad Max, who told me that Death Race 2000 was the inspiration for the Mad Max film. Additionally, one poll posted Death Race 2000 to be the top B-rated picture of all time. So all of this combined motivated me to call Universal and talk to them about the Death Race films.” Corman continues, “Universal had me come down and talk with them. They mentioned another remake, this time a sequel to the original. They asked if I would like to direct it myself and include the killing of the pedestrians. That is how Death Race 2050 came to be.”

Death Race 2050 brings back Frankenstein, the ferocious and skilled driver who comes in 1st in every death race. This time it’s critically acclaimed actor Manu Bennett who takes up the mantle…eh steering wheel.

Image credit: Universal Pictures

Corman tells us that it was Bennett’s mannerisms that made him perfect for the part:

“He exudes a masculine power, but at the same time is very complex. These are some of the same qualities that David Carradine had in the original. It is a very difficult role, and Manu did very well.”

Manu Bennett, famous for a number of different masculine roles such as Azog, Deathstroke, Crixus, and more, explains how the role of Frankenstein was rather unusual during an exclusive interview.

“I tend to get cast as the character that has to dig his way out of the darkest corner humanity. My characters will often go through some sort of journey to find redemption or whatever cause they are fighting for. Usually, these roles are in a TV show, where there is time to build up that relationship between the viewers and the character. Death Race was the first time I really had to jump right into a role like this and make the gear change so quickly.” He continues, “With the political satire and the comedy that came with this role, this was really interesting. There was comedy and humor and lightheartedness. I haven’t really played a character like that before, one that wasn’t incredibly masculine and powerful, so this was a new experience for me.”

Image credit: Universal Pictures

Those familiar with the Death Race remake back in 2008 may be confused by this. The remake, starring Jason Statham, depicted Frankenstein as a strong masculine character who even breaks an opponent’s neck in once scene. Death Race 2050 brings this role back to its roots, portraying Frankenstein as a more intelligent and cunning racer. Underneath his hard outer shell is a caring individual, unclear of his purpose other than to compete in the Death Race.

Don’t mistake his compassion for weakness, as Frankenstein, along with all the other contenders, won’t think twice about running over pedestrians for points. Roger Corman notes that society craves a certain level of violence in entertainment. This hasn’t changed too much since the original film, but brings up a good question: How else will Death Race 2050 be relevant to today’s view on entertainment?

Roger Corman gives us his explanation.

“We wanted the film to preserve the older style of Death Race 2000, but with that comes the problem of how this will feel relevant to today to those who watch it. I wanted to [have] this in mind while we were making the film, so I would think of ways that today’s world differed from back when we made Death Race 2000. For instance, the name of the country is now called the United Corporations of America and the President is now called the Chairman of the Board. This is a political satire film, so it touches on some of the issues we are experiencing in America, even the world, when it comes to political positions and the power of the corporations.”

With all the controversy behind this year’s election, I couldn’t agree more. Corman continues, “Another way is how we showed virtual reality in our film. Virtual Reality has been becoming increasingly popular in today’s society. I believe that Virtual Reality will develop a little differently than [how] we show it though, as we are not engineers.”

It is virtual reality that introduces us to Frankenstein’s navigator Annie (Marci Miller) in the film. While Death Race is full of cheesy dialogue, you can’t help but become quickly invested in the relationship between Annie and Frankenstein, another highlight of this addicting film. In several scenes, Manu really sells the emotion that his character is feeling.

When asked how he was able to make it feel so real, he had this to say, “My style of acting doesn’t come from the happiest of places. Some things happened in my life; I lost a mother and a brother and sometimes I have to go to these places in my life that were affected by that.”

It takes a great actor to harness those emotions and use them while in character. It certainly shows in Manu’s portrayal of Frankenstein in the Death Race film.

Overall, Death Race 2050 is certainly one film you won’t forget. It may be difficult for some viewers to overlook the unique style of filming that went into creating this movie, but I believe a large majority of those who watch this film will enjoy the throwback to the original. I loved every second of this b-rated masterpiece.

Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 is now out on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD, so grab your copy today!

This movie was reviewed using an advanced copy provided by Universal Pictures.

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